‘Smart’ home food for thought, taste & tummy

China Daily (Canada) - - BUSINESS - By MASI masi@chi­nadaily.com.cn

When heavy smog blan­keted Bei­jing one day in Novem­ber, Li Pengfei, 26, a soft­ware pro­gram­mer, didn’t feel like step­ping out of his flat. But then, be­cause he was given to eat­ing out of­tener than not, he was in a quandary: where to eat din­ner?

Home-de­liv­ery of nearby restau­rants wasn’t an op­tion — for him, their fare was in­sipid. Spe­cialty food was miles away. Fi­nally, he set­tled for Home-Cook, a smart­phone app that matches din­ers and hosts who are will­ing to share their home-cooked meals.

“It’s quite con­ve­nient. The meal was de­liv­ered within an hour. Most im­por­tantly, the dishes tasted like the food made by my mom, au­then­tic Hu­nan cui­sine,” Li said.

There are many like Li who are reap­ing the ben­e­fits of the so-called “shar­ing economy”.

In China, shar­ing economy is evolv­ing fast. First, apps were used to hitch a ride in a stranger’s car. Then, apart­ments owned by strangers were rented us­ing apps. Kitchens are par for the course now.

“There is firm de­mand for per­son­al­ized home-cooked meals as they are re­garded healthy. Most white-col­lar work­ers are of­ten too busy or too tired to cook for them­selves,” said Tang Wanli, CEO of Home-Cook.

The two-year-old startup in Bei­jing launched its app in 2014. The app al­lows users to buy meals made by peo­ple within a ra­dius of 3 km. They can ei­ther visit the host to pick up their meals or have the food de­liv­ered to their home.

More than 2 mil­lion users have reg­is­tered on HomeCook, which is avail­able in five cities, in­clud­ing Bei­jing and Shang­hai. They are served by more than 60,000 reg­is­tered “hosts”.

Most of the hosts are re­tirees and housewives. The app of­fers them a chance to make a bit of money and meet new peo­ple.

But to en­sure food safety, all hosts are re­quired to reg­is­ter with their real names and of­fi­cial IDs. They also need to pro­duce a health cer­tifi­cate and as­sure food safety, which are requirements for em­ploy­ees in China’s food and cater­ing in­dus­try.

Home-Cook has a rig­or­ous pro­ce­dure to vet its hosts. It ex­am­ines their cook­ing skills, menu and kitchen con­di­tion. Users can rate the food and their host’s gen­eral de­meanor and the kitchen’s con­di­tion (if they visit it).

To han­dle any pos­si­ble dis­putes, Home-Cook has part­nered with PICC Prop­erty and Ca­su­alty Co Ltd, a ma­jor in­surance com­pany in China, to in­sure ev­ery meal or­dered through the app.

Liu Xuwei, an an­a­lyst at Bei­jing-based in­ter­net con­sul­tancy Analysys In­ter­na­tional, said Home-Cook is try­ing to dif­fer­en­ti­ate its ser­vices from the take­out and home-de­liv­ery apps such as Ele.me and Meituan-Dian­ping.

De­spite Home-Cook’s strict food safety mea­sures, in­dus­try ob­servers said its busi­ness falls in a le­gal gray area.

“The plat­form and the hosts do not have nec­es­sary li­censes for work­ing in the cater­ing in­dus­try. The le­gal risk is far greater than the ride-hail­ing apps,” Liu said.

It’s quite con­ve­nient. The meal was de­liv­ered within an hour. ”

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