Cookpad: food shopping made easy

Jan 15

Cookpad is a recipe website, but clever marketing has made it perhaps one of the world’s most successful. It was developed at just the right time and in the past few years the switch to smartphones and tablets has helped it advance even further. In December the company made a series of acquisitions and it continues to expand its links with food brands and retailers, and to come up with new innovations to help people cook.

Cookpad, an online recipe and recommendation site, became the latest Japanese e-commerce business to expand overseas last month, making two acquisitions. It bought Allthecooks, a US website, and Mis Recetas, a Spanish company with a website popular in South America. Cookpad says it won’t integrate its services with its new partners, but plans to share knowledge and explore possible business synergies. Mis Recetas is a user-generated content platform for sharing recipes. It has 400 million users with about 6 million monthly visitors across Mexico, Argentina, Spain and other countries. The firm’s smartphone app is ranked number one in food and drink on the Apple iTunes store in 17 Spanish-speaking countries. Allthecooks is a US-based recipe site that launched back in December 2012, and has a smartphone app with more than 1 million users. Cookpad paid around ¥1.12 billion for the Spanish firm and about ¥1 billion for the US operation.

Cookpad’s December buying spree didn’t end there. It also acquired Coach United, a private-lesson startup that runs, a site similar to Odesk but one that specialises in face-to-face tuition. Again the acquisition price was around ¥1 billion. Since its launch in June 2011, Cyta has grown to provide users with about 140 different private lessons in fields such as language learning, music study, or even cooking, and is available at 3,000 locations around the country. Unlike other marketplace services which usually only connect potential students to teachers, Cyta also attempts to assure lesson quality by checking both the instructor and the venue. The company claimed to have run around 20,000 lessons in the first year.

Funds for these investments come from Cookpad’s phenomenal success since launching in 1997 and going public in 2009. It boasts 1.5 million recipes on its Japanese site, and a user base of over 20 million, 60% of them women aged 20-30. It launched an English version of the site in 2013 with just 1,500 recipes, but has plans to expand to 30,000 in the near future. Most recipes and instructions are provided by its enthusiastic users.

Cookpad’s business model relies mostly on premium members, while the free version is ad supported. Last year annual revenue jumped 28% from ¥3.91 billion to ¥4.98 billion, with net profits rising 46% from ¥1.11 billion to ¥1.62 billion.

In February 2013, Cookpad launched collaborations with retailers. Individual stores, including independents, can upload food promotions to Cookpad, providing a database that shows what is on offer and where. Customers browsing recipes are guided to nearby stores selling necessary ingredients. Cookpad users can view promotions in their local areas as well as get recipe suggestions from the site before visiting the closest supermarket.

At the same time, Cookpad created a link with a popular household accounts app called Zaim (many housewives track family spending carefully in Japan). Zaim allows users to compare prices paid and has other social networking functions, and integrates with the same retailer promotion database. By the end of the year, Cookpad had more than 1 million users following retailer promotions on its site. More and more major retailers are taking part, including 220 stores run by Uny and Daiei’s 180 Big A supermarkets.

Cookpad’s recent overseas acquisitions may remain little more than investments, a way to add turnover by using cash earning little at the bank, but the synergy and ideas coming out of Cookpad might well work in other countries too.