Lo-res_117974122-SFood is central not just to survival but to identity. People embrace comfort foods from their childhood, unique recipes from their native cultures, and local offerings as ways to feel connected to their roots, their identities, and their communities. By the same token, food preparation can be a time-consuming, challenging task, especially for those who would just as soon have someone else make up their favorite dishes. Such a setting seems ripe for new product introductions, such as those that promise people that anyone can make tasty, appetizing, healthy meals in no time, just by using the gadgets.

It seems that way, but it isn’t always the case. Rather, when products designed explicitly to make people’s cooking lives easier get introduced with that very promise, they often face outright rejection and derision. Popular commentary often implies that using convenience tools is a sign of the denigration of society or the loss of meaningful traditions. Thus many tools that arguably could have made people’s lives easier have been relegated to the trash bin instead.

Consider some examples. With the Roll’NPour, people could load one-gallon jugs of milk, water, or juice into a stand, then gently tip it to pour the beverages into their glasses, without having to hold and balance the relatively heavy container. The Negg provided a quick, easy way to peel hard-boiled eggs, whereas the electric Rollie Eggmaster automatically cooks and peels those eggs. The Stirr is another automatic device that maintains constant stirring of liquids in a pan. All of these products have been targets of jokes on late night talk shows, as well as criticisms that imply they are undermining traditional ways of cooking and doing things. They often appear featured in articles with clickbait titles like “10 Gadgets Every Lazy Person Needs.”

As a result, most of the examples in the previous paragraph have struggled to gain traction and sales. The Roll’NPour simply went away, and the founder moved on to another job; the company behind the Rollie Eggmaster continues to try to convince people of the benefits of its innovative egg-cooking methods. But other products designed for convenience have succeeded, such as the OXO line of tools like can openers and peelers, which feature soft plastic handles and thus seek to make preparation easier.

The difference in these outcomes seemingly stems from the primary purpose of the tools: If they simply involve prep work, like peeling carrots, making the task easier seems fine. But if they replace actual cooking skills, such as knowing just how long to stir a roux, reducing human effort appears less acceptable to users. Success or failure also might depend on the ways the brands introduce their novel ideas. For example, the rollout of OXO tools included in-store demonstration booths, such that people could conduct their own tests of how much easier the soft handles made tasks like peeling and chopping.

The new product introduction outcomes are not just relevant for hurried, time-pressured cooks though. In many cases, the inspiration behind the innovation involved physical limitations or challenges. The failure of tools like the Roll’NPour meant that consumers with physical disabilities do not have access to an easy, functional tool that could have helped them overcome an unnecessary limitation on their behaviors and consumption. For older consumers and people with limited mobility, the task of pouring from a gallon jug is unnecessarily difficult, especially because it probably could have been solved, had the product’s introduction been met with less mockery.

For marketers and inventors, the lessons these examples offer are instructive: A key determinant of success or failure is the way the products are marketed. Brands with novel, convenience products to introduce should avoid promoting them as tools for “lazy” people. Instead, they should offer active people options to try out their products, as well as explain how they can overcome prevalent physical issues such as arthritis. Their value is not in enabling people to be lazy. It is in enabling them to have the foods they love, easily and comfortably.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why are products for “lazy” cooks so frequently rejected? Would you expect similar responses to arise to new products for “lazy” people who clean their houses or perform other household tasks?
  2. What are some other introductory methods an inventor might use to help people who cook at home realize the value of convenience kitchen gadgets?

Source: Katie Deighton, “Kitchen Gadget Inventors Navigate Backlash to ‘Lazy’ Products,” The Wall Street Journal, February 17, 2021