RACCONTO IN-STORE COOKING A HIT

MELROSE PARK, Ill. -- Racconto Italian Food Products here, a marketer of imported Italian pastas, is gaining share and shelf space for its products with a series of store-specific promotions centered around cooking demonstrations.The Chicago-area company has equipped itself with a $10,000 self-contained cooking cart that it uses to perform elaborate demonstrations before crowds of shoppers at supermarkets

MELROSE PARK, Ill. -- Racconto Italian Food Products here, a marketer of imported Italian pastas, is gaining share and shelf space for its products with a series of store-specific promotions centered around cooking demonstrations.

The Chicago-area company has equipped itself with a $10,000 self-contained cooking cart that it uses to perform elaborate demonstrations before crowds of shoppers at supermarkets in its Midwest trading area, said Andrea J. Mugnolo, executive vice president.

"In events at Dominick's and Omni using the cart, we have doubled our sales volume on demo weekends," Mugnolo said. The cart closed out the year with a series of weekend appearances at Chicago-area Omni stores.

During the nine months or so that Racconto's Italian cart has been on tour in the Chicago area, the line has jumped from sixth position in unit sales to fifth in the pasta category, according to A.C. Nielsen reports. With a unit share of 5.7, it is the best-selling imported pasta in the trading area, behind national brands Creamette, Prince, San Giorgio and controlled brands.

"The Italian cart has really helped us increase our shelf space in chains that we are working with," said Mugnolo. Racconto's custom-built cooking cart stands 4 feet high and covers a 7- by 5-foot footprint. It is outfitted with electric burners and a warmer, and decorated with an awning in the colors of the Italian flag, red, white, and green. Two chefs -- both art students with some formal cooking training -- work the cart as a team.

Since the demos began in March of this year, the cart and two chefs have appeared in Jewel, Dominick's, Cub, Eagle, Omni, Kroger, Dillons, and Shop n' Save (St. Louis) stores, said Mugnolo.

"They have really been taking off in the last four or five months."