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Bon appetit joined a growing trend when the magazine recently secured Visa Gold as the first-ever title sponsor of its eighth annual Wine & Spirits Focus.

The increasing popularity of food, wine and cultural events is enticing sponsors to play bigger roles in these activities in an effort to influence upscale consumers who spend heavily on everything from food to cars, travel and home furnishings.

Visa rival American Express Co. already has laid claim to a bounty of local gourmet food and wine events, but now Visa USA is coming on strong as a major food and cultural event sponsor.


This summer, Visa targeted high-spending consumers with its first "Shop, Dine & Stay on the Most Famous Streets of America" promotion offering special deals through Sept. 30 with retailers, hoteliers and restaurateurs on eight prestigious U.S. streets including Beverly Hills' Rodeo Drive, New York's Madison Avenue and Chicago's Michigan Avenue.

That promotion was accom-panied by Visa sponsorship of several local arts events and Visa Gold's sponsorship of the Taste of Chicago and other high-profile local food events.

"Visa has increased the amount of event marketing it's doing . . . to add value for our cardholders and [increase market] share for our membership," said Tom Edwards, senior VP-marketing development and acceptance.

At Bon Appetit's events in six cities, guests will pay admission prices ranging from $65 to $105 to sample food from 130 chefs and restaurants, and the products of 150 wineries, while chatting with famous chefs mingling amid a cornucopia of sponsored product exhibits ranging from Lexus cars to high-end kitchen cabinets.

"This is an upscale group, and they respond to sponsorship because it lets them learn more about products specifically targeted to them," said Publisher Lynn W. Heiler.

This year, the Bon Appetit Wine & Spirits Focus Presented by Visa Gold expands from four cities to six; Miami and San Francisco join New York, Dallas, Chicago and Los Angeles as host cities, with a total of 12,000 guests expected to partake.

Bon Appetit said interest in the event continues to swell among readers, and it has helped raise the monthly magazine's brand awareness in the competitive gourmet category.


"It started out as a simple wine tasting," Ms. Heiler said, "but people really responded to the opportunity to see the magazine brought to life through chefs and even advertisers."

Visa Gold will be a major force at each event, enabling attendees who buy tickets with the credit card to get a special Bon Appetit cookbook and in most cities to gain early access to the event and a VIP tour with introductions to celebrity chefs and wine specialists.

Among the food exhibits will be some unlikely culinary sponsors: New sponsor Club Med is bringing several striped beach cabanas to each event to promote its resorts with posters, videos and representatives.


Returning sponsor Wood Mode is putting together a traveling 20-by-50-foot kitchen to demonstrate its cabinets with chefs and hands-on opportunities to try out the kitchen, Ms. Heiler said.

For the first time, the Canadian Tourism Department will be a sponsor, showcasing the country's food, wine and tourism options in a gourmet setting of its own.

Top chefs in each local market will prepare food and answer questions from consumers, which is a top draw for readers, Ms. Heiler said, explaining, "Chefs are celebrities in the food world. People love the opportunity to interact directly with the chefs they've read about."

Several celebrities including Luciano Pavarotti, Billy Joel, Robert DeNiro, Celine Dion and Julia Roberts have created personal "journals," with entertainment tips and decorative covers, that will be auctioned at each event

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