NEW YORK: Companies including Pizza Hut, Whole Foods and Kraft are all using applications on Apple's iPhone in an attempt to engage with consumers, further demonstrating that this device is becoming an increasingly important marketing channel.

In the last quarter, Apple sold 5.2 million smartphones worldwide, and advertisers like Unilever and Procter & Gamble have notably stepped up their activity on this medium in recent times.

Pizza Hut's new "app" allows owners of the touchphone to customise and order meals via the device, and has been downloaded over 150,000 times since its launch last month.

The free tool enables users to "build" a pizza of their choosing, and offers a range of further interactive options, such as the ability to add "sauce" to chicken wings by shaking the handset.

The restaurant chain hopes to increase the number of people accessing this application each day by 20% by the end of this year, as part of its broader effort to boost digital sales to $1 billion (€704m; £599m) in 2010.

Other avenues that are being used in order to achieve this aim include a Facebook "app", and its own Twitter feed, which currently has over 15,000 "followers".

People who own iPhones are a particularly attractive demographic as they are typically in the upper income bracket, and may thus be less prone to reducing their spending levels in the downturn.

Bob Kraut, Pizza Hut's vp, marketing communications, said the company is "willing to spend more because they have the means. They know what they want, and the guest check tends to be higher. This is the next step, in terms of us going where the fish is."

Whole Foods, the natural and organic food retailer, also introduced a free app in June, which provides recipes across categories such as "budget", "quick and easy" and "cooking with kids".

It contains more than 2,000 recipes, which can be sorted by contents and dietary requirements, while consumers can also input a list of ingredients and receive suggestions as to what dishes they can make.

Further features include a "store finder", which helps customers locate their nearest Whole Foods outlet, as well as giving opening times, phone numbers, and information on the latest deals.

Burger King has developed a similar such service through which customers can place orders, and receive targeted offers based on their previous such purchases from the fast-food company's menu.

Kraft's iFood assistant, which costs 99 cents, was released late last year, and contains a wide range of recipes, all of which include at least two of the company's products.

Basil Maglaris, the food maker's associate director of corporate affairs, said using this medium allowed the company to "connect more deeply with consumers."

"Downloads are certainly one measure of success but we're also pleased to see the level of ongoing engagement after the app is downloaded," he added.

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Data sourced from Information Week /AdAge; additional content by WARC staff