Feeding off partnerships

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Epicurious.com can't be all things to all food-lovers. So it has brought on partners that help it better serve its customers.

Relationships with gourmet and specialty food retailer Dean & Deluca, housewares retailer Williams-Sonoma and bookseller Barnes & Noble have helped Epicurious carve a niche in the gourmet food and cooking space, says Sarah Chubb, president of CondeNet.

BRANDED BOOKS

Through Barnes & Noble and its BN.com online division, for example, Epicurious.com puts out its own branded books. By the end of summer, the food site should have six such upscale commerce partnerships, Ms. Chubb says.

Commerce partnerships make Epicurious.com a "more complete" experience for its users, she says.

The site tops Nielsen/NetRatings list of luxury Web sites. With a unique audience of more than 526,000, epicurious.com leads second place nordstrom.com by more than 100,000 visitors (See chart above).

Every six months, Epicurious.com surveys its customers using banners on its site. In return for premiums like branded Epicurious.com dish towels and other kitchen wares, visitors answer up to 20 questions related to their surfing, cooking and dining habits, she says. The site usually gets upward of 2,000 participants within a few weeks. It uses the answers to steer its content development.

The site's growing user base is dramatically different than the subscriber base of sister magazines Gourmet and Bon Appetit, which also have a luxury alignment. Epicurious.com's audience is younger and generally made up of different individuals than the print audience, leading Ms. Chubb to believe a new audience is surfing the site.

Like much of the product it discusses online, Epicurious.com's audience is organically grown, says Ms. Chubb. Thus far, marketing support includes ads in company publications, as well as print and outdoor ad work from Margeotes/Fertitta & Partners, New York. A TV partnership with Discovery Channel for the weekly menu-based cooking show "Epicurious" steers viewers back to the site for further instructions and printed recipes, Ms. Chubb says.

UPSCALE FOODIES

But their biggest driver since the day it launched in September 1995 has been word-of-mouth, she says. The surveys reveal that as many people are driven to the site by the advertising and TV show as through word-of-mouth, she says.

"If you're a `foodie' and you use the Web a lot, you've seen Epicurious," she boasts. "We tend to be finding new people, and foodies tend to be on the upscale side to begin with."

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