Chef Report: Star Power

Dinner plates in the Urth tabletop line from Curtis Stone. curtisstone.com

Dinner plates in the Urth tabletop line from Curtis Stone. curtisstone.com

 By Allison Zisko

In the ever-expanding world of celebrity chefs there is something for everyone.

There is a devoted and loyal audience for each chef. There are housewares manufacturers interested in enhancing their brands by making licensed goods for those chefs. And there are retailers happy to sell those goods to consumers who relish the idea of cooking like the pros and having the proper equipment to do so.

“When a celebrity chef licenses their name to a housewares product, they are inspiring people and connecting to them on a level that cannot be done with pure product alone. It’s the classic ‘purchase through story-telling,’” said Kathryn Kerrigan, a Chicago-based retail marketing consultant. “Everyone loves a great story and consumers—especially women—want to believe that their money is going to a cause, story or brand that they agree with from an ideological perspective.

“When Wolfgang Puck, Emeril [Lagasse] or Martha Stewart show me a product and explain why it’s important to them, the product comes to life. In today’s society, consumers are hard-pressed to find a romanticized story behind a product. It is therefore harder for consumers to relate to products and it is harder for retailers to sell products. Celebrities are the hook, the story and the compelling ingredient that connects a consumer to a product.”

In an industry that depends on differentiation, a chef’s personality draws a particular audience, and in turn attracts the attention of different retailers. Ideally, licensed products reflect the chef’s personal brand identity.

“My products are an extension of me—things I use and enjoy,” said Emeril Lagasse, whose extensive culinary training and affable nature contributes to a long-running career instructing and entertaining television audiences. He has partnered with Group SEB’s T-Fal and All-Clad divisions for many years, and also works with Gorham on a serveware collection. “My brand is about taking the intimidation out of cooking and standing for quality yet affordable products for the home chef,” Lagasse  told HFN.

James Beard Foundation award winner Mario Batali is a host of numerous television cooking shows and competitions and has authored several cookbooks, which, he feels, help people appreciate the joys of cooking and help to demystify the process. “Our products [Batali has licensed programs with Lenox, Inc., Vic Firth and Madeira Housewares] reflect my desire to educate, but also make great cooking accessible to everyone—they are high quality and high performing, beautiful to look at and affordable. That’s a winning combination.”

Food Network chef Guy Fieri has a similar mission, according to Mary Regan, chief marketing officer for cookware, bakeware, cutlery and cutting boards for Lifetime Brands, which recently signed a license with Fieri and introduced his cookware, bakeware and gadgets at the International Home + Housewares Show in March. Ergo Chef holds the license for cutlery. “Guy’s brand really reflects his personality and what is most important to him, which is educating people about cooking at all levels and all ages. That’s why we have a broad and diverse line. He wanted us to have a broad range of materials and price points for those just learning to cook as well as for those who are cooking enthusiasts.”

Most chefs aim wide when it comes to their target audience. Curtis Stone counts as his core audience “anyone from a beginning home cook to a trained chef.” Paula Deen and Rachael Ray enjoy “high recognition and broad appeal,” which inspired their licensee Meyer Corporation “to think bigger in terms of product offerings,” according to Suzanne Murphy, vice president of marketing. Batali considers anyone “who shares an interest in the joys of great food with friends and family” a worthy target.

Some chefs—Guy Fieri comes to mind—have crossover appeal to both men and women, but many set their sites on women with busy lives and a determination to do right by their families. Emeril thus looks out for the woman between 35 and 55 “who loves to provide wholesome meals for her family,” Cat Cora addresses “multitasking” men and women, and Sandra Lee tries to make things easier for the “busy overextended homemaker who has too much to do and too little time to do it.”

Marcela Valladolid, a native of Mexico whose show “Mexican Made Easy” appears on Food Network, has a unique customer in mind—one who is familiar with and appreciates Mexican food and culture. Her dinnerware, glassware and serveware line, which debuted with Prima Design at the recent New York Tabletop Show, represents Mexico in a way that is not stereotypical or relegated to specific, once-a-year Mexican celebrations such as Cinco de Mayo, she said, but accurately reflects the country’s rich culture and history.
Channels of distribution for celebrity chef housewares products vary. The Bobby Flay line is a Kohl’s exclusive that launched in spring 2008 and recently expanded into more product offerings. The Martha Stewart Collection is currently exclusive to Macy’s, but Martha Stewart shops are slated to open at J.C. Penney stores in 2013, along with an e-commerce site connected to the shops. Sandra by Sandra Lee is exclusive to Kmart and Sears; Lee told HFN that she has been a Kmart shopper since she was a kid and believes that Sears and Kmart stand for “quality and value.” Her “Triple A” factor for products, she said, is “aspirational, attainable, affordable.”

Juanita Coumbias, international sales and marketing director for Starfrit, which manufactures the Cat Cora line, said the company’s retail strategy “is home shopping, e-tailers and specialty shops where our solution-based collection and innovations can be properly explained and demonstrated.” Lifetime Brands is targeting national retailers, regional retailers, clubs and television shopping, according to Regan. Prima Designs headed into the Tabletop Show with department stores in mind for its collection with Valladolid.

Carrying a chef license delivers different benefits for different manufacturers. Arg Manufacturing has the license for Bravo’s “Top Chef.” Arg is an industry newcomer, said Joe Van Houten, president, and it needed a national brand to gain marketshare. “It’s not about an individual, but a style of cooking. Foodies watch it for the competition as well as for how the meal is made,” he said. There is also a constant supply of “cheftestants” coming on board, he added. At the recent Housewares Show the “Top Chef” runner-up Sarah Grueneberg was at the Arg booth doing cooking demonstrations.

For Prima Design, the new license with Valladolid helps introduce its brand to the wider market in a big way. “We are a young company,” said Andrea de la Torre, marketing manager and designer for Prima Design. “[Marcela] is a very good image of who we are—unique, young, fun. We want to show people who we are as a company.” The license also has the potential, she said, to attract the Latin market, “which is huge in the United States and growing.”

The Hispanic market in the U.S. has not only grown, it has expanded beyond the Latino demographic, according to George Duran, whose has appeared on cooking shows on Food Network and TLC and who works with Imusa on product development. “We are seeing more Americans wanting to learn how to cook Latin dishes.”

Manny Gaunaurd, president of Imusa, said his chef team, which includes Duran, does an “amazing” job of providing insight and inspiration for Imusa users. “Our chef team dedicates a significant amount of time and expertise doing demos and webinars, and developing authentic recipes such as pumpkin pie tamales, and mango, crab, and avocado tostones. They have helped Imusa build an enthusiastic community of ethnic food lovers … Imusa is a brand that develops authentic products to embrace many cuisines. Our chef team helps us test and ensure that Imusa products have the right design and technical properties that make cooking easy and fun for our customers.”

Lifetime’s partnership with Fieri introduces it to a new audience, said Regan, one comprised of Generation X and Y members. It’s also the company’s first chance to work with a chef who is “very identifiable on TV” and one who has a solid understanding of social media and how to use it, she added.

Market leaders who have been in the licensed chef business for several years (10 in the case of Groupe SEB), say chef partnerships continue to reap benefits for them. “The collection will continue to expand with input from Chef Emeril,” said Michele Lupton, marketing communications director for Groupe SEB. “The collection has evolved from only cookware to now including cookware, small appliances, bakeware and tools.  We are always looking at new items that may fit with the line.”

“Our licensed brands … immensely add value to our positioning as the largest cookware company in America,” said Meyer Corp.’s Murphy. “Our celebrity brands in particular have been quick successes in cookware. This in turn allowed us to broaden our offerings to several other categories, such as stoneware, tea kettles, cutlery and tools, which strengthens our reputation as experts in a broader range of kitchenware products.”—Andrea Lillo and David Gill contributed to this story