Sysco Puts TV Spots on Its National Menu

Sysco is adding a new ingredient to its business model: national TV advertising. The food distribution giant is launching a campaign with Food Network to build better relationships with its restaurant and institutional customers and to generate consumer awareness about the $42 billion company, which is generally not well known outside the food industry.

With networks occupying unique categories—home, travel, food—Scripps Networks Interactive has a long list of endemic advertisers that don’t do much business with other channels. Sysco is the latest example of a client that sees Food Network as the primary network it must be on.

Sysco will be the sponsor of Food Network’s Restaurant Impossible series and has signed the show’s chef host, Robert Irvine, as a spokesman. Sysco will be integrated into episodes of the show, and Scripps has also created short-form videos that will appear online.

Bill Goetz, senior VP for marketing at Sysco, says the company had a gut feel that Food Network was the right place to deliver its message, but decided to do some research as well. A survey of 350 Sysco customers found that 70% watch Food Network at least once a week. They use the network to keep up to date on trends and to identify new menu ideas.

“When we saw the research, we realized there was an opportunity for us to create a great association with Food Network that could help our business,” Goetz says.

Sysco had not done national consumer advertising before and had a consultant reach out to the network.

“What we try to do with any marketing partnership conversation is to find a sub-brand within the networks that makes sense,” says Karen Grinthal, Food Network senior VP for ad sales. “Restaurant Impossible seems like a really solid fit because it’s very aligned with the objectives that they have.”

Goetz agrees: “We’ve got 7,000 marketing associates, which are really our sales reps, out there every day, trying to make our customers successful. And that’s really what Chef Irvine does in Restaurant Impossible.”

Once Goetz discovered that Irvine uses Sysco products and services in his own restaurants, he says, “I just thought this was a great combination: Food Network, Restaurant Impossible and a celebrity chef who already believes in us.”

“It’s not just about the check we’re writing to him to get him on board,” Goetz adds. “He’s been on board for the last 15 years. It all just came together and seemed like such a natural fit for us.”

Sysco’s campaign begins in February. One 30-second commercial is directed at consumers. “It’s basically that we’re providing the ingredients for success that help these restaurants provide these great meals every day,” Goetz says. Two other 30-second spots speak more directly to chefs, restaurant owners and food-service managers and feature Irvin.

“It’s all about the fact that Sysco is the resource that you need to be successful,” Goetz says. The spots feature the tagline “Good Things Come From Sysco.”

Sysco reps are integrated into two episodes of Restaurant Impossible, with one highlighting Sysco’s product quality and the other discussing the company’s inventory management technology.

Sysco is also running two sweepstakes, one for its customers and one for consumers. The top prize in the customer contest is a visit by Chef Irvine, who can either offer advice to the restaurant or make a public appearance to build restaurant traffic. The consumer sweepstakes offers the winner a trip to New York’s Food and Wine Festival in October and a visit behind the scenes at Food Network.

Sysco plans to measure the campaign’s impact and will be looking at consumer and customer awareness and preferences. “Our awareness numbers with our direct customers [are] pretty high, so it will be more whether our association [with Food Network] changes the perception of our brand,” Goetz says. Consumer awareness will start out low, but Goetz hopes that over the long term, it will build and become important to Sysco’s customers.

Goetz says Sysco is making a “significant commitment” to the campaign, but declined to share dollar figures. “In our industry, Sysco does everything first and then the competition typically follows, so we don’t want to divulge that at this point,” he says. “I’m pretty confident this is the right thing for our company and that we’ll continue to evolve this program. And this is just the start of us really building an association with Food Network, Restaurant Impossible and Chef Irvine.”

Adding a new client in a new category is exciting for Food Network. “The well never runs dry,” Grinthal says. “We’re really proud that with what started out as a consultant calling to get information, we were able to put a program together that spoke so well to their needs that this whole company is behind it.”

Grinthal also says she believes this is only the beginning: “We have many instances of success in the past where the needle has moved substantially by just advertising with our brands. And so this will be in our next upfront as one of the success stories of 2013.”

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Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.