Sysco Puts TV Spots on Its National Menu

Food service vendor aligns with Restaurant Impossible

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
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
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
, 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.”

E-mail comments to
and follow him on Twitter: @jlafayette