Celeb Chefs Are Key Ingredient In Food Campaigns

Consumers like to take a Sara Lee pound cake and add their own touches to it. So when casting about for a way to spike up its holiday marketing, the company's food and beverage unit went straight to the celebrity chef known for putting new twists on old favorites to get the family to the table: Art Smith.

Sara Lee's "Holiday From the Holidays" contest, which began Thursday and ends Nov. 26, will reward a "holiday hero" with a personal visit from Smith, Oprah's personal chef. Smith will help prepare a meal for the family and friends of the winner, who also will get a day of spa treatments. The contest, which is at www.TotalMealsOnline.com, will be supported by TV, radio and print ads as well as in-store items designed to drive traffic to the Web site.

Sara Matheu, director of Sara Lee Food and Beverage Public Relations, said the Chicago-based company has partnered with chefs before, including Tyler Florence of The Food Network. The match between the maker of such comfort foods as Jimmy Dean sausage and Hillshire Farm and the author of Back to the Table: The Reunion of Food and Family, which contains simple, comforting recipes, "elevates the buzz around the brands," said Matheu.



Other food marketers are lining up for the chance to rub elbows with celebrities. Maria Caranfa, director of Mintel Menu Insights, said such partnerships are new this year.

"It's interesting because it makes the chefs more accessible to everyday people while it elevates the company's brands," she said. "We're also seeing it with fashion, with the Vera Wang and Serta partnership. Fashion and food are very trendy so it's a good way for marketers to elevate themselves."

Fresh Express, the No. 1 salad maker, this week joined forces with chef Todd English and celebrity entertainer/MTV star vee-jay Susie Castillo to launch an educational initiative surrounding childhood obesity and a contest urging kids and teens to create salad recipes, and develop healthier eating habits. The "Teens for Greens Amazing Search for Fresh Salad Recipe Challenge" is linked off the home pages of Fresh Express, a Chiquita Brands subsidiary, and Do Something, a not-for-profit Internet company, that has partnered with Fresh Express for the promotion.

Elsewhere, Kraft Foods is among the initial sponsors of Yahoo Food, unveiled on Thursday and featuring celebrity interviews, video, recipes, food-related articles and blog posts. Kraft will be integrated in the site's recipe section.

Yahoo Food will offer content from Martha Stewart Living, "Every Day With Rachael Ray," and posts from bloggers such as Marcus Samuelsson, chef and co-owner of Restaurant Aquavit in New York.

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