Tesco’s horsemeat traumas have evidently not deterred it from getting involved with other four-legged beasts. The chain has sunk nearly £50m into acquiring Giraffe, the restaurant chain, with the intention of installing the restaurants in 10 of its 250 Extra stores.
A feelbad brand can only make so much headway with apologies and ‘we mean to do better’ declarations. When your reputation has taken a hammering, a spot of brand repair is in order. Hitching your falling fortunes to a feelgood project is one tried-and-tested strategy. It may not restore confidence, but the association will at least confuse people and draw the fire from the most negative attacks.
That’s why notoriously polluting companies are so fond of establishing wildlife projects and why purveyors of sugary beverages sponsor sports.
It’s easy to see what Tesco wants from Giraffe. If you’re at an airport or station, Giraffe has been a relatively good option. With its free-range eggs, sourdough bread and British Farm Assured meat, it plays to a new, more progressive food agenda, one less susceptible to the growing critique of the dysfunctional globalised food sourcing of our large food retailers.
” Giraffe will be wounded by the association - look at Harris + Hoole”
Giraffe, on the other hand, will certainly be wounded through its association with Tesco. Look at how the brand image of coffee bar chain Harris + Hoole has suffered since Tesco took a 49% stake last year. It has been left defending itself to once-loyal customers, trying to convince them that, despite Tesco’s involvement, it nevertheless retains its indie values and has not become yet another corporate coffee chain in the Starbucks mould.
Supermarket café-restaurants have always been depressing. Even people who routinely shop in supermarkets rarely choose to hang around in them. Tesco’s Extra stores, like giant Asdas, are all-round grim places to be.
The business press certainly doesn’t fancy their fortunes much, increasingly viewing Tesco’s largest format stores as big white elephants, vulnerable as customers switch to online.
The notion that Tesco can reinvent Extras as ‘retail destinations’ in which to “relax, socialise, recharge” really is a grand delusion of epic proportions.
Joanna Blythman is a journalist and author of What to Eat