In the summer of 2015 Home Chef was establishing themselves in the crowded meal kit market. The industry had taken note as the company regularly put out great menus with more variety and cheaper prices than the competition. I joined the team as the first design hire and was part of the team that was going to help Home Chef grow from a scrappy startup into a market leader.
Brand Consistency Was A Must
In the weeks before I started in the office I signed up as a customer, and also got a week of meals from all of our major competitors. While the Home Chef meals were unquestionably my favorite, the other companies had a consistency that gave them a sense of prominence that was missing from Home Chef. Their websites, packaging, menus, and marketing materials all had been conceived as a whole. Bringing consistency to the platform would be a key in the company’s growth.
To build our brand style book I spent time interviewing our customers and reviewing the feedback that our customer support team had gotten over the previous few months. Our menus won praise for their embrace of midwestern staples and that became a guiding principle of the design system: upscale midwestern.
While we sent a lot of our paid advertising to dedicated landing pages, our home page was one of our highest trafficked pages, making it our biggest opportunity to make a first impression. The design that was up when I arrived checked all the boxes and got the facts straight, but the story was missing. It was a mish-mash of ideas that did enough to tell you what Home Chef did, but didn’t answer the questions of why we were doing it and how we were different.
In redesigning the site’s home page we started with the story. Dinner should be delightful. It should be, but it isn’t because we all live these demanding lives that have us running around until we’re too tired to plan our meals, let alone cook them. Home Chef takes the effort out the planning and gathering so that you can get right to the fun part of dinner, the cooking and the eating. We do this with fresh, already portioned, ingredients that have a large enough variety to make everyone in your house happy. The menu changes every week and we’ve got a long track record of pleasing people.
With the story set, the design was easy. We used photos that put the visitors in their “meal moment” and highlighted the key story points as they moved through the page.
A Knock At The Door
The most important part of our customer journey was their first experience in the home. Customers that had a great first box were more likely to order a second box. Repeat this a couple times and a new experience quickly becomes a family tradition. While our meals were great, for each customer they would only be as good as the chef making them. It was important for us to understand how our customers cooked our meals, so we spent time in their kitchens watching them cook while their life happened around them.
We learned many things, but the most important realization was that too many customers were missing key steps in the recipe that led to disappointing meals. They were either disappointed in us with sending a mediocre meal, or embarrassed with themselves for screwing up something that “should be easy”. We set about redesigning the recipe cards to better clarify the preparations steps, to callout any important steps that could easily get missed (for example, ingredients used in multiple steps), and to organize the card spatially through time: planning, preparing, cooking, eating, sharing. When we rolled out the new recipe cards we found that cooking errors went down and customer satisfaction went up.
With the recipe cards a success we set about to redesign the recipe experience on the website to mimic on screen what worked so well from the recipe cards, and take advantage of the increased use of laptops, tablets, and phones in the kitchen. As this page design was rolled out the use of our recipes on the website skyrocketed, as did time spent on those pages. Another win.
While improvements were made to the recipes, we found that new customers were still nervous as they sometimes didn’t know what a certain knife cut was or where to get suggested equipment. To help ease the transition into cooking our meals we put together an informational packet that we sent to new customers that answered common questions about equipment, ingredient prep and handling, knife cuts, techniques, and packaging disposal. This made new customers feel more confident as they dove into their first meal and further helped us retain customers through the quality of our product.
Putting It All Together
These key improvements, along with countless designs created for marketing campaigns, customer outreach, box inserts, promotional material, and more, helped Home Chef grow in revenue by 15x throughout my time at the company, quadruple the number of employees in the corporate office, and become one of the top meal kit companies in the country. While companies like Blue Apron and Plated are struggling to live up to their lofty expectations, Home Chef has excelled and I am proud to have been a part of their growth and maturation.