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Sysco and Food Network Launch Partnership

Sysco Shape February 2013

Even chefs watch the Food Network to find new culinary ideas. According to Sysco research, foodservice professionals say they watch the Food Network for menu inspiration and to help them stay on top of trends.

Some find inspiration in “Restaurant: Impossible,” a popular show in which Chef Robert Irvine helps struggling restaurants revamp their menus and attract new customers. That’s why Sysco has established a relationship with “Restaurant: Impossible” for a year-long marketing campaign.

The campaign, announced in January, includes three initiatives: television, digital and promotions with Chef Irvine.

The television tie-in includes four network commercials that begin airing in February and will run through September. Media tie-ins include the formal sponsorship of “Restaurant: Impossible,” as well as Sysco product integrations on the show during March.

The digital integration includes consumer sweepstakes, flash banners and custom ads on, page sponsorship for “Restaurant: Impossible,” and content integration with, Sysco’s Chef Ref app and Sysco’s Facebook page.

Product promotions include three large-scale Sysco customer sweepstakes tied to specific products, such as center-of-plate items. The three promotions will take place in February/March, May/June and August/September. To enter the sweepstakes, customers purchase an item from Sysco, receive a free gift such as a McCormick spice rack, and are automatically entered to win one of three Grand Prizes. The Grand Prizes include an appearance by Chef Irvine at the customer’s restaurant for a day, a trip to the New York City Wine & Food Festival with a private tour of the Food Network studios, and a visit to Hilton Head Island for golf and dinner at Chef Irvine’s Eat! restaurant.

The partnership is a strategic one, says Charley Wilson, vice president of corporate communications for Sysco Corp. Chef Irvine and Sysco have similar goals in helping foodservice professionals. “It’s much more than focusing on cooks and kitchens. It’s about partnering with customers to provide them the value that will help them succeed.”

In each episode of “Restaurant: Impossible,” Chef Irvine visits a restaurant and works with the owners and staff to update the menu. Usually that means eliminating unhealthy, unappetizing foods that are based on outdated consumer tastes, and switching to better quality ingredients and making the meal more healthful. Chef Irvine also offers advice on service, technology and décor. The chef and his team usually are given $10,000 and two days to transform the restaurant. At the end of the hour-long show, the restaurant looks more attractive, the menu items are more appealing, and customers are offering enthusiastic, favorable ratings of the new foods.

“After Chef Irvine’s camera crews leave, particularly for those many restaurants on the show that are Sysco customers, we remain as their trusted partner,” Wilson says.

Sysco also wants to be a trusted partner for restaurants and foodservice establishments that never see TV cameras. Just as Chef Irvine helps restaurants develop on-trend, healthy menu items on “Restaurant: Impossible,” Sysco enables its customers to provide healthy, delicious menu options for guests. “That’s an underlying emphasis of the Sysco Healthy and Positive Eating (SHAPE) program—helping our customers meet the increasing demand for nutritious and good-for-you food products, and offering them insights about the items they can incorporate into healthy menu offerings,” Wilson says.

Wilson adds that Chef Irvine’s main focus on “Restaurant: Impossible” is to help struggling restaurants succeed, which on the TV show means bringing back previous diners, gaining new patrons and helping the restaurant staff work better as a team. Meanwhile, Chef Irvine is also passionate about fitness and eating sensibly, an interest that makes him a logical choice for this campaign. “This adds value to our SHAPE health and wellness platform,” Wilson says.

The campaign represents several firsts for Sysco, including the company’s first national network commercial, first celebrity spokesperson, first consumer promotion and first product integration on a network show. There are also celebrity-branded products, another first, offered via Sysco’s Supplies on the Fly, an online customer solution for foodservice equipment and supplies.

Chef Irvine is a 25-year culinary veteran. In addition to Eat!, he owns Nosh restaurant on Hilton Head Island, S.C. The chef has been a Sysco customer since 1997.

Sysco research indicates that 70 percent of the company’s customers watch Food Network at least once a week and say it helps them stay on top of trends. More than 40 percent of customers say they would ask their food distributor for products seen on Food Network. Nearly 60 percent indicate they would have a positive impression of Sysco if it sponsored the Food Network.

Food Network is distributed to more than 100 million U.S. households and averages 9.9 million unique web users monthly. “Restaurant: Impossible,” now in its fifth season, has worked with everything from family restaurants to steakhouses to Italian eateries, ranging from new establishments opened by ill-advised entrepreneurs to decades-old family restaurants in danger of losing their legacy. After the episode airs, the Food Network website posts updates for many of the restaurants.

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