Each time you’re about to throw away an empty container — for ketchup, cereal, pickles, milk, macaroni, paper towels, dog food or whatever — you just pass its bar code under the scanner. With amazing speed and accuracy, the Ikan beeps, consults its online database of one million products, and displays the full name and description.
In a clear, friendly font, the screen might say: “Nabisco Reduced Fat Ritz Crackers 14.5 Oz.,” for example. Now you can toss the box, content that its replacement has been added to your shopping list.
After a few days of this, you can review the list online at Ikan.net — and if everything looks good, click once to have everything delivered to your house at a time you specify.
Maybe it’s not exactly a Food-a-Rac-a-Cycle. But at least it’s the Netflix of groceries.
Reactions to this gizmo are all over the map. Old-school homemakers may consider it a silly redundancy. How much more effort is it, they ask, to maintain a handwritten list? And isn’t going to the grocery store more than just a time drain? Isn’t it also a little outing, a small source of pride and accomplishment, an opportunity for social interaction?
Other people can’t believe the amount of time this system saves. You’ve just compressed a two-hour weekly errand into about 10 minutes. All you have to do is approve the illustrated, error-proof online shopping list, and then let somebody else battle the traffic, haul the bags and pay for the gas.
The Ikan company has found that customers’ reactions also depend on age, income and location (city vs. suburb, for example). But before you decide, consider some of the less apparent aspects of the Ikan.
First, there’s an environmental benefit. A big green Recycle log appears on the Ikan’s screen whenever you scan a package that’s recyclable in your town, warning you not to throw it away. (The company researches each municipality’s recycling policy individually as Ikan units are purchased, so the logo may not appear the first day you own the Ikan.)
Furthermore, consolidating many deliveries on a single truck removes a number of cars from the road, providing an additional green benefit.
Above all, though, your happiness with the Ikan will depend on what grocery delivery is available in your area.
The best situation is to live in Manhattan or certain surrounding suburbs, where Ikan is smoothly integrated with the D’Agostino grocery chain. For example, if you want something that has no bar code, like fresh fruit, you can press a Voice Reminder button and simply speak it: “Six green bananas.” A D’Agostino representative on the other end will manually add the requested item to your order.
Furthermore, if you scan something that D’Agostino doesn’t carry, a rep will call you to discuss a substitution. That speed bump eventually goes away, of course; over time, your standard list fills with those substitute items that the store does carry.
If you live beyond New York City, you may be able to get delivery from a company like Peapod, which offers service through Stop ’n’ Shop and Giant stores in 10 states. (That’s the service I tested.)
At the moment, the Ikan isn’t quite as well integrated with Peapod. For example, those spoken fresh-fruit recordings are not transmitted to your Peapod.com list. They show up on your page at Ikan.net, neatly typed out when possible (the system offers speech recognition of 800 terms, like “limes” or “bananas”). But you have to add them to your Peapod.com list manually.
You don’t get a phone call about substitutions, either. Items that Peapod doesn’t carry congregate in a special section of your Peapod.com list; choosing substitutions is left to you.