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Fast food

Moscow economist makes life easier for busy cooks

The Joy of Cooking startup delivers sets of fresh ingredients for preparing various dishes inspired by cuisine from all over the world.

The Joy of Cooking founder, Irina Nazarova, turned her hobby into a business. The idea of selling fresh ingredients ready for cooking (rather than entire frozen meals) was born rather unexpectedly. Having returned from Vietnam, her sister told her that she had seen popular wok sets that included sliced vegetables and meats and could be purchased at any supermarket.

Nazarova had always loved cooking, but, with Moscow's lightning-fast pace of living, it is not always possible to find time for it—especially due to the amount of time it takes to decide on a recipe and then look for the necessary ingredients.

Moreover, products purchased for specific dishes often became stale in the refrigerator and went straight into the trash.

Nazarova began to think seriously about how to make life easier for people like herself who love and want to cook— people who simply lacked the time for the whole process and wished they could just buy a complete set of ingredients for a particular dish.

Nazarova's previous work and studies were a far cry from the world of food. Having finished Moscow State University's program in computational mathematics and cybernetics, she enrolled in Russia's New Economic School and worked as an equity analyst for J.P. Morgan for a year, while devoting her free time to her hobby.

But there was simply never enough time to grate and slice, so the refrigerator was empty more often than not.

Ready-to-cook sets of ingredients with various quantities for different numbers of servings could provide a way out of this complicated, fast-paced Moscow lifestyle; it would be possible to avoid the long, uninteresting step of slicing ingredients and immediately skip to the creative part of the process.

“After a few months, the idea took shape as a more profound conception of the love and beauty you can put into cooking,” Nazarova says. “The project's philosophy is that simply consuming is no longer interesting; it's much nicer to create something and enjoy it, and it's easy and fun to do so through cooking.”

Similar projects have found success in several major cities: Kochhause.de was launched in Berlin and works mostly offline through its physical stores; Secretingredient.com.hk was launched in Hong Kong; and U.S. website Hellofresh.com has managed to raise $10 million in investments.

The success of such foreign businesses convinced Nazarova to begin her work with The Joy of Cooking, whose startup capital came from her own personal savings. Nazarova decided to leave J.P. Morgan in June 2012, when she had begun focusing closely on her project's development.

The site was launched on a free engine and gradually managed to pick up a few hundred customers, with around 40 percent of them regularly using The Joy of Cooking's services. The average order hovers near 2,000 rubles (about $60).

Nazarova's business was going to need more investments for further development, even though she certainly did not need to present it at conferences or actively search in order to attract investors. Indeed, they showed up on their own accord, with several of them investing $80,000 into The Joy of Cooking.

Thus, she succeeded in getting her first round of investors. Nazarova then invested another $40,000 of her own savings, which she used to rent and equip an office and organize a number of events.

At this stage, Nazarova was doing everything herself: She ran the website, did her own financial analyses and made her own growth projections. She was also taking all the photos for the website. She managed all of this on her own for a long time—that is, until it became clear that it was time to get help. Today her business employs five people altogether.

She plans for investors to see returns by the end of 2013.

“While the business model is very interesting, it is difficult to reach a theoretical return [on investment] quickly, since I have to find the right approach for the client—that is, the proper positioning and communication channels,” Nazarova says. “Because the product is new and not particularly well-known, we are looking for other options, testing various ideas.”

Today, The Joy of Cooking offers packages for Asian, European and South American cuisines, in which one can find recipes for teriyaki turkey, various types of steak, salads, soups, and desserts. The website also has the recipes themselves, some of which Nazarova improves and supplements. 

2013-07-05, Russia Beyond The Headlines, Tatiana Makarova.

Keywords: food and beverage industry, startups, business

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