How to pass the Oprah taste test
Vancouver food entrepreneurs explain how they made the O List
Vancouver’s Raincoast Crisps jumped the hurdles and landed on the January, 2012 “O List” after sending samples for a number of years.
“Oprah (Winfrey) picked and planned, tasted and touched, sniffed and snuggled her way through hundreds of items to determine her favorite things.” That was the intro to the 2012 collection of “Favourite Things” in O,The Oprah Magazine and on Oprah.com last year.
And as usual, her annual round-up of favourite things and gift guides included a little love for foodies. If she personally tasted each edible favourite or gift idea, when it began on in 2002 on her TV show (the late, great The Oprah Winfrey Show which ended in 2011), she certainly has taken one for the team, diet-wise.
Oprah shout-outs are a marketer’s dream and some Vancouver-based comestibles have passed the taste test, a small miracle, considering the deluge of products the O-team must receive for consideration. (Oprah’s Favorite Things food tester — put that on your bucket list of dream jobs.)
Vancouver’s Raincoast Crisps jumped the hurdles and landed on the January, 2012 “O List” after sending samples for a number of years. “You get on the radar, build a relationship, send samples,” says Raincoast Crisps publicist Lynsey Brothers of High Road Communications. “We went through three rounds of taste tests and sent fresh boxes of crackers for each one.”
Here’s what O magazine said: “With inventive flavours like rosemary raisin pecan and cranberry hazelnut, these are the best crackers we’ve come across in ages. Try them in place of greasy chips, try them with cheese — just try them!”
“The respect and exposure from that is so incredibly vast,” says Brothers. “Oprah is an idolized individual whose opinions everyone respects. I’ve tasted and enjoyed other things that she’s personally okayed.”
An Oprah endorsement, Brothers says, is a “huge, huge priority” for marketers, if the product is available in the U.S. “In my opinion, it’s unmatched. It was a big career success for me.” she says.
Another Vancouver company, Ethical Bean Coffee, got her seal of approval in 2010. Here’s what a staffer wrote about the coffee: “I believe in the mystical powers of a slug of caffeine dressed in heaps of fat and sugar. And in 100 per cent fair trade, organic products. With Ethical Bean, I can send coffee lovers bags of medium or dark roast that taste good and do good.”
“We were just thrilled,” says Ethical Bean COO and sales manager Viren Malik. The Ethical Bean’s QR codes on each coffee package and iPhone App, giving detailed information about the who, what, where and scoring details of the coffee helped, as did the company’s do-good projects educating and housing children in Guatemala.
“We had a tremendous amount of publicity and saw a lot of interest from U.S. consumers,” says Malik. “It helped us position ourselves in the U.S. and set up an online store. It wasn’t in grocery stores in the U.S. back then.”
Butter Baked Goods in Vancouver didn’t pitch their jumbo cookies sandwiching a filling. Owner Rosie Daykin actually got a cold call from Oprah’s Favourite Things team in 2009. Someone on the magazine staff had come across Butter Baked Goods cookies at a New York shop and it was shortlisted for Favourite Things, like an Oscar nominee. “Someone had clearly discovered our product and called us. They asked what we had and I sent them a big selection of all kinds of cookies and marshmallows,” says Daykin. Oprah’s team then asked for more samples of the chocolate cookies with vanilla butter cream and peanut butter cream. “Ultimately, we didn’t make it onto the (final) list,” says Daykin. “I think they’re pretty careful in that they look at businesses that can handle the volume, as you can imagine. You can’t be making caramel out of your basement. We sell product all over North America and we had the capacity.”
Raincoast Crisps founder Lesley Stowe says although her crackers are sold at all Whole Food Markets throughout North America and many other shops, O magazine only mentioned a single store in California. The crackers aren’t online so it funnelled down to that one store. “They went crazy with it and were inundated,” says Stowe.
And when it comes to food, O, The Oprah Magazine and the Oprah.com are good sources for recipes, too, as well as information on cookware and healthy eating. You can click on anything from alfredo sauces, brining and chia seeds to turkey breast, whipped cream and woks, and everything in between.
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