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SparksLab Global Venture

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A SparksLab Global Venture: Countertop is a connected kitchen gizmo to simplify balanced meal-making

Meet Countertop: the latest connected kitchen gizmo from Google Ventures-backed Orange Chef which reckons it has found the perfect blend of smart and dumb kitchenware to help consumers prepare healthier meals and quantify the nutritional balance of what they eat.

 

Countertop is going up for pre-order today, costing $99.95, which is half the planned full retail price, with a shipping date of fall 2015. It’s U.S. only for now.

 

The device consists of a smart board that can weigh and track ingredients plus an app that recommends recipes, dispenses step by step meal making instructions and tracks nutritional intake, such as calories.

 

The bigger twist is that the board is also able to recognize some of your existing kitchenware, such as blenders and crock pots, when you retrofit them with dedicated Countertop adaptors.

 

It can also integrate with fitness wearables, such as Jawbone’s UP, and with Apple’s Health data repository in order to factor in personal activity and sleep cycle data to its meal recommendations — with the pitch being that enables Countertop to offer tailored nutrition suggestions customized to the individual user.

 

“Countertop suggests personalized, easy-to-make meals or snacks that are healthy and tailored to your palate and nutritional goals,” says Orange Chef CEO Santiago Merea. “We’re not trying to encourage folks to make a culinary masterpiece — in fact, most of our meals generally include five or less ingredients. We walk each user through the process of adding, prepping, and cooking their meal, and along the way we hope our users learn more about what kind of nutrition they are getting.”

 

The company behind Countertop, Orange Chef, started back in 2011, when it was called Chef Sleeve, selling simple plastic sleeves to protect iPads being used in the kitchen. It’s steadily expanded its culinary-focused product portfolio, pushing into connected kitchen devices in 2013 — with a smart Bluetooth kitchen scales (plus app) called Prep Pad that also focused on helping people eat healthier.

 

Countertop continues the startup’s expansive trajectory by looping in existing kitchen devices via dishwasher-proof, heat-resistant NFC stickers (the aforementioned adaptors). So while there is some overlap with Prep Pad, the forthcoming gizmo can tap into more of your kitchen gadgetry.

 

“When the user places an appliance on Countertop, the app now understands the context of what the user is trying to accomplish in the physical world and can give recommendations based on this,” explains Merea. “Furthermore, it helps our base understand when the appliance is being used during Make Mode (dumping ingredients step by step without pre-measuring) and scales the recipe accordingly according to the model, capacity, etc.”

 

Orange Chef has partnered with Vitamix blenders (which is also a seed investor) and Crock-Pot slow cookers to push the system, with dedicated NFC adaptors ($9.95 and $4.95 for those devices respectively, during the pre-order period).

 

It says it plans to expand the system further, with Merea noting it is talking to “several large, beloved kitchen brand mainstays about ways of integrating their product lines with Countertop”.

 

Despite the fresh focus on partners, Countertop does not require other gadgets to work. But partnering with existing kitchen brands is evidently its preferred route to grow its own business.

 

“You don’t even need add-on adapters or other kitchen gadgets for it to work. We made a bet that users will want to use Countertop with their Vitamix and Crock-Pot because these are two broadly adored products with communities of actively engaged users,” adds Merea.

 

Orange Chef has raised $4.8 million in seed funding from investors including Google Ventures, New Enterprise Associates (NEA), Lerer Ventures, Forerunner Ventures, Vitamix and individual angel investors including Warby Parker co-founder and co-Chief Executive Dave Gilboa.

 

It’s not currently breaking out sales of its existing devices, such as its Bluetooth kitchen scales, with Merea merely dubbing them as “significant”.

 

At this nascent stage in the Internet of Things startups are having to come up with workarounds to blend their own connected devices with existing dumbware to massage their usefulness — such as Countertop’s NFS adaptors. How robust and usable these bridging techs are remains to be seen.

 

The grand vision for the connected kitchen of the future is, presumably, a smart refrigerator which automatically orders the fresh ingredients required to prep your next set of nutritionally-optimized meals. But we’re a ways off that fully automated health-quantifying, grocery-delivering future. And so enter more NFC stickers.