BBC Good Food - Cooking With Voice

BBC Good Food

Business challenge

Across the world’s kitchens there are cookbooks and phone screens covered in greasy fingerprints and stainy splodges.

These all serve as living proof that a voice-guided cooking experience would be a major win for the household chef.

BBC Good Food has a 30 year heritage and is the UK’s number 1 food media brand across print, digital and live. However, with smart speakers becoming the fastest-growing consumer technology, the evidence suggested for BBC Good Food to remain UK’s number 1, voice was imperative. After all, tech moves on and more often than not, consumers follow.

  1. Google reported in 2016 that 20% of all searches on mobile were done by voice and ComScore has predicted that voice searches in general are set to rise to 50% by 2020
  2. Penetration in UK households was increasing at a steady rate with voice representing 48% compound annual growth rate
  3. The kitchen is a primary location for smart speakers - approximately 50% of consumers house their devices in this part of their household

The aggressive growth of the platform represented both opportunity and a serious threat to the business model driving BBC Good Food. More specifically, the business model is reliant on its ability to serve and sell advertising impressions on their hugely popular recipe website and app. To do so, BBC Good Food must appear front and centre in search results and drive that traffic into their recipe pages for advertising impressions to be served.

However, voice assistants offered little scope for BBC Good Food to ensure presence when someone utters “Alexa, find me a good recipe for pancakes”. Worse still, voice user interfaces (VUI) does away with traditional impressions when a result is returned.

This all meant that BBC Good Food had to find a way to be the go-to VUI cooking experience and invent new ways to monetise their much loved content.


Creating the ultimate voice guided experience

If we were to state the challenge very simply, it was for BBC Good Food was to become the go-to recipe assistant for Alexa - achieving this would mean creating the ultimate experience in voice guided cooking. We'd have to overcome common cooking pain-points, consider how to faciliate search for 11,000 recipes without a visual interface and we'd have to consider what voice could offer that other platforms couldn't.

Ultimately, the core of the Skill is that it enables hands-free cooking - no more flipping cookbook pages back and forth and no more greasy phonescreens. Therefore, we gave significant thought to peoples' mindset when it comes to cooking and therefore what use cases should we account for. What are some of the easily overlooked minutiae of how people actually cook and how could the Skill alleviate any pain points? What limitations of human cognition do we need to be cognisant of when it comes to listening to (as opposed to reading) a recipe?

Searching 11,000 recipes

The first major challenge was helping to funnel users from 11,000 recipes to the 1 recipe they’d like in the shortest number of steps possible - all without visual cues.

To do this, we had to consider the most popular search intents for users such as available ingredients, dishes, diet types, time (e.g. ‘quick’), difficulty (e.g. ‘easy’), cuisine, course, chef etc and design questions to ensure that we extracted the precise information we needed in a predictable, unambiguous format that Alexa could query against the database effectively.

Ask too many questions and we risked creating a frustrating user experience. Ask too few questions and the user would be faced with a barrage of recipes and only their voice to navigate this vast wilderness.

The solution was to enable a range of conversational commands with filtering criteria baked in - for instance:

“Alexa, Ask BBC Good Food for a quick and easy meal for 4 using chicken and tomatoes”.

With that single sentence, 5 filters are applied effortlessly - 2x ingredients, time to cook, difficulty level and serving size.

BBC Good Food

From screen to voice-ready content

Another problem that quickly became apparent was that all of the content was designed for web and mobile - i.e. they were ideal for reading. Not so much for speaking.

To optimise the listening experience, we restructured the content, breaking instructions down into smaller lines, considering pacing and including functionality for enhanced control, such as pausing, repeating and bookmarking so that users can pick up right where they left off.

Introducing pauses to reduce cognitive load and make locating ingredients easier

Solving age old problems

We reviewed typical pain points with cookbooks and screen displays and found that the most common annoyance is the separation of recipe method and ingredients.

We’ve all found ourselves flicking between the instructions and list of ingredients to confirm quantities.

The instruction “add the sugar” is typically met with the question, “how much sugar?" and so we enabled the link between these traditionally separated elements for a seamless walk through. Users could simply ask "how much?" and the Skill would confirm this instantly.

The combined effect of the enhanced search flow, voice tailored content, pacing controls and the bridging of method steps and ingredient quantities makes for a genuinely hands-free cooking experience and the foundation to surpass traditional channels as more and more UK households welcome voice assistants into their home.


BBC Good Food’s business model is reliant on selling ad space across the impressions served on web, app and in print. However, voice presents a challenge, there are no impressions in the traditional sense, and no ready made advertising exchange to plug in. We’d have to define new a approach to monetization.

  1. Through integration with online retailers, we’re able to monetize the purchase of ingredients via an affiliate arrangement, which would offer a revenue supplement
  2. Unlockable premium content

While still nascent, the potential strength of the monetisation routes on offer gave BBC Good Food confidence that their valuable content would be paid and supported as the channel grows

BBC Good Food

With a Voice UI, you don’t need to read out the recipe to your other half anymore, so you can get back to the serious business of watching Netflix.
Image credit: Digital Trends

A glimpse into the future

With a brilliant voice guided cooking experience now created, we knew we had an opportunity to take it even further and consider what the technology could offer beyond other channels.

Imagine if you could ask Alexa to suggest the healthiest meal for your family tonight and the results returned were all based on the food you already have in your fridge! Well, that’s exactly what we did.

By connecting the Alexa Skill to the inbuilt cameras in your smart-fridge and with the use of advanced object recognition and deep learning techniques, we’re able to detect the contents of the fridge and return relevant options from BBC Good Food’s 11,000+ recipes.

In the instance where there weren’t enough ingredients in the fridge for a match, users would be offered the opportunity to order the missing ingredients through a supermarket retailer integration. This was our route to monetising the service.

“Alexa, what can i cook tonight that is high in protein?”

“Based on the ingredients in your fridge, you can make a delicious greek feta omelette, which is high in protein, would you like to hear the recipe for that?”

Yum! yes please!


First and foremost, we set out to be the UK's go-to voice guided recipe experience and what we achieved was above and beyond our expectations.

The BBC Good Food Skill has been heavily featured in the National Press and Amazon has recognised it as one of the best recipe Skills in the world with Alexa now directing all recipes searches in the UK and Ireland to BBC Good Food - by default.

BBC Good Food has been recognised as a trailblazer in the emergent voice space and have been invited to speak at multiple conferences across Europe. But, more importantly, we have created a product that opens up new potential sources of revenue and one that helps to maintain BBC Good Food's position as the UK's home for recipes.

BBC Good Food

Try out the BBC Good Food Alexa Skill for yourself link here