Marco ice cream is getting its name out in an unconventional way — through grocery store cooking schools. It’s partnering with Harmons, whose instructors can hand out coupons for Marco, distribute samples, or incorporate the ice cream products into its cooking demos.

Marco is not alone. As supermarket cooking classes gain popularity with consumers excited to learn, suppliers are finding they’re a great way for product placement or endorsement from chefs.

As a consumer, I have to say this is a cooking class I would definitely sign up for!

Marco Ice Cream
Marco Ice Cream

Avery Henderson and his partners started developing Denver-based Marco in early 2020 and then, COVID arrived. So, instead of trying to enter the retail market, they started selling online. However, another year on, and Marco is in around 100 grocery stores in four different markets, one of which is Harmons, which inspired the cooking school endeavor.

Harmons, which has 19 stores in Utah, was open to featuring the products.

“We sent samples to the heads of the cooking schools and did a Zoom onboarding to talk about the flavors, and talk about our brand,” says Henderson, who is one of the co-founders of the brand. He sent coupons for free pints for the chefs to use as they wished. “We see it as paid acquisition of the customer in the cost of one pint. It’s a really inexpensive way to get the right people at the store to talk about our product and integrate it in the setting that makes sense,” he explains.

And whether the chef is handing out coupons, samples, or cooking with the ice cream, “it’s a chef endorsement,” Henderson says. Plus, it gets products into the hands of people who really care about food since cooking classes often attract foodies.

Down the line, Marco may supply stores with recipes featuring its ice cream, developed by its own chef, or even send that chef to the stores.

Benefits for retailers

Cooking classes are a great opportunity for retailers, too. They’re a chance to draw in customers, new and existing, and to establish a store as a valuable resource for culinary information.

They’re a great way to build direct relationships with customers beyond the transaction “and give them another reason to come to stores,” says Amanda Lai, senior manager with McMillanDoolittle, a Chicago-based retail consultancy. “Cooking classes can bring a sense of newness and excitement into stores.”

Harmons offers in-person and virtual classes at seven stores, with topics ranging from Instant Pot Basics to Master Knife Skills. Popular for years, COVID has boosted the appeal of both with “an influx of new customers,” says cooking school Program Director Kelsey Roberts.

Harmon’s Cooking Classes

And Publix, which has more than 1,200 stores, has seen online cooking classes experience a “surge in views, many of them with more than two million views,” says spokesperson Maria Brous. This Lakeland, Florida-based supermarket chain also partners with suppliers and uses their brands frequently in the classes. “We develop our class themes, recipes, and ingredients. We then review these ingredients and invite our suppliers to participate in our program,” she says.

Partnering with suppliers

Hy-Vee, which has more than 280 stores in eight states, has been running monthly Facebook Live events developed by its corporate dietitian team. Recent topics include fun and healthy tailgate options, and back-to-school breakfast ideas. They also run events for young customers through Kids in the Hy-Vee Kitchen, designed to help children become comfortable and confident in the kitchen, improve their culinary skills, “and increase their joy of cooking,” says spokesperson Christina Gayman.

Hy-Vee also partners with suppliers. Each month, there’s a Hy-Vee Dietitian Pick of the Month featuring one or two brands. “We feature their products in our classes and/or events, with additional features on our social media pages,” Gayman says. Those brands are also recognized on Hy-Vee’s websites’ Dietitian section, giving five reasons to try them. 

British classes, too

In the U.K., major retailer Waitrose runs four cookery schools—two in London and two in the west of England. Classes include topics such as Moroccan Kitchen and Cooking Low and Slow. Each school also offers classes for children and families, based on age groups.

Waitrose
Waitrose cooking classes lead by chef tutors

Children learning to cook is popular in England. Over the summer, Tesco ran a series of online video classes for kids teaching them skills, recipes, and cooking-related crafts and games.

Meanwhile Sainsbury’s, in addition to the usual plethora of online recipes, features How To recipe videos on its website, which are also available on YouTube, as does Aldi, whose handful of videos are fast and simplified.

At the end of the day, says Marco’s Henderson, cooking classes “are a fun, unconventional way to get your product out there.”