In these stringent times, there are a few businesses that have been bucking the trend. Amazon, for one, has become the go-to place for online shopping and grew by 29 per cent in 2009.
Strangely, it finds itself sitting alongside Lego. At a time when the majority of toy companies are struggling, just attempting to ride out the storm, the Danish company’s profits soared by 63 per cent.
Although that was helped by British soccer star David Beckham revealing he was attempting to build a Lego Taj Mahal in his spare time – sales of the 5,922-piece set shot up by 663 per cent.
Similarly, the business behind home-cooking has experienced a fairly uninterrupted upward curve of growth for as long as many people can remember. As necessary as eating is, it has morphed from a life skill into a hobby – and a multi-billion dollar business.
The industry has not found this technologically advanced age difficult – at least not in the same way something such as the music business has. Perhaps it is because you rarely buy ingredients from a TV chef.
Cookbooks still do an incredibly good trade and TV chefs are experiencing an incredibly long day in the sun. They have been for a good few years. It has reached the point now where, regardless of what issue the world is facing, it can be solved in some way by a celebrity cook.
While copy-and-pasting a recipe from a website is far easier than illegally downloading an album, TV chefs provide something almost intangible – people like watching a master of his art, making a mille-feuille, or any other dish only a select few will have the expertise to try at home. High quality food can be little more than mild Sunday morning escapism.
In a strange way, food has become an easy foundation for shows of almost any kind at the same time. People don’t watch popular British show Come Dine with me for the best way to mash a potato – following its popularly over the other side of the Atlantic, Lifetime is working on its own version for American audiences.
According to a recent survey by Harris Interactive, one in eight Americans watch cooking programmes at least rarely and half watch programmes occasionally or more. Certain groups are more likely to watch cooking shows, baby boomers (between the ages of 46 and 64) watch most often while those between 18 and 33 are the least interested.
Cooking shows, such as Rachel Ray’s 30 Minute Meals, can actually inspire people to make purchases. According to the survey, 57 per cent of those who regularly watch say they have purchased food as a direct result of something they’ve seen on TV.
For the dedicated amateur cook, smartphones and laptops have put a world of recipes and knowledge at their fingertips. Not just for during the cooking process, phones can now help you find the nearest establishment likely to stock quinoa or other foodie-fare.
The free Grocery IQ app features items such as a barcode scanner, list sharing and offers coupons integrated into the service. For shoppers buying the same things every week, a favourites list will save time and effort. Users can also edit their information online and it will immediately update the app
You don’t even have to be that well-versed in the science of food to be confident in the kitchen. If you didn’t know that the best way to check if an egg is good to eat is to place it in a bowl of cold water, all it takes is a quick visit to Google – the knowledge is then yours until you forget. If that happens, you just head back to Google.
If it is eggs being boiled, the Perfect Egg Timer costs $1.99 and allows you to measure the diameter of your egg, temperature of the water and even the altitude. The result, unsurprisingly, is a perfect egg every time. You can even dictate how you want your egg to be cooked – from a liquid yolk, through to soft and then hard.
There are hundreds of applications that compliment forays into the kitchen and the supermarket. You can plan out your weekly dining or inform your healthy eating habits.
According to a survey by AllRecipes, 14 per cent of people have viewed a digital shopping list while in store and 16 per cent have redeemed a voucher or grocery saving offer using their smartphone. A phone will also inform decisions while in a shop or supermarket – 23 per cent of people said they had looked at a recipe while doing their shopping.
As devices become smaller, it becomes easier to prop one up in the corner of a kitchen and consult it every now and then. According to the survey, three quarters of those questioned used online videos to help their cooking. As well as the apps that help your lifestyle, there are those which will aid you in the kitchen.
The AllRecipes app puts thousands of recipes at a swipe of your fingertips. A new added scanner now means you can add ingredients to your shopping list or find the best recipe to use that last can of tomatoes. Along the same lines, Time to Roast helps during the cooking process by working out the exact amount of time your piece of meat should spend in the oven. It will also take into account how you like your meat done when you are cooking lamb or beef.
These are things you would usually associate with a traditional cookbook, and you would be forgiven for assuming their sales had dwindled over the past few years. But cookbooks are actually selling better than ever.
E-books now make up one fifth of all book sales and in 2011, they overtook physical book sales on Amazon for the first time. But that has not really had a huge effect on the overall book market. According to the Association of American Publishers (AAP) and the Book Industry Study Group (BISG), last year the sale of trade books generated $15 billion in revenue. That was up 6.9 per cent from the year before. But e-books are not infringing on physical trade as much as forecasters predicted. During 2012, hardcover sales rose by 1.3 per cent and paperbacks were up 0.4 per cent.
Although the book market has stuttered at various points during economically tough times, the cookbook has managed to flourish. For example, between 2009 and 2010, figures from Nielsen BookScan show the book industry experienced a total drop of 4.5 per cent in sales. During the same period, the sale of cookbooks grew by 4 per cent, according to Nielsen BookScan, which provides data to publishers.
Some have tied the rise in book sales to the economy’s decline. Often, in straitened times eating out at fancy restaurants will be one of the first things to go.
"At the peak of the recession we saw a nesting thing going on,” Aaron Wehner, publisher of Ten Speed Press, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “As a result, do-it-yourself books in the lost kitchen arts - canning, kitchen gardening and homesteading - experienced a renaissance."
Many still doubt how much of an influence a smartphone or tablet can have in the kitchen. Celia Sack, owner of Omnivore Books, says there is no replacement for the traditional cookbook.
"Cooks like to splatter on them, mark them up and make notes,” she said. “There's a certain permanence to a book. I think they'll be the last bastion to fall."
Despite Sack’s predictions, technology has been finding more and more of a home in the messy world of the kitchen.
Anne Kostick of Digital Book World says:
"They’ll offer a real-time, filtered connection to the best information the Web can supply, in the container of a curated digital book. Who wouldn’t want that?"
Jamie Oliver’s Twitter/YouTube feature FoodTube is a series of three minute instructions on simple, affordable recipes. This year, he opened that up to members of the public, inviting them to send in pictures and videos of them presenting their recipes.
As well as selling a huge amount of books, Oliver has not been shy in taking advantage of everything technology has to offer. His 15 Minute Meal application features step-by-step instructions, on-screen videos and voice prompts to help you make the perfect pie, frittata or fruit salad.
Once dinner has been cooked, served and eaten – when a recipe is no longer needed – technology is making even more of a mark. The survey found 29 per cent of people had snapped a dish and posted it online after they had cooked it. Instagram reported its biggest day on record on Thanksgiving Day last year. Users uploaded around 200 photos a second from 10am to 2pm – around 10 million images bore some kind of food tag.
But be careful, in January 2013 the New Yorker reported that certain restaurants in Manhattan were banning the use of mobile devices to photograph food – keep it to the kitchen.
Five great food apps
Available on both smartphone and tablet, this app will guide you, step-by-step, through one of the most difficult culinary arts. It will take you from the basics through to advanced seaweed skills.
Whether you like your meat well done or blood oozing all over the plate, Steak Master will take into account the cooking method, the type of cut and the size of the steak. The app guides you through every stage leaving you with a perfect dinner.
Simply choose how big the meal you want to make is; what the main ingredients should be and how long you want the cooking process to take. The Dinner Spinner take all the stress out, providing you with a tired, tested and delicious recipe.
Where apps such as the AllRecipes one will give you information from any other user, How to Cook Everything contains recipes from just one source – New York time Columnist Mark Bittman. With around 2,000 recipes, it is basically a cookbook for a fraction of the price.
Combining 19 delicious recipes with a shopping list function, Simply Good Fish has been put together by chef Peter Sidwell. It combines video guides and the opportunity to email Mr Sidwell with personal queries. The app also allows you to adjust portion sizes.
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