At this year’s LeWeb conference in Paris, a number of European startups looking to make various aspects of life more useful demoed their apps and websites for thousands of onlookers and a handful of superstar investors and tech executives. One was supposed to walk away with the prize for best startup, but judges decided instead to reward each of the 3 finalists for different reasons.
French startup SuperMarmite took home the LeWeb startup prize for originality. First, some linguistic disambiguation before we continue. In French, a marmite (pronounced mahr-meet) is a large pot used for cooking. If you frequent the UK, Australia or New Zealand, it’s a brown sandwich spread that you might find on the menu at a vegetarian takeout spot.
SuperMarmite is all about the first version, though co-founder Olivier Desmoulin acknowledged during his presentation that the name would probably have to change when they look at expanding beyond France. Or, they could try to get support from the people in the UK, Australia and New Zealand who make the sandwich spread, but that might be a bit more difficult.
So now that we’ve established that you shouldn’t go to SuperMarmite looking for deals on sandwich spread, why should you visit? First, the service is only available in France for the moment so there’s probably not much a reason if you don’t live in France or aren’t planning to visit. If you do (live in France) or are (planning to visit) there are a few reasons.
1. You want to try French cooking but can’t seem to get a dinner invitation, and don’t have enough to make up for that at a Michelin star restaurant. SuperMarmite is a location based network of people who like to cook. You give them your location, and they show you who’s cooking what around you. For the price of a burger, you can instead pick up a portion of confit de canard (or any other homemade dish is cooking).
2. You like to cook, but always have leftovers. If you live alone, you probably know how difficult it is to cook for one person. Aside from TV dinners, it’s difficult to find things proportioned for one. Sure, you can cook a small portion of pasta, but good luck finding a container of sauce that doesn’t leave you with more to pack away. SuperMarmite hopes that by connecting you with hungry people in search of home cooking you can make some extra money and keep your refrigerator clear.
SuperMarmite is original, but we’re not sure how feasible it would be outside of France and perhaps other European countries. Paris may officially be the City of Lights, but unofficially it’s renowned as the city of fine food. It’s not that good cooks don’t exist outside of France, but is the cultural significance of food strong enough to create a palpable demand in other places?
Also, there’s food safety and the safety of the cooks. As far as food safety goes, anecdotally it’s an area that doesn’t seem to be as heavily regulated as in the US. Which isn’t to say that’s a problem. In years of traveling between the US and France, my bouts with food poisoning all happened in the heavily regulated US. In spite of the lack of hairnets and plastic gloves, I’ve (fortunately) never run into problems in French restaurants large or small. The founders reliance on the community rating system to flag dangerous dishes isn’t a bad idea, but in countries like the US where more regulations are in place for restaurants, we’re not sure if that will be enough to satisfy consumers or local regulators.
Then there’s the safety of the people making the meals. We’ve covered a few cases of problems created by oversharing on social media. What’s to stop a popular chef from becoming the target of a criminal? Their address is there, how much they’re charging for food, and how much of it they have available for sale.
Finally, if neither issue becomes a concern, there’s still the issue of professional chefs. Ridesharing apps and websites have come under local government scrutiny when they became popular enough to challenge public transportation. for restaurant owners, how much success would home cooks be permitted before they too would become a target?