Forget the Movies – Let’s Go to the Supermarket!


How In-Store Cooking Classes Are Both Profitable and Fun

Nowadays, going to the grocery store can mean many things. You may go there to have lunch, pick up a party dish or even take a cooking class. This is because companies have learned that today’s customers need more than just great prices to keep coming back – they want the entire experience. From the moment they enter the store to the time they checkout, customers expect to feel completely engaged in exchange for a little brand loyalty. One way that grocery stores are marketing to customers is through cooking classes. The success lies in achieving the unimaginable – making people excited about spending their free time at the grocery store.

Offering in-store classes works because it caters to all types of customers, who today, are nothing like the stay-at-home housewife of the 1950’s. They are single dads and moms, college students, young professionals, parents of large families and retirees, just to name a few. Add to the list the influential wave of health-conscious and community-minded generations, and you’ve got a lot of people to market to. Whether the customer is an experienced cook or someone who can barely fry an egg, grocery stores are cashing in on the diversity of their customers with cooking classes of all skill levels and cuisines.

Florida-based grocery chain Publix, has found huge success in its Aprons campaign, which includes recipes with shopping lists, event planning, and of course, cooking schools. When you walk into a Publix, you will notice an Aprons Simple Meals Kiosk with free hole-punched recipe cards donning easy-to-use tabs. Customers can purchase a Publix binder to organize all of their recipes. Each week, there is a featured recipe with all of the needed ingredients in one organized spot for convenient shopping.

Throughout the week, meals experts provide cooking demonstrations and samples. The program goes one step further, by offering a vast number of classes taught by their highly trained Aprons Staff, local restaurant owners and celebrity chefs. Some classes cover cooking techniques, wine and beer pairings, and regional food, while others focus on specific age groups such as their cooking fundamentals class for ages 8-12, and teen classes for 13- to 18-year-olds. The program, which launched in 2005, has fared well for Publix, which earned a spot in Fortune magazine’s 500 list, and “100 Best Companies to Work For.” The company announced it reached $28.9 billion in sales last year and expanded throughout the East Coast, including North Carolina.

A key to the Aprons’ campaign is the ability to market grocery products in a unique way. Instead of purchasing items to make dinner, customers purchase an entire experience. During a cooking class, instructors teach students tools of the trade to make the most of their purchased ingredients. The final result is a customer with increased brand loyalty who sees the store as not just a place to buy something, but to learn, create and experience something new. The upselling becomes almost invisible.

Publix isn’t the only store offering culinary classes. Whole Foods Market®, for example, is also taking advantage of this new trend. The company, that calls itself “America’s Healthiest Grocery Store” in its motto, offers natural and organic food with a huge focus on local suppliers and community involvement. Its classes are uniquely titled, such as “Football Food – Wing Ding!,” “Technique Tuesday – Soup’s On!,” and “Family Fun: Going Bananas!,” which features vegan and gluten-free recipes. Classes are fairly inexpensive, ranging from $15-$50. “The Food of Love” class targets couples, costs only $35, and offers a hands-on culinary experience for an unforgettable date night. Classes range from 1-3 hours and are taught by professional instructors. According to the Whole Foods Market’s® website, you can even book a corporate event or have a private party.

The culinary class craze isn’t just for grocery stores. Cookware companies such as Sur La Table and Williams-Sonoma also offer classes. Upsell is a huge part of the companies’ sales strategy with participants receiving a 10% coupon on store purchases the day of the class. Customers are also given printed recipes to take home or use while they shop around the store. In addition, the stores are able to showcase the use and capabilities of the equipment and tools they sell – making it a true hands-on shopping experience. In a recent article by The Seattle Times writer Ángel González, Sur la Table considers itself one of the largest amateur-cooking schools in the U.S. with more than 100,000 students every year.

What’s interesting about this marketing technique is its effect on the customer psyche. It first compels people to shop through reciprocity and urgency. According to online site, free sampling, recipes, and limited-time coupons are all great strategies to win over customers. In addition, culinary classes create a sense of euphoria. Once a customer is excited about what they can create, they will be excited to buy what is needed to make that dish at home. The convenience is a win-win for both the store and the customer, and one of the reasons it is a growing trend in the Food Industry.

No matter how big or small a store or company is, culinary classes are a fun way to boost revenue. Not only do they increase customer-store interaction, they give shoppers something to talk about. With social media and community involvement driving purchasing decisions more than ever before, cooking classes equal a wonderful marketing opportunity, and effectively target shoppers of all ages and backgrounds.