First, slice the audience

Are you a Passionate Artiste, or one of the shameful Non-Cooks? Belinda Archer on who watches all those food programmes

Media chefs are gaining the sort of fame and adulation usually associated with rock stars, and the reason is simple. The nation has evidently gone mad for televised food shows, according to a study by the top 20 advertising agency, Leo Burnett.

However good or bad we are at cooking, we are almost all busily tuning in to some food-related programme or other at some point, either for educational or instructional reasons or simply because it makes pleasant viewing, the agency says.

According to December 1996 figures, BBC1 broadcasts 29 food or cooking- related programmes per week, ranging from quizzes to comedies such as Chef! to food-related travel and health strands, as well as instructional magazine shows. BBC2, meanwhile, transmits 34, while ITV has 18 and Channel 4 around 15.

There is also a cornucopia of satellite and cable programmes, with the lifestyle channel UK Living serving up 27 weekly food and cookery-related features alone, and there are even dedicated food TV stations now, such as Carlton Food Network (16 programmes) and Granada Food & Wine (a further 12).

Aside from the fact that such programming can be attractively cheap to make - often as simple as sticking a celebrity in a studio with a set of pans and an agile cameraman - there is clearly a huge demand from viewers as the desire to learn more about food or how to cook better grips the country.

Leo Burnett has thoroughly researched this social trend among 1,000 consumers nationwide and has come up with a classification system that brands us according to the food shows we watch, the TV chefs we know and the cookery books we have on our kitchen shelves. Thus we all fall into one of six "food tribes", reflecting our different approaches to food and providing handy insights into various aspects of our lifestyles.

First, there are the Non-Cooks, who make up one in five of the polled sample. If you are a Non-Cook, otherwise known as a "warmer-upper", you are likely to be C1C2, mainly 23-34 years old, you watch food programmes for gentle diversion or entertainment rather than instruction, and you love to settle in front of the TV with a take-away or pre-prepared meal rather than something you have sweated long over creating.

If you are not a Non-Cook, you could be a Reluctant Caterer, seemingly the biggest category, claiming 32 per cent of respondents. These are more downmarket with less money to spend on convenience food. They apparently love GMTV and daytime chefs and food programmes that are entertaining, such as Ready Steady Cook and Masterchef, but they favour food in square- shaped frozen format, their most popular shop being Iceland.

Appreciative Bystanders come next. These are the voyeurs who love to talk about food and look at food and eat food, but just can't be bothered with preparing it themselves. They are often dieters and exercise-conscious, visiting the gym regularly. They also watch Delia Smith, Keith Floyd and Gary Rhodes, and their typical retail outlet is the supermarket. Happily for them, however, they have enough disposable income to dine out a lot and avoid cooking altogether.

If you don't recognise yourself so far, you could be a Family Provider, one of the sensible, time-constrained, largely female 12 per cent whose prime concern is the family and nutrition, and who religiously follow the gospel according to Ms Smith. Food to you must be practical and healthy rather than experimental, and you are at your most content doing a one- stop shop at Sainsbury's.

Otherwise you could be one of the ABC1 Skilled Craftsmen. These are the Mrs Surbitons with the posh kitchens and the unopened Marco Pierre Whites on the coffee table, for whom food is a social tool. Their home and kitchen is like a stage set with Aga and glittering Sabatiers and they like to copy what the chefs do, particularly Antonio Carluccio and Madhur Jaffrey, while also frequenting their own fishmongers.

And finally, we reach the elite 7.4 per cent of ABC1 food purists, the Passionate Artistes, who have a tendency to claim they are "influenced" rather than "instructed" by Rick Stein and Two Fat Ladies, and who think nothing of driving miles to buy some wild-boar prosciutto. "There's a truffle sale in Cirencester. I'm off," they are most likely to say, preferring to take their well-heeled custom to specialist shops rather than Tesco.

Mike Ainsworth, Leo Burnett's business development director, who led the year-long Media Cuisine research, says: "From being something we didn't really care about as a nation, food is now a major form of social currency. It is the new sex, the new rock'n'roll, and even if you are not a cook, it is impossible now not to have a view about cooking because of the impact of TV chefs. We are no longer what we eat - we are what we watch."

Burnett claims this Food Tribes classification tool will be of use to all related marketeers and advertisers (anyone from product developers to food retailers to convenience food manufacturers) wishing to know more about their customers and wanting to target them better. The agency also plans to apply the lessons learnt to its own roster of food clients, which ranges from McDonald's to Kellogg's and McVitie's.

The message seems to be clear. The next time you innocently tune into the Food and Drink programme or Can't Cook, Won't Cook, beware. The brands are not on the screens: they are sitting on the sofas

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