Almanac

Community - July 24, 2013

Mentoring food entrepreneurs

Woodside's Chris Cornyn mentors contestants on new TV show

by Jane Knoerle

Have what it takes to be the next Mrs. Fields or Orville Redenbacher? Then you may be a Supermarket Superstar. That's the premise of Lifetime television's new competition show appearing for the next nine weeks at 10 p.m. Monday nights.

"Supermarket Superstar" premiered July 22, with Chris Cornyn of Woodside as one of three mentors helping home chefs prepare their products for mass production. Celebrity chef Michael Chiarello and cookie mogul Debbi Fields of Mrs. Fields Cookies are the other mentors. Actress and model Stacy Keibler is host.

Each one-hour episode of "Supermarket Superstar" follows three home chefs as they pitch their product idea. After one contestant is eliminated, the remaining two go before a supermarket buyer for the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A&P), who determines the winner of each episode.

The winner receives $10,000 in prize money and $100,000 worth of product development advice from Mr. Conryn's food marketing company, called DINE.

On the show's finale, three winners from the season will be invited back to compete for the grand prize by presenting their product to A&P CEO Sam Martin, with the winner securing a place on the supermarkets' shelves.

Mr. Cornyn was recruited for the show in May 2012 by its producers, the Weinstein Company ("Project Runway") and All3Media America ("Undercover Boss"). "I just got a phone call one day," he says. "I think they found me on Google."

A food-branding executive, Mr. Cornyn is the founder of DINE, a food and drink marketing and advertising agency. In 2011, he sold the company to Mattson, known for creating new food products, but continues as DINE's president. He commutes from his home in Woodside to Foster City.

Shooting for the TV show took place in January 2013. "We filmed for more than three weeks, working from 6 a.m. to midnight," he says. All the action took place on sets constructed in the studio. There was "great chemistry" between the participants and very little of the dialogue was scripted, he says.

Of course, he knows who the final winner is, but it's a deep, dark secret until the last show airs.

The would-be food entrepreneurs were recruited through casting calls throughout the country. Candidates turned out to be "everybody from grandmas to college-age kids passionate about their product," he says. Each episode featured a single category, such as cakes, ethnic food, or barbecue.

The first show category was cakes. Three products were featured: a "buzz-cake" containing alcohol, a cookie-cupcake, and peach cobbler. After hearing the critics' opinion of his product, the "buzz-cake" candidate decided to drop out. Of the remaining two, the A&P buyer chose peach cobbler as the winning product. On the mentors' advice, it was changed from a shelf to a frozen item.

"We really did try to mentor these people," says Mr. Cornyn. "We wanted to give them the tools to go into business." He sees the program appealing to a large audience. "After all, everybody goes to the supermarket, but they don't know how those products get there."

The average supermarket carries 50,000 items, however, nine out of 10 new products fail, even if they make it to the shelf, he says.

Back home in Woodside with his wife, Robyn, and kids Kate, 8, and Shay, 6, Mr. Cornyn reflects on his foray into show business. "I consider it a great experience," he says. "I learned so much."

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