They say the quickest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. With media and advertising around all things edible reaching an all-time high, it seems that saying is true for the whole of Australia.
Australia’s love affair with food is reaching fever pitch. If we’re not busy eating food, we’re researching it, watching our cooking idols create a storm on TV, planning our meals, photographing our culinary creations, or sharing our food experiences on social media.
The proof is in the pudding, as they say. Never has the demand for food programming on TV been so high, never has the penetration of food-related publications been so strong, and never has food been such a regular sight on our social media feeds.
The number one content category on Instagram is – you guessed it – food.
Food is also taking on an ever-growing role in Australian advertising.
Aside from the battle that quietly occurs among brands desperate to grab a slice of the likes of Masterchef Australia and My Kitchen Rules to get on the roster of sponsors, our nation’s new global campaign has food at the very heart of it.
Not to mention the supermarket wars, with the big two bringing in the big guns from the world of international celebrity chefs to boost their profiles and win fans.
Wherever you look, food is now a focal point throughout our day, in different ways.
As Fiona Nilsson, group publisher of food brands at NewsLifeMedia puts it: “In Australia, people’s love and passion for food is enormous, it really is extraordinary.”
Food in print
There are too many magazines in the food sector to count – proving their demand. Think Donna Hay, Taste, Gourmet Traveller, Delicious, Feast and Super Food Ideas for starters.
NewsLifeMedia, whose biggest publishing category is food, has created a whole new strategy to play to the fact that people are thinking about, planning, eating, or sharing their food experiences throughout the day.
Nilsson explains: “Our brands are there for people throughout their food journeys each day. We are looking at how people want to be inspired by our assets right across the day.”
The company’s ‘plan, shop, cook and share’ strategy covers all those bases.
NewsLifeMedia’s Taste platform and publication is its golden boy. Taste.com.au has had a 574% increase in traffic in the past two years, and the 2013 Brand Desire study by M&C Saatchi’s global marketing strategy agency Clear ranked Taste as the most-loved media brand in Australia, and the 16th most-loved brand overall.
“The leading media brand in the country is a food media brand – that says how much Australian people love food,” says Nilsson.
Louise Brockbank is head of Taste.com.au. The brand’s success has seen it grow from an online publication to also a print publication earlier this year, along with an iPad app.
A new iPhone app for Taste is also due to launch this month, with “all the recipes, step by step, designed specifically for mobile”.
There are big plans for Taste in 2014 too. “January to March 2014 will be a huge quarter for Taste,” reveals Brockbank. “We are already planning to take Taste international in 2014.”
Brockbank says: “There has always been an underlying food passion amongst people, but our role is to grow that and drive it throughout the day.”
Nilsson adds: “We definitely saw, after the GFC, a big hike in the numbers of people who are cooking at home, and how often people cook for themselves at home.
“And that is an ongoing thing – people are always looking for cost-effective solutions for meals, and they want help with things such as reducing waste through planning their meals, plus there is a massive increase in the focus on healthy eating.”
The competition for our hungry eyes is fierce. The networks are battling it out with different reality cookery shows – My Kitchen Rules on Seven, Masterchef Australia on Ten and The Great Australian Bake Off on Nine, to name a few.
NewsLifeMedia’s Nilsson says: “Food has become a source of real joy and self-expression for people, and TV shows have helped to drive that.”
The top-rating show this year was My Kitchen Rules, as Sebastian Rennie, chief investment officer at MEC, explains: “My Kitchen Rules is certainly the market leader in terms of food programming at the moment.”
He says there has been “huge demand” for the advertising and sponsorship spots around the show.
“The ratings are really good, so whether you are a food advertiser or not, you get a good return there,” says Rennie. “There is demand there because, once you get out of the general advertising market and into the food market, there is competition from Coles and Woolworths for major sponsorships of these shows.
“Food brands are involved in sponsorships as well, paying a premium over a normal spot rate to take that sponsorship and get in-program integration, play-outs and access to the show’s IP.”
One of these sponsors is Italian-owned pasta brand Barilla Australia. It sponsored last year’s Masterchef Australia, and also this year’s Masterchef: The Professionals.
Carly King, marketing manager at Barilla Australia, says: “The sponsorships worked out really well for us. The fact that they went to Italy and filmed in the Barilla factory (pictured above) was incredible – almost money-can’t-buy endorsement. So many people said to me afterwards that they had no idea Barilla was so big. It was a real window into the brand for Australians.
“We have a really limited budget and Masterchef was the lion’s share of our investment. My impression, when we were negotiating at the beginning of 2012, was that we were competing against a number of other brands.”
King said she’d be keen to see Barilla sponsor Masterchef in some way again in 2014: “Personally, I love the franchise and I think it’s incredibly appropriate. The challenge for us is having the budget to do it.”
Another Masterchef, and also My Kitchen Rules, sponsor is MEC client Campbell Arnott’s. “The product they used to sponsor the shows was Real Stock – it’s something you would naturally be using in the kitchen environment,” says Rennie.
The sponsorship was also integrated with a spot featuring celebrity chef and My Kitchen Rules host Manu Fiedel.
Rennie says the cookery shows took Australian advertisers a little by surprise.
“When Masterchef was first launched in 2009 it was a runaway success and took a lot of people by surprise,” he explains. “I think it showed that there is an appetite from the viewer to watch that sort of show. It also showed that there are some good integration opportunities in a show like that.
“Seven saw that, and saw that they could create something that would equal or out-perform that – and that’s certainly the case with My Kitchen Rules.”
The supermarkets’ stories
Whether it’s the local heroes or the international big wigs, the supermarkets are fighting to get their hands on well-known chefs to support them.
Just as Coles announces Heston Blumenthal as its new ambassador, Woolworths fires right back by bringing another Brit – Jamie Oliver – on board.
Early last month, Coles announced its new exclusive deal with Blumenthal.
The gastronomic chef will be producing a line of his own products for sale in Coles stores, as well as fronting ad campaigns for the chain.
In the same week, Woolies went public with its new signing. Oliver will front campaigns for Woolworths, and promote fresh food messages.
Simon McDowell, Coles’ marketing and store development director, says celebrity ambassadors are vital to the supermarket chain, bringing “inspiration and expertise” to its offer.
As well as partnering with celebrity chefs, Coles works with former Olympic legend Cathy Freeman and Australian netball, AFL and NRL players.
But, in the run-up to the festive season, all eyes are on the new work with Blumenthal.
“Heston is the perfect fit for Coles as we share a passion for incredible food that is sure to surprise and delight Australia,” explains McDowell. “Heston will be part of the Coles team, creating a range of products focusing on Australian and Indigenous ingredients, available only at Coles from autumn 2014.
“The range will feature a variety of products across meat, deli, bakery and grocery, all with Heston’s unique and creative touch.
“Heston is another cherry on the Coles cake.”
Coles and NewsLifeMedia have also signed a brand and commercial partnership to cash in on Taste.com.au’s success.
Weekly specials from Coles are being matched to Taste.com.au’s recipes, with Coles’ online shopping lists being matched to the publication’s 26,000 online recipes. The deal also sees coupons for supermarket products included on thousands of Taste.com.au’s recipes.
“We have recognised the rise of the digital kitchen and listened to our customers calling for more recipes and better value,” explains McDowell.
For 2014, Tourism Australia is playing the food card in a big way.
Its new ‘Restaurant Australia’ campaign, building on ‘There’s Nothing Like Australia’, will seek to reposition Australia in the minds of potential tourists as a place to come for world class culinary experiences.
Andrew McEvoy, managing director of Tourism Australia, says: “There is a growing appetite (literally) globally for food and wine as part of the travel experience and Australia has all the right ingredients to capitalise on this opportunity – with the finest array of produce served in the most stunning locations in the world.”
Research by Tourism Australia has uncovered a perception gap.
Amongst those from overseas who have never visited Australia, 26% ranked it as the number one global destination for food and wine, whilst of those who have visited Australia in the past, 60% ranked it as number one, putting it in second place behind France.
On top of this, ‘good food, wine, local cuisine and produce’ was listed as the third most important factors for destination choice (behind ‘a safe and secure destination’ and ‘a destination that offers value for money’), with 38% of those surveyed citing this as vital.
McEvoy adds: “Whether it’s devouring fresh shucked oysters in Tassie, quaffing wine at a cellar door in SA, exploring Melbourne’s multicultural cuisines or sipping coffee in a laneway, feasting on sunkissed fruit and salad on a Queensland island, following the Poachers Way food trail from Canberra, tasting Marron for the first time at a vineyard in WA, sampling bushtucker in outback NT, fine dining in Sydney, or following one of the many food trails or festivals in Australia – we want international visitors to know they will be spoilt for choice
It seems our love affair with food is only set to grow, so watch this space.