March 31, 2011, 12:00 AM

The Food Channel cooks up its first online store to blend information with shopping

Making the transition from gourmet food newsletter to e-commerce, The Food Channel launched its recipe for growth: its first online store.

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Building on its roots as a newsletter about gourmet food and unusual kitchen products, The Food Channel has come up with a new recipe for growth: its first online store.

The Food Channel aims to play matchmaker between its loyal audience of foodies and manufacturers of gourmet food products and kitchen goods that can be hard to find on the shelves of bricks-and-mortar stores.

"We really feel that we've gotten into e-commerce by accident," says Jay Anger, web project manager for The Food Channel, which receives an average of 330,000 unique visitors per month. "Once we looked at the market, we saw that there was an opportunity to give these manufacturers a presence by harnessing the power of The Food Channel audience."

The e-commerce site also serves as a new revenue stream for The Food Channel, which started as a print newsletter about food and cooking in the 1980s and came to the web in 2008.

FoodChannel.com features staff-produced articles and recipes developed by editor-chefs in the publisher's kitchen, which are posted to the site and syndicated across the web to other lifestyle and food sites.

The e-retail arm of the site, FoodChannel.com/shop, charges manufacturers upfront fees to list their products for sale. Fees range from $1,200 per year to feature six products, to $15,000 for 50 products.

The Food Channel takes care of the visual elements, such as photography and food styling, and each brand gets its own brand page on the site. Food Channel chefs also develop new recipes using products from the manufacturers, which will then be featured on the home page and syndicated.

When a customer places an order, The Food Channel relays the information to the manufacturer, which then ships the product directly to the customer. The Food Channel pays the manufacturer the wholesale price and shipping and handling fees, and keeps the retail markup.

Although manufacturers must pay to get the products listed in the store, Anger says it is not purely a pay-to-play arrangement. Each product must pass tests for quality and appearance by the company's culinary team, and the team has rejected several products already, Anger says.

Sourcing products also goes two ways: Manufacturers can send the web site products to consider while editors can pursue products they know and like to get them featured in the store. The online store gives manufacturers a way to get into e-commerce without having to build and manage their own sites that, because of the small scale of their businesses, would be hard-pressed to generate enough traffic to be profitable, Anger says.

allison@verticalwebmedia.com

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