You can’t blame anyone for wanting to make an extra pound when they can, even a so-called ‘celebrity’. Let’s face it, fame comes and goes, and unless you are one of the big guns firing from the A-list, you’ve got to get what you can while you can.
Even the sainted Delia, who once berated chefs for endorsing supermarkets, had, within a year of that statement, signed a mega-deal with Waitrose. (And even she has now parted company with the grande dame of supermarkets.)
But does a well-known face grinning out from a packet of cereal make it taste any better? And does using the latest piece of celebrity-endorsed kitchen kit turn you into a chef? Hardly (though confidence in their judgement may help).
Building that takes a while. Yet the ephemeral celebrity status that we are now used to – thanks to reality TV and social networking – barely allows time to learn someone’s name, never mind to trust their brand extension.
Paul Rankin: a hands-on success
Celebrity chef Paul Rankin is one who has stood the test. His range of Irish bakery and meat products is a phenomenal success, with over £30 million in sales. Though we may not see Paul much on the telly these days, his face is instantly recognisable, smiling out from his soda breads and potato cakes in most leading supermarkets.
Paul is involved in every step of the process, from the recipe through the development and on to the shelves. He is very hands-on, and willing to take advice on what makes a product work without compromising the quality.
“We haven’t always got it right,” he says. “But if my name is on there, it has to be something I am proud of. That takes work.”
You see, chef endorsements need to be approached with caution by both the chef and the brands. Who could fail to see the funny side of a grinning Ainsley Harrriot on a packet of sausages, above the line Prick with a Fork (except, of course, the chef, who has now dissociated himself from the brand).
Rhodes and Ramsay: getting it wrong
Get it wrong and serious damage can be done. Take Gary Rhodes and his relationship with Tate & Lyle. His recipes endorsed sugar and treacle products accordingly and caused a public furore. And I had no faith left in Gordon Ramsay when both the original and subsequent replacement GR hand-blender blew up after only one use.
Gordon’s strapline for his kitchen equipment is ‘Kitchenware you can swear by’ – and I did, in a most unladylike fashion. Perhaps Gordon hadn’t been as involved in the blender’s manufacture as one would like.
On the other hand, I will admit to being a tad sceptical when Nigella launched her range of kitchenware; all soft, round and sensual, not unlike the cook herself. But now, her mini-whisk is one of my all-time favourite kitchen tools. Why? Simply because it works, it works well and is lovely to hold (the whisk, not Nigella).
But celebrity endorsement is probably here to stay. And for those who manage this well and have achieved brand confidence, it has a place.
I’m not sure that Jamie Oliver and his endless range of products – my latest JO find is a bag of potting compost – will ever replace Marks & Spencer as a trusted brand. But you never know. If he keeps his eye on the quality…
My three favourite celebrity chef endorsements