Handpick lets you figure out what dishes you can make with a few ingredients, but it aspires to be much more than a recipe discovery app. With the data gleaned from its users and by combing through millions of food postings on social networks and the web, Handpick hopes to help e-commerce companies tackle the food and beverage market.
The company just released its first Android app (its iOS app came out in January) and has raised a $3 million Series A from investors including Clearvue Partners, Cathay Capital founder and chairman Mingpo Cai, and Jean Pascal Tricoire, the Global CEO of Schneider Electric.
Handpick’s co-founders are Payman Nejati, Joel Wang, and Jean-Pierre Chessé, who was formerly founder and CEO of SINODIS, one of the largest food importers and distributors in China.
Nejati says Handpick is already in discussions with e-commerce partners, but can’t disclose who they are until agreements are finalized.
Groceries are a potentially huge vertical for e-commerce companies in the U.S. (research firm Packaged Facts estimates the market will be worth $100 billion by 2019) , but they still face several significant hurdles. According to a report by BI Intelligence, just 15 percent of American adults have bought food online, and e-commerce sales account for a meager one percent of total food and beverage sales.
Challenges include the difficulty of storing and then shipping perishables, as well as the grocery industry’s notoriously low margins.
Handpick’s founders claim its data will help e-commerce companies by giving them insight into what items customers purchase the most and how they use them. Nejati declined to provide specific numbers, but says Handpick has reached a six-figure user base since its iOS app launched in January and hopes to hit one million by the end of the year.
“Businesses like [Chinese grocery site] Yihaodian, Google Express, and Instacart are fighting a commodity war of moving goods from point A to point B, but what are technology companies doing to help consumers shop better? We will never be a delivery, logistics, or warehouse company, but we’ll answer the question of ‘what should I buy when I look online?’” says Nejati.
“The way we answer that is different than traditional sites because we don’t base answers on chefs and food bloggers only,” he adds. “We look at social media and global food consumption and are hoping to aggregate a billion user-generated food posts to help people shop smarter.”
The company, which already has offices in San Francisco, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Manila, is also focused on growth in China, where the two biggest e-commerce companies, Alibaba and JD.com, are busy beefing up their online grocery offerings to match demand by consumers, who are keen on imported items because of concerns about the safety of locally produced products. Handpick plans to localize its app for Chinese users soon.
When Handpick was founded in October 2013, its database included 10,000 ingredients and 100,000 recipes collected from Instagram, Pinterest, recipe sites, and food blogs. Now the startup has one hundred million posts in its data base and claims to aggregate three million new posts every day.
To be sure, not all of them have actual recipes. For example, some of food posts are just Instagram pics that happen to have all ingredients tagged. Dishes shown, however, are simple to recreate.
Nejati says Handpick differs from other recipe discovery apps and sites like Yummly and Foodily because it’s aimed at people who want to find simple meal suggestions, instead of more complex recipes they might wait until the weekend or a dinner party to prepare.
He adds that most people rely on four to five staples that they base their other food purchases around, and data from Handpick can help e-commerce companies decide what items to promote.
Users select a combination of ingredients from a menu in the app, which then shows what they can make and five complementary ingredients, a handy tool for people who need to go grocery shopping and want to buy things that will help them use products they already have in their kitchens.
“If you check on Instagram and search ‘kale,’ you get 1.1 million results, but you can’t add a second ingredient or keyword,” says Nejati. “You can’t collect it and save it to cook for later. Everyone is generating data is it’s not searchable. Our short-term plan is to show every single user how to shop smarter.”