Chances are you or somebody you know has recently become the owner of an Instant Pot, the multifunction electric pressure cooker that can produce fork-tender pot roasts in less than an hour, as well as brown meat, cook beans without soaking, and even do the job of a rice cooker or crockpot. The Instant Pot isn't advertised on TV or in the newspapers, and yet it's become a viral marketing success story, with owners often describing themselves as "addicts" or "cult members." That's the kind of word-of-mouth publicity Instant Pot founders dreamed of when they first began designing the countertop appliances.
The Instant Pot electric pressure cooker has been around since 2010, but really became the buzz during the last six months of 2016. While the company's electric pressure cookers are sold at Wal-Mart, Target and Kohl's, the bulk of its sales come from Amazon, driven by social media. Deep discounts on Amazon Prime Day and again on Black Friday, along with the viral online sharing of these sales, turned Instant Pot into a household name. With 215,000 units sold on Prime Day alone, the Instant Pot Duo is Amazon's top-selling item in the U.S. market. Not bad for a company that does no TV or print advertising and only recently began the process of hiring a marketing agency.
The 25-employee Ottawa, Canada-based Instant Pot Company was founded by a group of engineers, not chefs, in 2008. The team focused on designing the appliance's microprocessor and thermal and pressure sensors, which improve safety over earlier stovetop and electric pressure cookers, hoping that the product would speak for itself.
"Cooking is very much a social behavior. If people make good food, they will be raving about it, including the tools used," says CEO Robert Wang. In order to attract cooks from different cultures, the Instant Pot has preset buttons for making foods such as porridge, beans and yogurt.
Instant Pot is savvy enough to know that social media is now part of word-of-mouth advertising. While the company does not sponsor paid content or promotions, it has provided free Instant Pots to 200 bloggers and cookbook authors who represent many styles of cooking, including Chinese, Italian, sous-vide and vegan. The company's website and the booklets that come with the appliance prominently feature blogger recipes.