In the best of taste Helen Gregory reports on a venture between Sainsbury and Carlton TV that should swell the nation's army of foodies with recruits galore Food and drink is cool," asserts Anthony Ellis, chief executive of new media venture Taste, who is counting on the British public's enthusiasm for cookery programmes and shopping to make it a success. The link up between Sainsbury and media group Carlton has already spawned a web site and the next step is the rebranding of the Carlton Food Network as Taste, an interactive TV channel, in May. The web site ­ ­ combines content from Carlton's site and Sainsbury's and allows people to order from the chain's home shopping site, Sainsbury's to You. It also includes food news, recipes and hundreds of restaurants and reviews from around the country, which Ellis believes inspires people to try the dishes at home rather than encouraging them to eat out more. The site will soon allow shoppers to buy wine too, through a link up with Oddbins. Initially, viewers of the TV channel will get 17 hours of cookery programmes on ntl and ONdigital each day. They'll be able to access web pages and print off recipes, but by the end of the year they'll also be able to order ingredients online from Sainsbury using their digital keypads. Celebrity chefs will fill much of the airtime and the company is looking for rising culinary stars keen to get themselves publicity, or with aspirations to become the next Jamie Oliver. Although cookery is big business in the UK, it still has some way to go to match the saturation level of the US ­ led mainly by the American Food Network which Ellis describes admiringly as a "phenomenon". Taste is set to team up with the channel in the future and he has high hopes of the UK model following in its footsteps. "I'd like to see this going in the same way." At the moment, ONdigital is pulling in a total of one million users while about three million people have access to the Carlton Food Network channel as part of their digital package. Ellis reckons viewing figures will rise, but recognises that Taste will always be a secondary channel to the more popular film and sport packages. Once hooked up, viewers will be able to use the Taste internet site, which can display the TV screen in one corner so that shoppers don't miss any of the action. Shoppers will click on a recipe, download it to a hand-held notebook and store recipe ides for the next time they go shopping in store. Alternatively, they can send the selection to their shopping basket on the Sainsbury's to You home shopping site. From May, shoppers will be able to send emails from the key pad, pick up recipes and send them to friends ­ even video grabs. They can also download meal planners and recipe cards for ideas. Ellis is convinced that cookery is no fad and that younger people are especially interested. He believes it is Taste's job to provide entertainment, inspiration and a passion for food, as well as making it easy for people to buy things from Sainsbury. He reckons most consumers have only about five to 10 basic meals in their culinary repertoire and that they need inspiring with new ideas. His keyword is "edutainment". Of Taste's new TV programmes, one is for children, called First Taste, while another - Power Food ­ has menus which energise people through nutrition. A further one, Eat Yourself Slim, teaches healthy eating. "While we're not actively promoting the Be good to Yourself range, we're promoting the issues alongside it," he says. "It's not a showcase for Sainsbury's products ­ I hope it will make it easier for people to use Sainsbury's To You, but we're not a home shopping channel, we just want to inspire people." The TV channel has advertising slots for anyone ­ including manufacturers and competitors such as Asda and Tesco. Programmes themselves will also feature products from rivals, and Ellis recognises that viewers could just as easily be inspired by this food and grace their stores instead. However, the internet link means that Sainsbury should theoretically be the first point of call. Investment in the venture means that the chain is counting on the fact that shopping through the TV will overtake the home computer. "The PC is not terribly convenient," says Ellis. "Penetration of home computers is only really noticeable in ABC homes, but most homes have a TV set. Home shopping on the TV will be more popular than the PC. Digital TV is the way forward." Taste is now investigating the potential of mobile technology but Ellis says they need first to be sure what people want. "I'm sure they don't want junk mailing on their mobiles. Once hand-held computers become commonplace it will provide a different way of getting content." Although he emphasises that it is a separate company, Ellis can go to both Sainsbury and Carlton for guidance and feedback, as there are three representatives from each company on the supervisory board, including Sainsbury's home shopping boss Angela Megson and marketing director Sarah Weller. "We're still forming the business at the moment. We now need to develop relationships with store colleagues," he says. "Taste is not a brand yet, but I want it to become one in its own right." {{FEATURES }}