Sterling-Rice cooks up ideas for clients

BOULDER — Advertising agency Sterling-Rice Group stirred the pot of creativity at its office in downtown Boulder, with a remodel that captures the company’s spirit of innovation.

The redesign combines a culinary center with flexible conference space meant to cook up collaboration and creativity into a recipe for future business growth and client success.

“We call it a place that was built and designed … for how we uniquely create and grow brands,´ said Buddy Ketchner, president of the Sterling-Rice Group.

Sterling-Rice helps clients across the country build brands and products, with 70 percent of its clients in the food and beverage sector. They range from small startups to giants like Pepsi Co., Quaker and Kraft, said Christie Wood, accounting director and culinary strategist for Sterling-Rice Group.

Today’s brands don’t live in a static world, Ketchner said, and good brands offer customers an experience. Everything from the packaging and website to the food itself is part of that.

“All food, we believe, is situational, and we wanted to create a space that allows us to create an experience,” Ketchner said.

Housed on 13th Street just off Boulder’s bustling Pearl Street Mall, Sterling-Rice’s new design consolidated fragmented office space from several floors onto the street level, with the company’s 115 employees now split between the first and fourth floors.
Denver-based Semple Brown Design and principal designer Mary Kay Sunset of Boulder collaborated on the design of the culinary center.

The innovative space, designed for flexibility, offers a central gathering area ringed by a flurry of conference rooms. Movable glass walls provide privacy for breakout meetings when in place and room for larger group collaboration when collapsed.
A complete commercial kitchen — including a multiburner stovetop, hood and grill, multiple work stations, a stocked pantry, walk-in cooler and all the gadgets and tools to go with — stands poised for action at one end of the center. A long, white island stretched across the front of the room provides space for food display and presentation.
“Think of almost a theater set and this is our stage,” Ketchner said.

For one recent workshop — meant to spur menu ideas for summer cooking — the Sterling-Rice team transformed the perimeter conference rooms into seasonally themed work areas, complete with a grill, a hammock and a beach party.

“We had the rooms set up just to get the creative juices flowing,´ said Kevin Appel, associate culinary director for the Sterling-Rice Group. After attendees visited the rooms, they could gather in the center to share ideas. Wireless projectors with dropdown screens allow for real-time idea collaboration.

“We build those concepts in the rooms, then they can share them out to the larger group,´ said Appel.
He came to Sterling-Rice in May, bringing with him a culinary background in product research and development. His knowledge helped drive design and add details cooks might need in a kitchen.
“We designed this so it was very modular, so everything is on wheels or casters,” Appel said, allowing individual clients to tailor the kitchen to fit their needs. Clients can even bring their own equipment to replicate real-world conditions, something already utilized since the culinary center opened in late October. The Sterling-Rice kitchen is sometimes used for food science and sometimes for pure culinary innovation, Appel said.

Either way it’s where food ideas come to life. They sometimes hire specific chefs for projects where clients brainstorm culinary concepts in the conference area which are then implemented in the kitchen and walked back out for sampling.

“Sometimes when you taste something, get the texture and the flavors…all those things help refine the concept and get closer in,” Appel said. Sterling-Rice calls such evolution “protocepts” and “iterations.” Each new iteration brings the client closer to a market-ready product. A nearby room equipped for focus groups allows real-time consumer testing during the process, too. It’s what businesses need.

“In order to fulfill our promise to our clients helping them deliver their brands, we need to … deliver on the innovation side and this enables us to do that,” Wood said.

Client response to the new culinary center has been amazing, Ketchner said. Big name clients already tried out the space with more slated to brew up creativity there in the new year.

“In many ways it’s a blank canvas; there is so much we can do with it,” Ketchner said. “The power of it is that it takes what we do well, what we’ve always done well, but it takes it to a whole different level of scale and sophistication.”

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