The Pen Chants

Features by Lyle Michael

Celeb Chefs- The ‘Brand’ New Stars

The man with the toque, the rising star who has gone beyond the kitchen counter to capture audiences around the world. The chef as brand ambassador is today a raging phenomenon, so much so that the chef is the brand

Promotions maketh the product. Whether a movie or a gadget, it’s how well it is marketed and promoted that will ultimately determine its success. A brand promotion works on the principle that the crowd will follow the star, the physical persona that creates a brand image and promotes it extensively. An ‘endorsement’ by definition is the declaration of one’s public approval of something and the endorser is the high authority for the same. In the culinary arena, with the latest kitchen equipments, food products and ingredients, and food related apps cropping up by the dozen, one needs a familiar, popular and bankable endorser that the customer can relate to and believe without much hesitation. Celebrity chefs are these very endorsers, very much a part of the family set-up today, guiding you through your everyday kitchen routines or on special occasions, and have come to be the face of a product/s by which the companies get their message across effectively enough.

Cashing in on the trend, kitchen equipment manufacturers, food brands and even disparate associations have roped in star chefs as brand ambassadors who in actuality serve as primary end users for such products. So you have familiar names with a few or a string of endorsements from Chef Ranveer Brar, most recently as ‘brand friend’ for Victorinox India owing to his ‘fresh culinary approach’ to Chef Ajay Chopra for Monini Olive Oil; Chef Vicky Ratnani, who was until recently associated with Godrej Nature’s Basket and Kaff Appliances, to Chef Sabyasachi Gorai, most famously promoting Miele India’s kitchen equipment. From Chef Vikas Khanna – with KitchenAid India, Gadre Marine and more, to the one who set the trend, Chef Sanjeev Kapoor – Wonderchef Kitchenware and Zydus Cadilla Sugar-free Natura among the rest. In the milieu, names such as Chef Kunal Kapur – feature as well with names such as Avanza Ltd, top suppliers of New Zealand’s premium avocados and as a champion for social causes surrounding food; Food Revolution with Chef Jamie Oliver being the latest.

One could establish the first celebrity chef as none other than household name Sanjeev Kapoor. A chef with the global presence essential in brand endorsement and a face that drives the message home, literally. “If the venture is promising, holds potential, the ownership credentials and intentions are verifiable and if a chef fits the bill then why not?”, comes the chef’s response when we work to gauge the phenomenon of chefs in the arena of hospitality media today. “Working with the brands I’ve chosen has been fulfilling as they uphold the values I hold close and over the years a bond has been created.” Chosen is the key word when it comes to understanding the chef’s decision and control in an endorsement deal, which extends beyond the brand itself. For a celebrity such as Chef SK, diligence is topmost and the terms and conditions, price included, that determine the deal are fixed by him; thus far, it has been a smooth road. For the well-known Chef Ranveer Brar of MasterChef India fame, the experience is a tad different as he claims there is no price tag for chefs as opposed to an actor who determines the value of a brand today. Thus choosing a brand is a selective process which does not have to be particularly food-related and it boils down to what the chef can deliver. “With the brands I endorse, it is a relationship, a strong connect based on something I am passionate about. There is the freedom to get involved in product development, RnD and carry out an exchange of perspectives. It is great to see more chefs in this food media space.”

Yes indeed, as the clients – endorsees – couldn’t agree more. When scouting for the chef who would fit the seafood brand’s image perfectly, Brand Manager for Gadre Marine Premium Seafood, Sneha Sharma says, “Chef Vikas Khanna is one of the most versatile chefs in the country with an expertise in seafood. We have an association with Vikas Khanna as a brand ambassador for promoting the brand through TVCs, events, prints, etc. We have also shot a couple of recipe videos/webisodes with him.” On Chef Ranveer and Go Cheese, Akshali Shah, VP Strategy (Sales & Marketing), Parag Milk Foods Ltd shares, “Chef Ranveer brings freshness and boldness through his culinary style. The association of Go Cheese and Ranveer is being exemplified through various routes – digital being the primary medium, as the world is shrinking through digitisation today. His contribution to the brand is via multiple innovative marketing campaigns that demystify cooking with cheese in an Indian scenario and attract a new generation to the kitchen in a fun and easy way.” Singing to the same tune you have Sanjey Bajoria – MD of Bajoria Foods, Importer for Monini who defines his experience working with Chef Ajay Chopra as very successful as the chef certainly knows his ingredients and the use of olive oil in Indian cooking well. “With the NDTV Food show Veggistan, sales of Monini picked up and the customers have brand recall with Chef Ajay,” shares Sanjey. “The masterclasses were certainly beneficial and innovative and the contract was renewed for another year.” On the other side of the equation, Chef Ajay echoes the sentiment as he goes on to enunciate the increasing popularity of chefs as relatable figures with brand endorsements to practical cookery lessons to bite-size videos for TV or digital mediums. As a chef, one ought to know a bit about marketing but sitting in on brand meetings and product detailing moulds one into a better professional, he relates.

And of course, it creates a bond between endorser and endorsement that can last a long while ahead. Just the case with the self-effacing Chef Sabyasachi Gorai and the SCS Group, famed for introducing us to California Walnuts, US Cranberries and more such. Chef Saby defines the realm of endorsements as thoroughly professional with excellent infrastructure and a clear brief by most clients of the product and its promotion, while Amarja Sharma, Manager, Promotions, SCS Group shares, “Chef Saby is not an ambassador for SCS anymore but continues his long-term association with the group (promoting US products as and when at events, masterclasses, etc), close to seven years now. He is a great guy, passionate, committed, punctual, not demanding, who makes it all about the product and not about himself.” As for his association with Olives from Spain, Raquel Rodriguez, Business Development Consultant with InQuve elaborates upon the two-year contract, more a relationship, by stating why Chef Saby was the clear choice. “Chef Saby was at Olive Qutub, Delhi which specialises in Mediterranean cuisine. Hence, people started to associate Chef with Mediterranean cuisine and we considered that it would make sense to employ him as brand ambassador for the campaign to promote Olives from Spain.”

It is hence cleverly defined as a marriage, prenups in place, this ‘association’ between chef and the brand which is set in stone till the contract do them part. Terms and conditions for an endorsement with the example of a dairy product launch, for instance, would enlist a two-year contract which would cover advertisements and 50 videos; recipe videos are property of the brand as well, plus any additional promotions. For such a package, a certain dapper celebrity chef earns a good Rs12-20 lakhs a day. While yet another dapper, more senior, itinerant chef signs endorsement deals to the tune of Rs 15-20 lakhs a day or an annual figure of Rs 1 crore. The rates depend upon the status of the chef (and the PR team in charge) and the brand (and the marketing effort behind it). Which is where you will even see a chef, one known for his culinary creativity with Indian food in particular, earn Rs12.5 lakhs a day or an annual figure of Rs 45 lakhs as brand ambassador.

Brand endorsements envelope a host of promotional activities, beyond ads and videos, to cover events, tours, sessions and the like. With regards to an event, a chef of, let’s say MasterChef judge status, would earn Rs 5-6 lakhs, you read right, while yet another would earn Rs 1-2.5 lakhs. And this would go up to a staggering Rs 10 lakhs for some, say a restaurateur-cum-chef, of international renown. City-wide tours would command somewhere close to Rs 25 lakhs to begin with, depending also on the number of cities and the duration.

A viable, indicatively lucrative career path it would appear, to be a chef in today’s day and age. Echoes Chef Vicky of Gourmet Gyan by Vicky Ratnani, “There are multiple avenues for us to explore today. The carrot for the chef is media exposure and brand positioning.” It works both ways then with the chef optimising media relations as a stepping stone to stardom and going beyond the kitchen counter. Industry professional Chef Yogesh Utekar, now Head of Department at SRIHM, Mumbai plainly puts forth his point with, “The chef is no longer known by his culinary skill but by brand endorsements. College students identify with celebrity chefs so easily today, and they look forward to careers in TV food shows, with backend, production or food styling and photography as well.”

The chef, an increasingly marketable commodity! It’s all about choosing the right brand that fits the chef’s personality, the credibility of the product and the reputation of the company plays a vital role. Making the product relatable is where the chef’s expertise comes into play. Most importantly, a chef is the one who knows consumer needs the best, and making it innovative beyond its most obvious uses is why a chef is at the forefront of a food-related endorsement. The chef is the brand and the brand becomes the chef.

Chef Sanjeev Kapoor
SK is an umbrella organisation under which entities like Turmeric Vision Pvt Ltd (Food Food TV), SK Restaurants Pvt Ltd, Wonderchef and Khana Khazana India Pvt Ltd are run.

Serves as Brand Ambassador for:
Wonderchef Kitchenware, Sleek Kitchens, Tata Chemicals’ Dal and Tata, Sampan Spices, Daawat Rice, Zydus Cadila’s Sugar Free Natura, Al Baker Chakki Fresh Atta, Dettol, Ariel, Rainbow Milk

Chef Ranveer Brar
Food Mantra Pvt. Ltd

Serves as Brand Ambassador for:
Victorinox India, GO Cheese, Philips Air Fryer, Bertolli Olive Oil, Kelloggs Special K, Zespri Kiwifruit, ITM Group of Institutions

Chef Ajay Chopra
Zion Hospitality Pvt. Ltd.

Serves as Brand Ambassador for:
Monini Olive Oil, Oddy Uniwraps, Maharaja Whiteline

Chef Sabyasachi Gorai
Fabrica by Saby

Serves as Brand Ambassador for:
Miele India’s Kitchen Appliances, Olives from Spain, Promoter for Washington Apples, USA Pears and California Walnuts; also for produce from Canada

Chef Vikas Khanna
Gadre Marine Premium Seafood, Domino’s Pizza, KitchenAid, Mercedes, Pepsico’s Quaker Oats

This feature was published in UpperCrust Magazine, Apr-Jun 2016; used here with permission from the publisher

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