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Adelaide app seeks to simplify meal preparation

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The frustration of forgetting to buy ingredients needed for a recipe inspired ex-Sydney HR manager Nicole Henderson to move to Adelaide and create a food delivery app she believes could revolutionise the way people prepare meals.

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Playt, a web-based app that converts text and photos from online and print recipes into digital shopping lists, is set to launch nationally next month and already has the backing of supermarket giant Woolworths.

The inspiration came from a situation that will be familiar to many home cooks. Henderson, who was then working as a HR manager, returned home from the supermarket only to realise she’d forgotten a few of the key ingredients required for the recipe she planned to make.

“This had happened to me a couple of times and in that moment of frustration I thought to myself, with the technology these days why can’t I just find my recipes online, click on a button and have my ingredients delivered to my door?” she tells InDaily.

“That was the base of the idea, but given my background in the corporate world and in government, I had no idea how to start my own business.”

Deciding to take the leap from banking to the food-tech industry, Henderson packed her bags to join her partner in Adelaide, where she enrolled in a Bachelor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of South Australia and University of Adelaide.

“I’ve used that degree to scope out the market, industry and technology to work out a business plan for me,” she says.

Three years later, she has finished her degree, and has secured technical support from co-founders Christian Ullmark and Jason Neave, of Moonshine Laboratory on Flinders Street.

“They manage the tech development and also digital marketing. Being a non-technical co-founder, it’s really important to have technical expertise in the business.”

Neave helped Playt secure an exclusive deal with Woolworths for its first year by impressing the supermarket chain with his original prototype.

“We chose Woolworths because they are the largest online grocery supplier in Australia and they have invested a lot into improving their online and logistical service,” Henderson says.

“Woolies were blown away with the idea and their immediate response was, ‘How do we get this built for us?’ We decided to instead go down the path of building our own brand, as the tech had more potential than just that function.”

Playt seeks to take the pain out of grocery shopping. Photo: supplied

The app uses artificial intelligence to integrate recipe lists with Woolworths’ online shopping service. Users upload online recipes or photos of recipes to the app, which then converts the text or images into digital shopping lists. These lists are sent to Woolworths, which packs the order; it can be either delivered to the user’s door or collected from a local store.

It’s the time-saving function that Henderson says sets Playt apart from conventional online supermarket shopping: it aggregates a whole ingredients list in one order, saving the consumer searching for each individual product.

“You can add things that you need, or you can delete things that you don’t [need] …

“Basically we’re going to be aggregating thousands of recipes online, the idea being that people go online on Playt and find their inspiration for dinner that night, click a button and Woolworths will deliver.”

The app is still in its infancy, and challenges such as unavailability of ingredients or lack of choice between brands still need to be resolved.

“Working out quantities is also a challenge,” Henderson says. “For example, if a recipe calls for four sprigs of rosemary, we need to identify how many sprigs of rosemary are in a packet to order the correct amount, but fresh produce also can vary.

“We will use a combination of known calculations, algorithms and generalised assumptions to address this, which will only get better over time.”

The app’s tech development has been bolstered by a $50,000 seed-funding grant from the University of South Australia and State Government’s Venture Catalyst entrepreneurial support program.

We’re looking at Tesco in the UK … We’re also interested in Woolworths in New Zealand

Product development is now the key focus for Playt, with app testing currently underway so the team can respond to user feedback as it works towards a national rollout next month.

Once the rollout is underway, Henderson says Playt has the potential to expand into international markets.

“Our system can integrate with any online supermarket that has an open ATI [application template interface].

“We’re looking at Tesco in the UK, because they’re in the process of redeveloping their online system. We’re also interested in Woolworths in New Zealand.”

She also flags product placement strategies as potential way to earn advertising revenue in the future.

“We’ll be able to work with recipe publishers by imbedding a Playt button onto their website to allow their audience to find their recipes and then have the ingredients delivered directly from their website,” Henderson said.

“We can also work with grocery brands so that we match particular brands to a particular ingredient. That’s going to increase distribution of their products online.”

For the former HR manager, the shift to the online grocery industry has proven an exciting career move.

“There’s lot’s of possibilities for the app. It [the online grocery market] is a pretty large market, sitting at around $3 billion in Australia, but it’s still in its infancy at the moment and it’s only set to grow.”

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