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Food Network Whets Market's Appetite

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With TV, magazines and video games, the brand is really cookin'.

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Guy

How can this guy have imitators?

In the middle of a recent Kansas City Royals baseball game, Fox Sports Network's (NWS) Joel Goldberg sat down for a special interview with Guy Fieri, Gen-Y food personality and the host of two Food Network programs, including its top-rated primetime show, Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.

Just one problem: It wasn't really Guy Fieri. It was an impostor, whom Goldberg proceeded to pepper with breathless culinary queries, all of which elicited lame, one-word answers. Surreal as the exchange was, it was a sign of how the exploding food market has turned the Guy Fieris of the world (and in turn, their bizarro impostors) into worldwide celebrities.

The Food Network has been at the fore of this expanding industry. Co-owned by the Tribune Company and Scripps Network Interactive (SNI), the channel has turned chefs like Mario Batali, Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse into household names. Their major breakout star, Rachael Ray, has become the industry's foremost pitchwoman, with a Reader's Digest Association (RDA) magazine and endorsement deals with Nabisco (NA) and Dunkin' Donuts. In turn, much of rival cable channel Travel Channel's (COX) programming has revolved around food and their own roster of food-obsessed icons.

Last summer, Nielsen Online (NMR) revealed that FoodNetwork.com was the web's most-visited food resource for 24 straight months. Since then, the network has launched Food2.com, a site looking to skew younger. It's also launched the Food Network magazine with Hearst, and just announced a video game with NamcoBandai (HBHD) for Nintendo's (NTDOY) Wii.

Odd as it may seem, foodie video games have become something of a trend. Since Majesco (COOL) announced last year that it's Cooking Mama franchise had sold over 1.6 million units, a number of popular food games have flooded the market.

"Cooking Mama... and Food Network showed that people enjoy watching people make food," says Lee Cummings, the Creative Director of the Order Up videogame series, whose previous job was working on Take-Two's (TTWO) Grand Theft Auto.

"I was going to go to culinary school. So I brought my love of cooking to my love of video games and made it accessible."

Despite a variety of health scares (salmonella-laced peanuts, anyone?), in the past few months, the food industry itself is faring well. Sales of organic products rose 17% in 2008, while the global halal foods market is expected to become a $635 billion industry this year.

Hope you brought your appetite.
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