Even as supermarkets serve up more prepared foods for time-pressed customers, H-E-B wants to remind people that they can enjoy a fine dining experience by cooking at home.
The Texas grocer recently went undercover as “ITK Restaurant Group” at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin to host a sumptuous, six-course dinner for media, local foodies and influencers, area businesses and curious guests. Held in the city’s iconic Hotel Saint Cecilia, the gourmet dinner featured dishes ranging from herb-infused tenderloin and raspberry lavender demi to black garlic winter squash risotto and ginger halibut ceviche.
The revelation came just before the final course, when H-E-B chefs emerged with H-E-B shopping baskets containing the ingredients used to prepare the fancy meal. Martin Otto, chief merchant and chief operating officer at H-E-B, then addressed guests to explain how consumers can create a similar eating experience by taking advantage of what their local H-E-B grocery store has to offer. Guests also got a chance to hobnob with the chefs.
“We thought this would be a great way to showcase H-E-B’s ingredient selections and culinary expertise,” Giovanna Dimperio, senior manager of digital marketing for H-E-B, said in an interview after the event. “A lot of people in Texas know and love H-E-B for great products — including Texas-themed products they can’t get anywhere else — and low prices. But we don’t know if everybody has that same knowledge about how amazing the ingredients are at H-E-B and the lengths that our sourcers and merchants go to in order to get the best, freshest produce and high-quality meats.”
“We wanted to do something really fun that would inspire people to cook at home and show them that you can take these extraordinary ingredients and create a food experience in your own kitchen,” noted Callie Grant, digital marketing manager at H-E-B.
The “ITK” moniker stands for “In The Kitchen,” H-E-B’s online video series that provides meal ideas, recipes, and cooking tips and techniques to spur people to cook at home.
“It’s about meeting people wherever they are and whatever way they want to cook and kind of de-mystifying cooking for them and letting them know that it can be putting five ingredients together,” Dimperio explained. “Cooking can even be just putting something in the microwave. But it’s giving them recipes that are easy or a challenge by choice. We have videos on our website and YouTube.”
“At the core of it is how do we inspire people to cook from home, but then ultimately how do we help them feel empowered to cook from home,” said Grant.
Besides In The Kitchen, H-E-B encourages people to cook at home with its H-E-B Meal Simple meal kits and in-store Cooking Connection centers, where cooking coaches prepare a variety of recipes daily for shoppers to sample. Also on display are recipe cards and the products used to make the dishes, and the cooking coaches are on hand to answer customer questions.
“We have a culinary team that designs all of the chef-tested recipes on HEB.com. They create the meals for the Cooking Connections in over 140 of our stores and do product testing,” Dimperio said. “That’s one of our best hidden secrets. So the South by Southwest event was a great way to showcase both.”
The In The Kitchen brand also reaches consumers in other ways. “In H-E-B’s My Texas Life magazine, it comes to life with recipes that may be relevant to our customers,” Grant said. “And in stores, it may come to life as branded recipe card ideas near the fresh ingredients they might be looking at and considering.”
According to Dimperio, the dining experience at South by Southwest stirred more interest in cooking at home among attendees.
“I think what you’ll see from H-E-B next is a revamped content series. Beyond recipe videos, we’re seeing more of a desire for how to prep items and H-E-B’s culinary expertise,” she said. “So In The Kitchen will continue to have great recipes, but it also will be about assembling meals in minutes and providing some great culinary tips on picking produce or cutting techniques — broadening the definition of cooking.”
When it comes to food and meal solutions, H-E-B wants to engage with its customers wherever they are, Dimperio added. “However you want to eat, we want to be able to feed you that way. If you want to eat by grabbing one of our Meal Simple entrees and putting that in the microwave, we’ve got that for you. If you want to eat by sitting down at our True Texas BBQ restaurant and grabbing a pound of brisket, we’ve got that for you, too. And if you want to eat by creating something for your family at home, In The Kitchen can be the way to do that.”