Interest in cooking shows and personalities is reaching new heights, but how can you harness this cultural phenomenon for the benefit of your business?
| Anna Olson and Home Hardware marketing director Jack Baillie.
It’s been said that we’ve become a society of “food voyeurs” reading about and watching beautiful culinary creations while filling our bellies with junk from the fast-food drive-through window. Food TV has a robust roster of shows dedicated to the exploration of unique delicacies and the stars of these shows have become much more than mere hosts. Indeed, many of them have become icons, making personal appearances, writing books and even landing gigs as spokespeople for brand name product lines.
This is stuff usually reserved for golf pros and Olympic athletes and it speaks to the public interest in all things tasty. But there is a huge upside for our industry if we look closely at this phenomenon. But will all this hoopla turn voyeurs into participants?
Food-related television has been around for decades. The popular 1970s program “Galloping Gourmet,” taped in Ottawa, ran for 440 episodes, which were then syndicated internationally. At its height of popularity, “Galloping Gourmet” was seen by as many as 200 million around the world. Today’s Food TV looks at food from every possible angle and features hosts from a huge range of cultures and nationalities. But again, questions arise: Does all this viewing translate into consumer demand for bakery innovation?
Ruth Reichl, editor of Gourmet magazine, says that in our celebrity-obsessed culture, many diners are seeking a personal connection as much as a good meal.
“The more people can identify with these chefs, the more they want to go to their places, buy their books, have some kind of contact with them,” she says.
The sales figures nod to the cachet these highly visible chefs wield.
MarketTrend: The U.S. Market for Chef- and Foodservice-branded Food Sold at Retail report reveals that the market for chef-and restaurant-branded food products in the U.S. grew at an annual rate of eight per cent between 2004 and 2008 in dollar sales. Anna Olson, a longtime prominent personality on the Canadian Food Network, recently began a partnership with Home Depot to be its kitchen expert. Her popularity as a highly visible culinary personality is an ideal catalyst to help home cooks develop their skills and appreciation for new foods.
“I really enjoy the process,” says Olson. “By facilitating that exploration in home kitchens through the Food Network and as kitchen expert with Home Depot, I believe it helps increase awareness for quality ingredients and foods.”
If you’re offering in-store workshops or seminars, you might notice a shift in your participants and in their level of knowledge. Nicolette Novak of the Good Earth Cooking School in Beamsville, Ont., has been offering hands-on seminars led by chefs for several years now. She’s noticing that seminar participants are coming to class with a higher level of knowledge than those in the past.
“We’re trying to de-mystify the kitchen here so people can feel comfortable in exploring new foods. I see people asking for things like Confit and grapeseed oil, so the publicity offered by the Food Network and high-profile culinary personalities does appear to have awakened more people to the food scene. It has also helped the industry shed its blue-collar image. The public now appreciates that it is an art form.”
Olson has also noticed a change in the demographics of people attending her seminars.
“Years ago the people who attended my seminars were primarily females. Now I’m really noticing a lot of couples coming, and young people too. When I say young, I don’t just mean 14- to 21-year-olds, I’m talking about six- and seven-year-olds. This is particularly exciting because they’re watching the Food Network with their parents and this is the next generation of culinary consumers preparing to emerge.”
This widespread appeal for the culinary arts appears to be borne out by the statistics. The July 15, 2009, episode of the reality show “The Next Food Network Star” generated unprecedented ratings for Food Network and was the most highly rated telecast in the network’s history. The show is in its third season. Garnering almost 2.6 million total viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research, the eighth installment of the program tied as the highest rated ad-supported prime telecast of the night among adults 25 to 54. The series has significantly increased total viewership numbers for the premiere in each season that it has aired, season three being no exception with 4.7 million total viewers tuning, a 21 per cent increase over season two. With that many eyeballs on a show about cooking, you can bet that interest in the culinary arts will be piqued.
Making one’s living in an industry that’s hot and trendy is a good thing for business. As for how to turn this fanfare into opportunity for growth, one only needs to look at how the trend is playing out. Offer seminars for couples, kids and whole families as a way for people to spend time with each other. Watch the shows when you can to pinpoint menu items that may be of interest to your customers and then promote them “As Seen on Food TV” (with your own twist of course). Promote the fine ingredients, freshness and innovation you possess. After all, a little star power goes a long way.
Michelle Brisebois is a marketing professional with experience in the food, pharmaceutical and financial services industries. She specializes in helping companies grow their brands and can be reached at email@example.com.
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