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Press to prepare

Metro’s new in-store recipe kiosk is a great idea.

On a recent Monday mid-afternoon, customers hustled and bustled through a Metro store in down-town Toronto. The store, situated in an office tower and condo complex, was filled with people presumably trying to get ideas of what to make for dinner. Few of them, however, noticed a sleek, eight-foot kiosk that could in minutes have helped them not only get an idea for the night’s meal, but would also have given them the cooking instructions and which aisles of this store to find the ingredients.

The kiosks are a pilot project launched this spring by Metro Ontario Inc. in 15 of its Toronto-area stores. Each kiosk has an LCD screen that displays 30-second cooking videos and a touchscreen that lets customers find a recipe from among 3,000 loaded onto the machine. Once a recipe is selected, a printout provides the instructions, where to find the ingredients needed in the store and other content, such as how long it will take to prepare, how many people it serves and the nutritional information.

Up until now, kiosks in grocery stores didn’t feature any video content, which made them unattractive to shoppers, says Gillian Kerr, senior director of marketing for Metro. With the addition of video (though no sound), the kiosks combine information on recipes with in-store digital signage. Mixing the two gives customers the “how” and the “wow” by letting them get ideas watching the screen and then act on them by printing out the recipe and making the meal, Kerr says.

The kiosk remarkably easy to use and a convenient way to find something new for dinner.

Metro isn’t going it alone in this endeavour. Several suppliers, such as Campbell’s, Coca-Cola and General Mills, chipped in. In return, their recipes are prominently featured. For instance, in one kiosk, Campbell’s offered up a one-dish orange ginger beef pasta recipe using, among other ingredients, Campbell’s Ready to Use 25% Less Sodium Beef Broth. Coke, meanwhile, had instructions to make a Minute Maid breakfast smoothie.

Kerr says Metro will evaluate the performance of the kiosks this fall after they’ve been in operation for six months. Success (or failure) will be based on sales information from the featured product recipes, the number of people who used the kiosks and interviews with customers. Depending on results, the kiosks could be rolled out to more Metro stores.

Neil Stern, senior partner at McMillan Doolittle, thinks the kiosk of the future probably won’t be an in-store monolith. It’ll be on your cellphone, through something like an iPhone app

The trouble with kiosks, though, is they often work better in theory than in practice, says Neil Stern, senior partner at McMillan Doolittle, a retail consulting firm based in Chicago. Stores often don’t do a good job of maintaining the machines, updating recipes or even refilling the printer paper. Another problem: grocery shoppers aren’t the browsing type, so they ignore the machines. “They’re usually in head-down, shopping mode. I haven’t found kiosks to be a transformative technology for retailers.”
That was certainly the case during the Monday mid-afternoon tour. Shoppers zipped right by the kiosks without a glance. Having said that, we found the kiosk remarkably easy to use and a convenient way to find something new for dinner. Stern thinks the kiosk of the future probably won’t be an in-store monolith. It’

ll be on your cellphone, through something like an iPhone app. Customers are more receptive to browsing on their phone than at a kiosk, he says.  Which means they might actually realize that retailers can help them prepare dinner in a snap.

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