Turning Chiliheads into Cheeseheads: Kraft

By Sep 12, 2011

It seems like odd fit: a well-known cheese brand sponsoring a popular chili cook off whose rules do not allow for the chefs to use cheese as an ingredient in their competitive recipes.

However, the marketers at Kraft know that most of us at home consider cheese a key ingredient in chili, whether its mixed in with seasoned ground beef, red beans and hot peppers or shredded and sprinkled over a steaming bowl that is finished off with a dollop of sour cream.

And there in lies the strategy behind Kraft and its shredded cheeses partnering with the International Chili Society to sponsor and execute the first Kraft People’s Choice Challenge at the 45 Anniversary of the 2011 World’s Championship Chili Cook Off to be held over three days next month in Manchester, NH.

The attendees make up the perfect demographic chiliheads, home cooks and people willing to try new recipes.

“There’s defiantly a macro trend on how food, and especially food competitions, have has taken off in recent times,” Arthur Sevilla, brand manager at Kraft Natural Cheese, said. “It started with ‘Top Chef” and other Food Network and Bravo shows, but the idea of finding an appropriate forum to leverage a food competition where cheese becomes and integral part of that competition was a goal for the brand. We saw a clear void that cheese was not a part of that competition and formulated a plan where cheese would be introduced.”

During 15 regional competitions to decide finalists to participate in the Championship, all of the chefs were notified during that in addition to the chili they prepare for the competition, they can also prepare chili recipes for the Kraft challenge that can include cheese and any other ingredient they so choose. At the event, Kraft is pushing its Kraft Natural Cheese with a Touch of Philadelphia, launched last September and marketed as a cheese with the creamy addition of Philadelphia Cream Cheese, a nice ingredient to swirl into a bowl of hot chili.

About 160 cooks accepted the challenge. The dishes will displayed for the tasting at each cooks’ area along with promotional materials explaining that one of the bowls of chili is part of the Kraft People’s Choice Challenge and will be up for a public vote.

As an added incentive to the cooks, any recipe that includes Kraft Natural Cheese and wins will double the prize money to that chef. Kraft is paying cash prizes for the top three places: 1st ($3,000), 2nd ($1,500), and 3rd ($500).

Kraft is still finalizing how people will cast votes and how those votes will be counted, but the basic proposition is that every attendee will get some type of coin(s) or token(s) and every People’s Choice chili maker will have a coin collection box. After eating their way through the event people can drop a coin into the box where their favorite recipe was prepared. The Master of Ceremonies will also make announcements about the Kraft challenge. The top three will be chosen for the ultimate showdown from center stage judged by people from Kraft and others who will also announce the winner.

Kraft will also set up a sampling station where three recipes from its kitchens that include a number of Kraft products will be available for tasting. One will be Oscar Mayer Mini Franks, cut onto a Triscuit cracker, drizzled with chili and topped with Kraft Natural Cheese with a Touch of Philadelphia. After launching in late 2010, Kraft Shredded Cheese with a Touch of Philadelphia year-to-date accounts for 11.9% of Kraft’s 8-ounce Natural Shredded Cheese business. A business that is highly mature and penetrated in almost every household.

“It most certainly is a sampling event first and foremost, we hope that our relationship with the Championship is very meaningful to those who participate and we will be gaining a benefit by association,” Seville said. “We feel, especially for our new products where consumers might be hesitant to spend the dollars to try the product, that this will be an effective way to get people to try the products.”

The timing of the cook off is important for Kraft, since the products it will feature are all shredded cheeses that perform best when melted. For Kraft, October is the start of the “oven season” so the September/October time period is when it again begin airing TV spots after a summer hiatus to remind consumers how cheese make all oven dishes, like casseroles and meat loaf that much better, Sevilla said.

This all began with a call from the Chili organization to Kraft looking for a sponsor. They explained that even though their rules do not allow for cheese as an ingredient in the competition, that they recognized that cheese is an integral part of home cook chili recipes.

It was shocking to us,” Sevilla remembered. “We thought we would be the cheese sponsor and to understand how formal competitive chili doesn’t allow for the introduction of cheese we thought there was an opportunity there to challenge that.”