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Culinary Classes Serve a Dual Purpose

Marketing: Pupils whet their appetite for cooking while Procter & Gamble gets a sampling of public habits. And moves product.

April 18, 2001|LISA CORNWELL | ASSOCIATED PRESS

CINCINNATI — Sara Hayes is an executive who doesn't have a lot of time to cook but wants the meals she does prepare to be special. That is just the attitude Procter & Gamble Co. is counting on with a new venture.

The maker of Pringles potato chips and Jif peanut butter is testing a combination gourmet cooking school and kitchen-products boutique.

"Our research showed that a major reason many people don't cook is not that they don't want to but that they often lack the knowledge and basic skills," P&G spokeswoman Shanae Gibbs said.

Hayes, 28, enrolled in classes at P&G's new Culinary Sol after it opened this winter in an upscale shopping center in suburban Cincinnati.

"I like the creativity of cooking, and I want to learn how to make the best meals I can, even if it's only once a week," she said.

P&G officials declined to give enrollment numbers at Culinary Sol, done up in a Tuscan architectural style with wood, stainless steel and copper.

Its product line includes spices, oils, flavor-adding elixirs, vinegars and seasoning rubs made of ingredients imported from around the world. Prices vary from $2 to $8 for the spices to around $5 for elixirs and rubs and $12 for a specialty olive oil, said retail director Lisa Austin.

Culinary Sol also features a demonstration kitchen surrounded by an amphitheater that seats 50 people and video monitors that allow close-up views of instructors' actions. A hands-on learning kitchen includes state-of-the-art cooking stations for as many as 24 amateur chefs who often find themselves being watched intently through the large front window by curious passersby.

Classes run $17.50 for a lunchtime mini-lesson to $115 for an advanced five-hour "chef de cuisine" course on how to prepare sushi.

Marketing analyst Gary Stibel, founder of the Westport-Conn.-based New England Consulting Group, said Culinary Sol functions as a laboratory for P&G.

"It allows the company to get close to consumers and learn what they like about cooking, how they behave and what they want," he said.

Douglas Christopher, who follows P&G for Los Angeles-based Crowell, Weedon and Co., said it's also a low-cost way for P&G to experiment with a new product line and to strengthen its service connection with customers.

"Great service has more longevity potential than a leading brand," Christopher said. "If a company can really connect with customers on the service side, that can help grow all of its brands."

Spokeswoman Gibbs doesn't dispute that Culinary Sol is more than a cooking school for P&G.

"It gives us the opportunity to create awareness of a brand name while gaining insight into what consumers want," she said.

The analysts said P&G, still rebounding from disappointing earnings last year, seems to be concentrating more on improving its service relationship with consumers and finding alternative and less expensive marketing techniques.

A cooking school may be a good way to accomplish both objectives.

Laird Livingston, education director for the St. Augustine, Fla.-based American Culinary Federation Inc., said there is no doubt that cooking classes are increasing in popularity.

"So much of our social life today centers around food, that many people are wanting to learn how to entertain more successfully in their own homes and improving their cooking skills is one way to do that," Livingston said.

On the Net:

http://www.culinarysol.com

American Culinary Federation Inc.: http://www.acfchefs.net

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