The branding efforts have succeeded because of viewer and consumer interest in the network’s successful programming and personalities, according to Sergei Kuharsky, the company’s general manager of new enterprises. The brand extension efforts kicked off with a deal with Kohl’s department stores that covered a variety of categories in the housewares world.
“We heard from viewers watching our shows that they had a great interest in buying the tools, techniques, and gadgets the chefs were using,” said Kuharsky. The company quickly expanded into the retail world because of the resources at its disposal.
Food Network has about 30 culinary experts shadowing the network’s chefs who can duplicate the recipes and techniques shown on the screen. The experts can cook like everyone from an Iron Chef to a new cook.
“Our culinary experts are highly skilled professionals. With Kohl’s, they have created a product line that is professionally inspired but priced for the home cook,” said Kuharsky.
Once the Kohl’s line of Food Network products was solidified, Kuharsky said the branding efforts came back a little closer to home to the media world. The company formed alliances with several book-publishing houses that resulted in a number of New York Times bestsellers.
“In 2009, we had five New York Times bestsellers,” said Kuharsky. “Our books are based on popular shows like ‘Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives,’ and we also have partnerships with talent such as Bobby Flay, who has a book coming out later this year based on his show ‘Throwdown.’”
Some of the new titles Food Network will release are based on content from the network’s successful magazine, which was launched as a partnership with Hearst Publications in 2008. As other publications have struggled, the network’s magazine is Hearst’s fasting growing publication since Oprah launched her magazine.
The magazine is now the number one epicurean title on the newsstand. “The epicurean food magazine category existed for a longtime. You had the Bon Appétit and Gourmets on the higher end and more populist titles on the other end, all carving out their respective shares of those interested in a cooking focused magazine,” said Kuharsky. “When Food Network came on the scene, we worked with Hearst to offer an epicurean magazine with much more of an entertaining and lifestyle proposition by leveraging culinary personalities and behind-the-scenes information.”
Recent years have seen the network venture out from the worlds of the screen and page to actually start feeding people under Food Network’s banner. It began by looking at where people experience food and deciding that the world of sports would be a big opportunity for growth, according to Kuharsky.
“We went into the suite-level clubs at the new Yankee Stadium and opened a stand there,” said Kuharsky. “Since that foray, we have expanded our food offerings to eight major league baseball stadiums and seven NFL stadiums, and we have several other stadiums on deck.”
In the ballparks and stadiums, the network serves stadium food with a twist. When it first started at Yankee Stadium, it offered a more varied menu of ethnic foods, but Kuharsky said most fans were looking for food based on classic stadium fare.
“When people go to a football game, they want a burger or a hot dog,” said Kuharsky. “But with us, our burger is grass-fed beef with a fried pickle on top. Our hot dog is a quarter-pound of all beef on a pretzel roll with a corn relish or caramelized onions.”
The sports fans are more willing to branch out of their ketchup and mustard comfort zones if the offerings are based in something with which they are familiar. At the New Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey, one of the most popular menu items is a hot dog with a braised short rib and fried onion topping.
The network is constantly looking to expand into new areas. With so many opportunities and ideas, Kuharsky said the challenge is making sure the ideas are executed properly.
“We want to make sure everything we do enhances the brand and doesn’t take away from it in any way,” he said. “We start with our viewers and fans and do a lot of research on what they are interested in for new concepts. We take the winners and then reach out to partners who have the potential to bring them to life.”
As the network continues to grow, it’s looking to expand its food and wine events and recently hosted its first Food Network cruise. On the software side of the business, the company launched a new recipe management software system in October.
“Food Network has a values-based culture,” said Kuharsky. “Our goal is to connect everyone to the power and joy of food, and it is with that lens in mind that we look at new opportunities.”