Dreaming Online

RICKI mines the web for talk of kitchen wants and desires
December 15, 2011

Imagine social media as a kitchen table. It may seem like a stretch, but social media spaces are fast becoming virtual kitchen tables of sorts, where online “neighbors” discuss everything from who’s seeing whom to what’s the best dishwasher and what makes for a dream kitchen. According to The Pew Research Center’s 2011 Internet and American Life Survey Spring Tracking Survey, nearly eight out of 10 adults in the U.S. (78%) use the Internet these days, and adoption of social media continues to skyrocket, with two-thirds of Internet users now taking to social media, up from around half just two years ago.

In light of these numbers, Research Institute for Cooking & Kitchen Intelligence (RICKI) recently conducted an analysis of online conversations to explore what consumers want in their “dream kitchens.” From 1,400 posts occurring in online forums and on message boards during a six-month period beginning in January 2011 and continuing through June, RICKI extracted 428 that were most relevant to the home kitchen sector for further analysis.

According to Bryan Kristof, RICKI’s VP of Internet & Digital Media and a seasoned veteran in the relatively new field of social media analytics, arriving at the final data set was “tricky,” requiring more than just software to filter out irrelevant content. “When you’re analyzing data from online postings, you have to be on the lookout for conversations about contests and houses for sale, as well as posts that appear to be relevant in the ‘mind’ of a technology tool but are not related to home kitchens at all,” he said. “No social media monitoring technology can catch all of these. And technology tools cannot categorize conversations into insightful information with high accuracy.” Consequently, all of the online posts were submitted to additional “contextual theme analysis,” in which “a live person” read through and categorized each post.


Many of the dream kitchen conversations taking place online during the study period relate to giving and getting practical advice on products and layouts, as well as purchase recommendations. Also widely discussed were truly aspirational fantasy kitchens.

The study’s findings are represented below in a word cloud—a visual depiction of the most popular words in a data set. The different font sizes, based on keyword density, illustrate how frequently different terms appear in the discussions. Words appearing more frequently are represented by larger font sizes (the different colors do not carry any weight or value). Words that most frequently appear in the RICKI study conversations are highlighted below.


The most popular topic regarding dream kitchens is cabinets, with close to half of all conversations (45%) revolving around cabinetry and islands. Nearly a quarter talked about wanting an island or wanting to expand or reconfigure their existing one. People also discussed cabinet materials and finishes, as well as changing the color of their cabinets to match their existing home decor. Countertops were the subject of nearly a third of the conversations (30%), with granite and other natural stone surfaces accounting for nearly half of these discussions. Cooking appliances came in third, figuring in more than a quarter of the online posts.

References to specific brands were prevalent throughout many conversations, with the exception of those concerning cabinetry and lighting. Previous RICKI research also found far lower brand awareness in these two categories than in other kitchen product categories. Cooking appliances garnered the highest number of brand mentions.

One in five discussions related to general preferences in the layout and style of dream kitchens. Posts focusing on specific types of configurations—galley, U-shaped, L-shaped—sparked minor debates, with each having its share of advocates and detractors, but in the end, a person’s cooking style, aesthetic considerations and space seemed to determine what worked best for them. Regardless, the study also found no shortage of people seeking online advice on the best kitchen layout. Most, however, were prepared for the reality that their dream kitchen may have to fit within an existing space and were planning accordingly. Kitchen styles discussed fell mainly into three categories: classic, modern and what would best be described as “eclectic,” meaning a mixing and matching of different styles.

Surprisingly, only 17% of conversations addressed the want or need for bigger kitchens or just more space (and 15% expressed a desire to not have “too much” space). As someone with the online handle “brooklyn” noted, “Design is most important, not size.” Many posts did, however, highlight a desire for more or better storage options.

In further analyzing the conversations, Kristof added, “While a segment of consumers are OK with ‘settling’ for refinished cabinetry, most consumers seem to think that simply refinishing or refacing their cabinets or just adding an island isn’t enough of a change to give them the kitchen of their dreams.”


Pew Research found that nearly 58 percent of Americans report they go online to research products and services they are considering purchasing—an increase from 49 percent in 2004. Moreover, U.S. consumers tend to trust peer recommendations far more than advertisements.

“There are new rules for brand monitoring and trend analysis,” said Kristof. “In years past, most of the conversations about brands took place business to consumer. Today, with the popularity of Facebook, Four Square and other digital worlds, much of the discussion takes place peer to peer. This is game-changing. No longer can a company totally control the message. And while social media monitoring cannot take the place of traditional research methodologies for getting inside customers’ minds, companies must be aware of and continuously track what people are saying about their product categories and their brands in the online space.”

—Erin Gallagher is Chief of Insights at RICKI, which aims to help kitchen-related businesses make smarter decisions and better products by delivering actionable insights, forecasts and trends through dedicated kitchen research.

Photo above: (Clockwise beginning with left) Plain & Fancy’s Driftwood Collection; EOS’ Geos; and Kohler’s Vault sink)
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