In-store cooking demonstrations are heating up sales in Center Store.
Prepared and sampled alongside ingredients displayed in single merchandising units, recipes for quick and easy fare are generating item trials and driving incremental sales. In many cases these demonstrations help shoppers find solutions for meal preparation that they didn't even know they were looking for.
“Cooking demonstrations are a value-added service that encourages people to prepare and eat meals at home,” said Frank Dell, president of Stamford, Conn.-based Dellmart & Co. “Most shoppers have at least some basics in their pantry like sugar, flour, salt and pepper, but they might not have ingredients like cajun spices or food coloring for a cake. These help introduce them to items they may not have been familiar with.”
Ginny Troyan, demonstration team leader for Fairfield, Ohio-based Jungle Jim's International Market, said that during any given week customers will go through cases of spices, sauces and other items cross-merchandised as part of its in-store cooking demonstration program.
“If customers can see, smell and taste a product up close, they might be more inclined to purchase its ingredients,” noted Mona Golub, spokeswoman for Schenectady, N.Y.-based Price Chopper, which has had an in-house team of cooking demonstrators for more than 20 years.
Incited by the desire to help customers of all expertise levels discover, or rediscover, the joys of preparing home-cooked meals, Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix Super Markets introduced its Aprons Cooking School program eight years ago. Classes, which require an admission fee, focus on certain cuisines or cooking techniques, as well as themes like desserts or holidays.
The latest offshoot of the program, called Apron's Simple Meals, is helping time-strapped customers in the same way, but this time in-store, as they shop.
After Publix demonstrators prepare a meal, they invite customers to sample the dish and take a recipe card printed in either English or Spanish. Most of the cards also offer helpful nutritional hints, such as how to make the meal low-fat or low-cholesterol.
“We set up a kiosk in the stores, and every week we demonstrate how to cook our Meal of the Week,” said Publix spokeswoman Maria Brous. “It's our way of trying to bring value to the customer and their family.”
Publix chooses Center Store ingredients that will work well with fresh meats, poultry or fish, and then discounts at least some of the items during the week of the demonstration.
“This is not something that we just throw together,” noted Brous. “We work months in advance to coordinate our flyers with the demonstrations going on in our stores. We have a whole department behind this program.”
Publix primarily demonstrates simple recipes that require little preparation time. Many incorporate common ingredients that customers tend to buy for their pantries, as well as more exotic items to encourage trial.
The retailer's Raspberry Chicken With Rice recipe, for instance, calls for boil-in-a-bag rice, red raspberry preserves, cream sherry and dried mint, among other ingredients. Both the perishable and shelf-stable components of a recipe are cross-merchandised beside meal preparation kiosks in refrigerated bunkers, providing easy access for Publix shoppers.
Although the ingredients are brand-specific during the week of the demonstration, Publix doesn't include brands on its recipe cards.
“We create our Meal of the Week around our ad circular, but from time to time we'll reuse that recipe,” said Brous. If Publix were to feature the same meal again, “we'd have to recreate those recipe cards each time its [brand-specific] ingredients went on or off sale.”
Currently, 570 of the chain's more than 900 stores are equipped with the portable kiosks and bunkers. Sometimes they are set up in Center Store aisles, sometimes up front near the checkout counters or close to the deli section.
So far, Publix has seen “very good results” with the in-store demonstrations and is “pleased with the increase in sales,” said Brous. “It's a great program, because it helps us meet the needs of customers who want to cook but are subject to a time crunch.”
The majority of Simple Meals cooking demonstrations are done on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, during the stores' busiest times. Some locations may even have two or three demonstrators concurrently preparing meals.
Publix is working toward developing a smaller version of the kiosk so it can scale down the program and take it into its smaller stores.
Price Chopper also promotes Center Store items through product sampling and cooking demonstrations on a frequent basis.
More than 300 Price Chopper Super Samples demonstrators are now hosting in-store cooking demonstrations and product sampling every week in most of the chain's 115 stores. Sampling usually takes place for six hours on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, but can also occur on other days if tied to a special promotion, in-store event or seasonal holiday.
“The coordination of product demonstrations with featured advertising or marketing activity makes for an entertaining experience that entices shoppers to our stores,” Price Chopper's Golub noted.
Price Chopper encourages at-home preparation of its demonstrated meals by offering recipe copies after the meals have been prepared and samples distributed.
Generally, the recipes don't involve more than a handful of brand-specific ingredients, according to Golub.
Meatball Soup With Vegetables was featured during one recent cooking demonstration at Price Chopper. Its ingredients include a 14.5-ounce can of Hunts Petite Diced Tomatoes, an 8-ounce can of Hunts Tomato Sauce, three 14-ounce cans of Swanson Chicken Broth, a 16-ounce package of Birds Eye Frozen Mixed Vegetables, a 1-ounce envelope of Lipton Dry Onion Soup Mix, a teaspoon of Price Chopper sugar and a 12-ounce package of Rosina Frozen Italian Meatballs.
“Typically, the products and recipes are all displayed close to the demonstration tables,” said Golub. “Of course, our knowledgeable associates share information about the attributes of the ingredients and the recipes with interested consumers.”
Price Chopper also produces and sponsors cooking classes outside of its stores, sometimes renting spaces that can accommodate upwards of 300 people. The focus of these classes can be as diverse as Grilling 101, Cooking Healthy With Chris Smith, The Diabetic Chef and Holiday Entertaining.
Price Chopper doesn't promote Center Store items for use in these classes.
The category managers at Jungle Jim's work with their suppliers to choose the ingredients and brands that will be featured during the 300,000-square-foot single store's cooking demonstrations. The selection of Center Store brands featured in the retailer's recipes vary from mainstream Crisco, Hunt's, Ragu, Swanson's and Campbell's Soup to more exotic ingredients such as Paul Prudhomme spices and Racconto whole wheat pasta.
“People who know Jungle Jim's expect to see demonstrations on the weekends — they travel from demo to demo and that's how they shop our store,” said Sarah Kaufmann, manager of creative services for Jungle Jim's. “They watch and taste the meals and what wines are being demonstrated, and they buy the ingredients that they need to make those meals. Very, very frequently we sell out of the ingredients we have on sale and on display.”
Jungle Jim's has a staff of 19 part-time demonstrators, who typically do six to nine cooking demonstrations on weekends. The demonstrators simultaneously man five cooking stations, as well as carts and tables. Jungle Jim's also demonstrates a fish recipe on Wednesdays, and a Mexican meal is prepared on Thursdays in the store's international section.
“Some of our cooking demonstrators have loyal fans who always stop by,” said Kaufmann.
Recently, the independent retailer demonstrated the versatility of Kentucky Cookout Company's Bourbon-Q rub, in both pork loin and chicken breast cooking demos. Like Publix and Price Chopper, Jungle Jim's displays ingredients on nearby tables.
“If a recipe requires sea salt, you have to have that sea salt right there at the cooking table, because if the customers have to take three steps away, they'll forget or lose track of what they need for the recipe,” said Troyan. “And ideally, these items will also be marked down at a special price.”
Featured in a recent recipe, Racconto whole wheat pasta, usually priced at $1.29, was discounted to 99 cents, while La Rosa pasta sauce, which retails for $1.39, was discounted to 93 cents.
Jungle Jim's also has an in-store cooking school: The Cooking School at Jungle Jim's, located on the second level. Although the school leverages Center Store ingredients in its classes, Jungle Jim's doesn't promote them there. Twice a month, the school holds cooking classes out on the sales floor, in proximity to the new Gourmet Galleria Cookware department, where Jungle Jim's sells pots, pans and cooking accessories. There are chairs for 16 people, and reservations are required. “We always sell out,” Troyan explained.