Nalini Muppala

Analysis, observations, perspectives on mobile space

Instacart, Soylent, hobbies

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Every week I go on a trip to the local grocery stores to stock up the kitchen and the fridge. Most of the time I have to go to multiple stores – this is partly because some of what I want is available only in a particular store; and partly from observations on quality, pricing differences on items that are available at multiple stores. I understand this behavior is common. Most people do this weekly ritual on weekends. Stores plan for the rush on weekends and are often not as well stocked on the lean days. While the economy is attuned to this man-made construct called work-week and weekends, mother nature treats all days equally. Vegetables, flowers and fruits do not plan backwards from weekends and account for transportation and harvesting.

I have often wondered what a waste of time these weekly grocery trips are, more so if the day thus far had not been very productive. I am sure many have felt this way and wondered if there was a way out.

People pay for convenience. The folks at Instacart, and investors like Andresseen-Horowitz are betting that enough people will pay for this convenience.

Several questions arise:

  • Does the typical shopper buy groceries from one store?
  • Given that Instacart charges by the store “For most stores, delivery in under 2 hours is just $3.99” Will someone hire Instacart for several stores?
  • Will someone hire Instacart several times a week for the same store to get fresher produce?

Routines and rituals punctuate our lives. I enjoy the time when the whole family goes on these grocery trips. Such trips are clearly marked during the week. May be I am in the minority.

I see the benefit of services like Instacart in saving time and effort for many people. Even to this day households in many parts of the world buy vegetables and fruits from hawkers. May the developed world is going back to the convenience of getting produce right from home; services like Instacart provide an added convenience of choosing from a much bigger selection than the vendor can transport on a cart.

That brings me to the next topic doing rounds in my head in recent days: Soylent.

Food is integral to culture – at least so far. We make plans for social gatherings around food. Ceremonies are commemorated with elaborate feasts. Countless conversations end with “How about we meet for lunch sometime next week.?” It reminds me of the famous The New Yorker cartoon. “How about never — Is never good for you?”

People point out that food cannot be replaced by a concoction like Soylent and that it is doomed to fail. Not every meal is conversational, socializing, etc., Just ask how many meals are eaten alone at the desk. Chris Dixon put it succintly.

The mistake in this analysis of Soylent haters is that Soylent will replace food completely. As Balaji Srinivasan pointed out, Soylent will not be a substitue for all food in the near future or may be never. Soylent can substitute snicker bars or milk shakes that go between meals. It is highly unlikely Soylent will replace entire meals for anyone outside the die-hard fans. Soylent will definitely not replace grilling with friends at the local park or the family dinner or the dinner at a friend’s house. It does not have to. The job that Soylent addresses is satisfying hunger quickly, possibly lonely meals.

I am not convinced that food can be replaced by a concoction of checmical ingredients. The reason is that we can only test and create synthetically what we know about food.

Societies evolve. Daily affairs of lore are now hobbies. Eg: hunting, running, grilling, gardening, camping. Will trips to the grocery stores and cooking for oneself go this way? I am not convinced.8


Written by Nalini Kumar Muppala

June 25, 2014 at 7:15 am

Posted in Smartphone

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