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Retailers Tap Pop-Culture To Drive In-Store Sales

As adults and children alike continue to be enthralled by their favorite literary, television and silver screen characters, gourmet retailers have begun to offer cooking classes that tap pop-culture and help drive store awareness and sales.

For example, Pleasanton, CA-based Pans On Fire, an independent gourmet kitchenware store, offers a children’s “Harry Potter” cooking class. While the book series and subsequent movie makeovers ended nearly a decade ago, it remains a pop-culture phenomenon today.

Linda Wyner, founder and chef-instructor at Pans On Fire, noted that the back to school season is a very popular time for all things “Harry Potter.”

“Here, most kids go back to school right after Labor Day, and it was a very quiet weekend for us. So it occurred to us to have a ‘Back to Hogwarts’ class that the kids can do,” she said.

While the series focuses on the wizarding lives of its main characters, Wyner noted that “there’s a lot of food mentioned in the books, and you almost don’t think of it because of everything else that is happening.”

The cooking class features a number of recipes developed by the store but aligned with notable culinary mentions within the series. For example, Wyner said, lemon is the favorite flavor of Hogwarts Headmaster, Dumbledore.

“We use a Nordic Ware aluminum castle Bundt pan and bake a lemon Bundt cake in it that becomes the Hogwarts castle,” she said.

In addition, the menu includes a scotch egg meant to resemble the egg of Norbert the dragon, who was hatched in the first book/movie of the series.

Butter Beer is also heavily discussed in the series, and Wyner said the store created a Butter Beer cupcake recipe for the children’s class, while offering an augmented version for adults. In addition, the store often utilizes the Butter Beer cupcake recipe throughout the year, as it has become a hit with customers.

“Universal Studios has nothing on our Butter Beer,” she said.

For Pans On Fire, pop-culture related children’s cooking classes like “Harry Potter” help drive sales within the retail store.

“What’s nice with kids classes is that while they are finishing up, their parents have to wait in the retail store. It gives them an opportunity to browse,” she said. “There is also a store discount for people attending classes and we remind them of that.”

She also noted that the class offers an experience that children might not find elsewhere, while teaching them valuable skills.

“You have 12 sets of parents who are seeing their kids have a great time. It creates an opportunity for them to say, ‘Gee what else can we do here in the store?’ And, the kids come out and say, ‘Oh I have to have this [product]so we can make it at home.’”

Wilmington, NC-based The Seasoned Gourmet also focuses on experience when it comes to its pop-culture focused cooking classes. For example, the gourmet kitchenware store recently launched a “Game of Thrones” cooking class for all ages, positioned as an “event experience.” While the book series is still incomplete, it helped launch the HBO mega-hit television series, which today boasts a vast fan base.

Randy Newton, owner, said instead of focusing on the series as a whole, the store chose one of its most iconic episodes, “The Red Wedding”, as its theme. The episode focused around a wedding reception and dinner where many of the shows most popular main characters met their end.

“If you’re a fan of the show, you know ‘The Red Wedding’,” he said. “We decorated the space to resemble the episode and we had a costume contest with prizes. When we sat down to dinner, we also watched the episode.”

Game of Thrones also has a cookbook, Newton said, and the class featured many of its recipes, which were tailored for the event. It included four main courses served with beer and wine.

The event drew in new customers across different age ranges, from early 20’s to early 60’s, Newton noted.

“Part of the focus for the cooking class was getting people into the store who may not have been familiar with us. It gives us a chance to bring them in and show them everything that we do. We’re not just for chefs,” he said.

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