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Virtual Reality: Cooking Classes, Demos Head Online

Cooking classes are an integral part of most independent gourmet housewares stores. The classes help create an experience, something that consumers crave. It also positions these shops, and those who work in them, as experts in cooking, baking, mixology and other home entertaining practices.

Most importantly, classes help independent store owners and employees become familiar with the local community and its patrons, enabling them to treat customers to a personalized shopping opportunity.

However, as COVID-19 concerns grew and social distancing orders were put into place, cooking classes fell by the wayside. Many retailers were feeling the pinch from the revenue stream cooking classes brought in, while also reeling from the loss of marketing opportunities, potential new customers and add-on sales. But, as luck would have it, technology allowed many independent store owners to take their cooking classes online via Facebook, Instagram and even Zoom.

Monique Moshier, co-owner of The Happy Cook in Charlottesville, VA, said that soon after the state’s governor mandated social distancing orders, she and husband Steve Belcher got to work creating online cooking classes through web service Zoom.

“A massive amount of people were encouraging us to do this, so we looked into what would work and scheduled our first class pretty early on in the shutdown,” she said.

Moshier explained that, luckily, the store’s brand-new culinary center was optimal for setting up these classes, with a few tweaks for the best user experience. With the chefs lined up and ready, Moshier and husband Steve Belcher, also co-owner of the store, put together parameters for the classes and a pricing structure they felt would work. Moshier noted the store sends a recipe list 24 hours before the class begins, but that cooking along with the class isn’t necessary.

“These classes are meant to be skills-based and educational classes. We are incorporating modifications so that people are able to use what they may have at home, too, since ingredients have been hard to find. We mute all of the microphones so we are able to record the class and people use the chat feature to ask questions,” she said.

The classes are then available online to be downloaded for the participants, which is included in the initial fee. However, others can download the class for a fee of $15 and Moshier found that other people are purchasing those classes as they desire.

Marcia Jochem, owner of Evansville, IN-based Thyme In The Kitchen, said that she has taken a different approach to virtual classes, doing them via Facebook Live, and has been tying them into in-store sales.

“We are doing ‘Watch & Learn’ virtual cooking classes via Facebook Live at noon on Tuesdays and Thursdays of each week. There is no charge to the customer and we feature different cookware, cooking gadgets and seasonings. If we use the product during class, it is 10% off for 24 hours,” she explained.

For more on virtual cooking classes, see the May/June issue of GOURMET INSIDER®.

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