From Kitchen to Commerce: The Rise of Chef-Branded Products
From Kitchen to Commerce: The Rise of Chef-Branded Products
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India's culinary landscape is experiencing a significant evolution, celebrity chefs are emerging as pivotal figures in brand collaborations across various segments of the food industry. From limited-edition releases to Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG), chefs are increasingly becoming the face of renowned brands, leveraging their credibility and fan base to drive sales and enhance brand perception.

The surge in demand for premium and artisanal food experiences has fueled this phenomenon, with brands capitalizing on the popularity and expertise of celebrity chefs through licensing partnerships. Particularly noteworthy is the post-COVID spike in collaborations, as many chefs in India attained household name status during this period.

Consumers Trust Chefs

Organic Tattva's collaboration with Michelin Star Awarded Chef and Health Enthusiast Vikas Khanna stands out as a prime example. Together, they promote organic flour and pulses, aiming to raise awareness about organic food consumption on a larger scale. Khanna says, “Today, the world is moving towards organic food. This collaboration is to spread awareness on a large scale for people to consume organic food. Organic Tattva is deeply connected with the farmers and has the true essence of going back to our roots.”

Elaborating on the brand collaborations, Khanna said, “I have seen a drastic shift which was predominantly acquired by actors and sports personalities. Earlier, actors were selling food products by endorsing those brands. But now brands have understood that chefs are the right face to gain consumer trust. Also, during and post COVID, chefs have become more professional and are now part of the aligned chain.”

Khanna cites social media as one of the major reason for such transition, he said, “People started asking questions to celebrities whether they knew to cook food when they endorsed brands which involved cooking or food products.We have seen a huge change in the brand’s perspective as they realize that for example a Hollywood actor like Tom Cruise cannot sell Basmati Rice for them. I think this change has occurred mainly due to social media. We are seeing many big brands approaching chefs for brand endorsements and collaborations instead of movie stars or other celebrities.”  

Brand Leveraging on Expertise

Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi, known for his iconic catchphrase "Namak Shamak Namak Shamak Dal Dete Hain," has also forged successful partnerships with brands such as Borosil, Ching’s Secret, and Paras Ghee. Reflecting on the symbiotic nature of brand collaborations with chefs, Sokhi said, “I would say that the trend of brand collaborations with chefs was started by Sanjeev Kapoor. I started my own brand later, which was a sort of mistake but now I understand the module so well that the owner of a certain brand would not understand the nitty gritties behind the right product market fit while there are handful of chefs who now understand the taste profile and requirements of Indian consumers very well. Brands today can exploit these expertise of chefs very well.”

Sokhi further said, “People today believe in chefs and brands today want to leverage on our following. I was the first to enter into frozen category in Australia 11 years back and it became a huge success. As chefs we know what exactly the market wants and the brands want to utilize the expertise to build great products.”

When asked how does these deals work for chefs in India, Sokhi explains, “As a chef if one understands to play a longer game and pick royalty or equity to gain monetary benefits but also has patience to wait for longer period (for gains) than it can be a good deal. But if one doesn’t want to wait for longer period can go ahead with brand endorsements. It purely depends on the appetite of the chef.”

Sokhi further said, "Post COVID we saw many people showing their expertise in cooking food on social media platforms. But believe me, chef is someone who has sweated out in some good hotel unlike few home chefs who grew during COVID due to their content.  For chefs like us, we had a fan base since past one decade due to television shows. Moreover, my social media platforms gained huge traction due to my content during COVID. We became more relevant for brands and this is the reason that brands look upon us to take their products in every household.”

Trust is the Key Factor

Renowned chef and Padma Shri Awardee Sanjeev Kapoor recently ventured into partnership with major player like BigBasket,for its frozen food products under the brand Precia. Kapoor emphasizes the importance of consistency, quality, and catering to diverse tastes across regions in India's evolving culinary landscape.

During the launch of the product, Kapoor said, “I would say that the expertise of our team and team BigBasket has a chance to grow this product in the market which is the best chance that this country will see. I would love to see and taste dishes from different parts of India with consistency and quality and we are trying to make it happen. Today, India is changing and has diverse tastes across regions.”

When asked about the unique selling proposition (USP) of Precia in a competitive market, Kapoor humorously attributes it to his own endorsement and reputation. With over a decade of collaboration with the TATA Group, Kapoor underscores the mutual trust between himself and consumers, reinforcing his role as a trusted authority in food recommendations.

Kapoor said, “The USP is Sanjeev Kapoor and I have been recommending products which are good for the consumers. When people ask me which oil should be consumed, i always tell them they should consume the product on which my photo is on the packaging (laughs). I have been with TATA group on the food side for more than ten years now. I once asked officials from TATA why do you need me onboard because I already had around 25 endorsements but when they responded that consumers trust me more when it comes to food and that mutual respect got me onboarded with TATA Group.”

The growing trend of celebrity chefs playing an influential role in shaping consumer preferences and brand perceptions is poised for further innovation and collaboration in the years to come. It would be interesting to witness more brands especially in the food and grocery segments joining forces with renowned chefs to create unique brand stories. 

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