Two years ago I reported that Target had purchased online culinary retailers Chef’s Catalog and Cooking.com; apparently the party is over as both sites are being shut down.
I became aware of the site closures in an email from Chef’s Catalog advertising their going out of business sale, which of course caused me to sit up and take notice.
I searched the Target corporate web site for possible press releases that I might have missed, but found nothing. The company made no known public acknowledgement, in neither its most recent earnings statement, nor any other press release.
Google searches turned up a couple of stories from media outlets in the Colorado area where Chef’s Catalog is located. I was also able to find a small mention on the housewares trade publication Home World Business that provided some insight.
According to a letter sent to vendors from Chefs Catalog President Tim Littleton, obtained by Home World Business, Chefs Catalog and Cooking.com will sell the remaining in stock inventory with plans to be “fully out of the business by the end of February 2016.”
The company explained in the email sent to customers, the final day for orders will be January 18th at 3:00PM Mountain Time.
As alluded to above, Target acquired Chefs Catalog and Cooking.com in 2013 in an attempt to build new capabilities and broaden the company’s access to different brands.
Target’s initial response was, as expected with such purchases, peppered with positives and enthusiasm.
“We are excited to bring CHEFS and Cooking.com into the Target family,” says Casey Carl, President, Multichannel and Senior Vice President, Enterprise Strategy at Target. “We know consumers are increasingly looking online for cooking solutions to make their lives easier—from utensils and cookware, to recipes. These strategic transactions provide us a great way to address this growing opportunity and will offer expanded online options for our guests.”
While making no public statements on the closures, Target did respond to the Denver Post on the matter.
“Target’s digital business has strengthened and grown, but as the company’s priorities evolved, Chefs Catalog and Cooking.com no longer aligned with the broader strategy,” said Molly Snyder, a Target spokeswoman. “Additionally, the results of these businesses did not meet our expectations.”
Clearly there is a disconnect between corporate owner and subsidiary, as Chef’s Catalog president Tim Littleton stated, “I am proud of what we have accomplished over the last two years.”
The cynical side of me assumes that Target put no real effort or resources into the two culinary websites, and if there are “disappointing results” that may be why.
I know that in 2012, the year before the purchase, Cooking.com saw a two percent reduction in sales and that Chef’s Catalog suffered substantial revenue loss after being forced to close for months due to wild fires in Colorado.
It is possible that even without Target coming along and buying them, these two companies may have closed on their own, but it does make one wonder what really happened.
I had a great deal of respect for both online retailers; they employed skilled buyers who selected quality products, and both offered great service. But things changed once under the Target umbrella, evidenced by Chef’s Catalog being involved in a major branded product recall in 2015, something that did not happen when they were an independent company.
An interesting side note is that former Cooking.com partnerships with the Food Network, Calphalon, and Rachael Ray online stores at some point became nullified as well. Calphalon and its online presence is now part of the new monster company Newell Brands, while the Rachel Ray and Food Network stores are “powered by” a web company called Delivery Agent.
The sad truth is that, more often than not, independent companies disappear after being purchased by large corporations. The loss of these two niche retailers means less choice and fewer options for the culinary consumer.
***Update February 9, 2016 – So it appears that all may not be completely lost for Chef’s Catalog. An investment firm has acquired all assets of Chef’s and will attempt to sell them to whomever they are able. It remains to be seen if this means Chef’s Catalog could be reborn – http://kitchenboy.net/blog/gordon-brothers-group-acquires-remnants-chefs-catalog/
***Update September 16, 2016 – I learned from DotWeekly.com that “…several Cooking domain names on the move at corporate domain name provider CSC and the ultra premium domain name Cooking.com has changed ownership from Gordon Brothers Group to Hoffman Media, LLC.
This was not the only premium cooking domain name on the move, it was also Cooking.net and Cooking.org. Several other cooking related domains like Cook.org, Cook.net, eCooking.com, Kitchenware.com and potentially a few more appear to have went with the package deal to Hoffman Media.”
DotWeekly also provided information about Hoffman Media, LLC (HM) – “a privately held, leading special-interest publisher based in Birmingham, Ala. The company specializes in publications targeted to the women’s market and the large base of advertisers who seek a print, online and interactive medium to reach this attractive demographic. In addition to publications, HM has a growing consumer event business and an established ancillary products division.”
An interesting comment from DotWeekly may shed light on Target’s motivation, “…and I’m sure Target cashed out with seven figures just from the domains.”
What does that mean for the old Cooking.com? It is probably as simple as HM buying up domains to redirect more traffic to their own businesses. I would doubt very seriously that Cooking.com will have any resurrection at HM.