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When Cooking.com launched in 1998 as a website that sold cookware, kitchen appliances, grilling tools, and outdoor essentials, only 26% of American households could access the Internet (Source). This makes Cooking.com one of the oldest websites that existed. Apart from offering deals on thousands of kitchen items, the site also delivered culinary content such as recipes and food-related articles.
Try to access Cooking.com today, and the message “www.cooking.com’s server IP address could not be found” meets you. What happened to this website that was successful enough that it was acquired by Target? We took the time to find the answer by following the history of the site, the products it sold, and the accolades it bagged.
With a range of over 30,000 products for the kitchen, as well as cookbooks, recipes, a library of member-submitted cooking content, and the fact that it attracted the attention of Target, it can be argued that Cooking.com achieved great success in its lifetime (Source).
The website had a Recipe Section where visitors could browse content by type of meal, the main ingredient, cuisine, or cooking method. The section contained thousands of recipes from all continents. Examples of recipes on the site include Beefsteak Tomato Stack, Barbecue-Style Braised Short Ribs, and Grilled Asian Flank Steak among others.
The website also featured articles which it promised were “written by renowned cookbook authors, culinary educators, food experts,” and editors at Cooking.com. It added: “You’ll discover delicious recipes, easy menus for entertaining, suggestions for holidays and special occasions, helpful hints and useful information for selecting and using the latest cooking equipment.”
The History of Cooking.com
According to its founders, the company was launched when a team working at Walt Disney Corporation paired up with a cookbook publisher and Idea lab, a startup studio in California (Source).
Another measure of Cooking.com’s success is the number of awards that it won. These include the Merchandise Excellence Honoree in association with the 2010 Housewares Design Awards, the 2008 Web Marketing Association’s WebAward for Best Shopping Website, and the Internet Retailer Best of the Web Top 50 Award 2007, among many others.
In 2011,Tracy Randall, Cooking’s CEO, teamed up with Steamy Kitchen, whose founder, Jaden Hair, was a television chef, food columnist, and an award-winning food blogger. Regarding the partnership with Steamy Kitchen, Randall states, “We are delighted to be working with Steamy Kitchen and food columnist Jaden Hair. Steamy Kitchen is a well-recognized and respected recipe blog, and we’re thrilled to be collaborating with Jaden.” She adds: “By adding an e-commerce element to Steamy Kitchen, customers will enjoy shopping online with their favorite food blogger” (Source).
Target Buys Cooking.com
In 2013, to tap the rapidly expanding kitchenware and cookware market, and to draw more traffic, Target Corporation (TGT) announced that it was buying Cooking.com (Source).
The Cooking.com deal was part of two separate transactions which also saw target acquiring CHEFS Catalog, another company in the business of selling luxury kitchen utensils, bakeware, and cookware. Both retailers were allowed to continue operating under their separate names as wholly-owned subsidiaries of Target (Source).
Why did Target want Cooking.com in its portfolio? Target SVP of Enterprise Strategy and President of Multichannel, Casey Carl, had the answer: “We know consumers are increasingly looking online for cooking solutions to make their lives easier — from utensils and cookware to recipes.” It was also his view that these strategic transactions provided a great way to address this growing opportunity and offered expanded online options for Target’s guests (Source).
Following the acquisition, the Cooking.com CEO Randall, became a consultant at Target (Source).
Why did Target Close Cooking.com?
If Target purchased Cooking.com because it had realized that consumers were now looking online, why did it decide to shut down the website only three years later? Apparently, Cooking.com failed to meet expectations.
In the words of Target spokeswoman Molly Snyder: “Target’s digital business has strengthened and grown, but as the company’s priorities evolved, CHEF’s Catalog and Cooking.com no longer aligned with the broader strategy. Additionally, the results of these businesses did not meet our expectations” (Source).
When Target announced that it was going to shut down both Cooking.com and CHEF’s Catalog, 180 employees were affected (Source).
According to a post on Quora.com by Joseph Johnson (who does not indicate his relationship with either Target or Cooking.com), Target’s reason “sounds like corporate speak.” He continues: “The winners were the original sellers of CHEF’s catalog, Cooking.com, and Bill Gross, the CEO of Idea lab. The losers were the hundreds of unfortunate employees (and their families) who had to find new work because corporate America cut them loose” (Source).
What then Happened to Cooking.com?
In November 2015, the cooking website GourmetInsider.com carried a story announcing that Cooking.com and CHEFs Catalog would close. The story cites a letter from Target to vendors indicating that the websites would be “fully out of business by the end of February 2016” (Source).
By March of 2016 the content previously found on Cooking.com had been replaced by a transitional message explaining how owners of CHEFS gift cards could exchange those cards for a Target gift card. And, by mid-2016 the gift card message had been replaced with a message advertising that the domain Cooking.com was itself for sale.