An app for personal food management

My personal life is just about as busy as my professional life. With two working professionals in the household and kids with continuous events and activities, my spouse and I rarely encounter the prized “dull moment” (but when we do, oh, how we savor it!).

As our work and personal lives get busier – think Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, football, soccer, basketball, baseball, orchestra, band, school, homework – we’re constantly looking for ways to be more efficient in how we get stuff done.

As you’d expect, we leverage latest advancements in technology to make our lives easier. We have smartphones for communicating in real-time via text messaging, we use GPS apps to ensure we can get to where we need to go, and even added a smart watch recently to see how this tool could save us even more cycles.

One ongoing challenge that we’ve only incrementally addressed is what I’ll call “food/grocery management”. This is the process of procuring food to maintain a household as well as managing food waste.

The process of procuring food has improved over the years in a number of ways. Grocery stores in the U.S. are open longer for those who can only get to the store later in the evening. And grocery delivery services are now past their early-growth stage and have become a mainstream alternative to having to visit the grocery store.

With regards to food waste, recent studies have shown that the average American family throws away more than $2,500 per year in food. It may seem unimaginable that the number is this high; however, it begins to make sense when you think about all of the 3-5 day old food that ends up in our yard waste bin because the idea of eating leftovers is frequently unappealing.

A lot of this wasted food is certainly safe to eat, but it’s much easier for Americans to justify avoiding food poisoning versus saving a few dollars. That is, we’d rather throw away perfectly good leftover food than risk 24-36 hours being miserable with food poisoning.

As a technology product innovator, I’ve come up with a technology idea to address these problems. Through all of my research online, I’ve not seen the market produce a comprehensive solution for this problem yet, so I’m assuming the specific implementation I’m going to cover here has never been done – although I would also add that with so many innovators out there, it’s difficult to invent something that isn’t already in progress in some form or been done.

Ideas for the app name for the “personal food management” market segment application: the Grocery List app, the Food Management app, Grocery Management app, Family Food Management app.

People will use an application only if they find value in it. So it must either save significant time for the user and/or allow them to save money. Others may have altruistic reasons for leveraging a technology solution, like the ability to avoid wasting food, but usually these do not trump the more typical value propositions of  saving time and money.

In the technology industry, product managers are responsible for understanding market happenings, identifying needs that a technology solution could address, and then working with developers to create a product to (hopefully) address these needs. A simple example is spreadsheet software that enables anybody to efficiently categorize and visualize information. I frequently leverage spreadsheet software to categorize data and illustrate points with others. It’s safe to say that spreadsheet software is an invaluable tool for me.

I am in the process of investigating this food challenge further; however, I have plenty of personal experience to draw from on the subject. As a product manager, I must gather and document specific information before moving forward with an idea. Here’s a subset of the type of information I research for any project, with a focus here on our original challenge – grocery management.

USE CASES/SCENARIOS:

OLD PROCESS: Current grocery process is for family members to write down additional items they need on the paper grocery list on the fridge (if they remember). When it’s time to buy groceries for the week, dad/mom grabs the paper grocery list near the fridge and goes to the store to buy groceries for the week. After shopping for 2 hours, (s)he comes home with everything from the paper grocery list. Unfortunately, needed items are missed because the kids forgot to write them on the list.

NEW PROCESS: Dad/mom logs into the Grocery app on this mobile phone to bring up the family’s customized grocery list for the week that includes all of those things that family members have texted to the list, including those items added while dad/mom is at the grocery store. Dad/mom comes home with all necessary groceries and all family members get what they want (unless dad/mom chose not to get the Twinkies).

CONSIDER:

Kids with phones: Sammy has just eaten the last yogurt container in the fridge. She might tell mom/dad that they need more yogurt or she might write it down on the paper grocery list by the fridge. If mom/dad isn’t readily available, she may not remember to tell them at all. If Sammy is feeling ambitious (she’s a teenager, after all), she may write “yogurt” on the paper grocery list near the fridge.

Kids without phones: A lot of kids have smart phones these days, if for no other reason than to be able to text a parent from school. Younger kids are with a parent when they’re young and most don’t own smart phones. In other cases, younger kids (7-10 years) can borrow mom’s or dad’s phone to add to the grocery list.

TARGET DEMOGRAPHIC:

The target market is busy adults who have sophisticated grocery shopping requirements. These scenarios involve adults are usually parents with multiple children, are concerned about children eating healthy, often try to cook at least a couple of family meals each week, spend between $700 and $1,200 on food monthly, and may even shop at multiple grocery stores, including online grocers, to meet their unique family food requirements.

REQUIREMENTS:

  • Grocery List app database would be maintained in the cloud. Security of this data is less of a concern because few care that you consume prune juice.
  • The app installs on each phone in the family, so when they need something, they simply text what they need to the Grocery List App’s text alias.
  • The app has to notice buying patterns and add them to a time-based grocery list. For example, milk is a staple for our family. We consume about the same quantity of milk each week. Hence, milk would go on the list of weekly groceries that get ordered on a weekly basis.
  • Is integrated with calendar app to know when a family member or the entire family is going to be out of town. This will obviously change what ends up on the grocery list and when it needs to be fulfilled.
  • Reminds you when you are near a store that carries something on your cloud-based grocery list.
  • Allow you to check off each item on the list as you go through the store (or order online).
  • Provide the option for customers to have groceries delivered, pick up groceries themselves, or a mix of these. For example, I like to pick out my own fruits and vegetables because grocery delivery services have proven that they cannot (yet) provide this service. You’d think a grocer called “Amazon” would be able to provide decent bananas!
  • Notify the person doing shopping in real-time when something new gets added to the cloud-based grocery list (say, via text) and require notification acknowledgement.

So we have the beginnings of a grocery management app with some good functionality to save us time and money. We haven’t yet discussed how to address food waste issues, so I’ll cover that later as we get further down the road with this app.

What else would you like to see the app be able to do for your specific grocery shopping requirements? Please leave a comment and we’ll get working on the app!