28 January, 2021

Lessons Learned 3: Why you need a collaborator, not a provider

Erik Wallin
CEO at Northfork

Lessons learned on taking a collaborative approach to user insights.

A partnership between BuzzFeed, Walmart and recipe shopping technology provider Northfork led to the development of grocery shopping in the hugely popular Tasty app. So how did the world’s leading independent digital media company, the largest retailer on the planet and the market leader in shoppable recipes work so effectively together?

That’s what Northfork Chief Product Officer Peter Simon sat down to discuss recently with Sami Simon, BuzzFeed’s Staff Product Manager. The pair reflected on the past two and more years of working together to consider the lessons that can be learned from the experience. Read on to discover them.

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The power of collaboration

The overarching lesson to come out of the partnership is that creating a collaborative environment can vastly increase the value of a project. In the case of Tasty, BuzzFeed could have viewed both Northfork and Walmart as services that would simply deliver different aspects of the app. But as BuzzFeed’s Sami Simon points out, that would have meant wasting a vast amount of knowledge:

“We wanted to create an innovative experience that integrated content with shopping really deeply and focused on user insights as a core part of that. To do that, we built a partnership structure that allowed us to make the most of BuzzFeed’s media and recipe expertise, Walmart’s grocery expertise, and Northfork’s tech and online shopping user experience  expertise.”

The goal was to blend the best of all of these capabilities to produce a user experience that was greater than the sum of the individual parts – which is precisely what happened.

A breeding ground for innovation 

The other key lesson to come out of the partnership was how powerfully the right approach to collaboration can feed innovation. Through working closely together, BuzzFeed, Walmart and Northfork managed to create a breeding ground for innovation that ultimately led to changing BuzzFeed’s audience behaviour.

The focus for every idea was rooted in user insights. Connecting with and understanding Tasty’s audience provided a core set of principles that framed the partners’ approach. . These insights helped to guide discussions and decisions and led to a number of new features and functions within Tasty. A sticky ‘add to bag’ button on each recipe page, for example, saw the add to bag rate shoot up by 15%. Peter Simon, Chief Product Officer at Northfork, comments:

“Having recipes and products visually connected within the same experience really bridges that gap between inspiration and commerce – and that smooth transition and continuity as the user flows from one to the other have been key to Tasty’s success. We couldn’t have achieved that without a collaborative mindset and a deep awareness of customer needs, values and behaviours.”

From collaboration to commercial success

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a major factor in shifting shopper behaviour, pushing more people to experiment with shopping online. It has changed many people’s idea of the value of online grocery. This has been an opportunity for Tasty, but the challenge is now to keep all those users engaged in this new style of shopping, once the app has met their initial need. BuzzFeed’s Sami Simon observes:

“People are cooking at home more and in different ways, so it’s not just about online versus offline anymore, but about what shoppers are now buying, in what quantities and what they are doing with the ingredients they buy. It’s up to the Tasty partners to grow with these needs and continue adding further innovations to keep users inspired.”

A proactive collaborative approach to user insights and product development makes it easier to  quickly test out new ways of doing things and then enhance them to ensure the best fit for users’ needs.

This is where measuring success – and using it to drive further collaboration and innovation – comes into play. There are numerous ways to do so. With Tasty, for example, there’s the high-level figure of how many people use the app but it’s also possible to look at it much more deeply. How successfully are consumers getting through each stage of the journey? Are they being inspired by amazing recipes? Are they confident that they can tap a button and arrive at Walmart able to buy what they need? What’s the difference and overlap between recipes that generate a lot of views compared to recipes that users choose to buy?

Both quantitative and qualitative data are needed to answer these types of questions. Those answers can be fed back into the collaborative process to continue driving further innovation. Sami Simon concludes:

“Tasty’s success is a testament to the success of the underlying collaboration. Enabling people to find the perfect recipe and want to buy the ingredients for it is a huge part of the user journey – this has to be right if they’re going to shop successfully for the ingredients. That’s the part that BuzzFeed takes ownership of. Walmart then makes sure the shopping experience is successful once they get there, while Northfork ties it all together. Working with collaborators rather than providers has been a powerful way to provide more value to our Tasty users.”

Lessons learned 

The collaboration between BuzzFeed, Walmart and Northfork has delivered some important lessons, including:

  • Open your project up to create a collaborative environment in order to increase its value.
  • Ensure each collaborator’s expertise fits well with the project goals and values and complements the other partners’ expertise.
  • Measuring success with the right metrics is a key part of driving further collaboration and innovation.


Grocery Shopping on Autopilot: Lessons Learned Series from Experts. This six-part thought leadership series shares valuable insights from industry leaders from across the World who lead the way of the rapid evolution of the grocery industry.   

About the author

Erik Wallin
CEO at Northfork

Erik is co-founder of Northfork, he has a long experience of the grocery industry within marketing and sales. Before Northfork, Erik founded BagHitch a P2P transportation service.