A match made in upper middle-class heaven: Nigella Lawson has partnered with Ocado to launch a range of recipes and a curated ‘Nigella Loves’ aisle on its website. Which would be the perfect pairing of personality and brand in any normal times. But these are very much not normal times.

The cost of living crisis is affecting every echelon of society. No matter how bountiful your bathrooms, the pennies need to be pinched.

At well-to-do favourite Waitrose, sales of Spam grew 36% in the year to September 2022, while online searches on the supermarket’s website for Spam-based recipes rose by 82%. Meanwhile, sales of fish heads were up by more than a third, and beef shin up by 23%. This is not a sign of a shopper base with cash to throw around.

Indeed, Ocado’s former supply ally saw £4.9m of grocery spend shift to Aldi alone in the 12 weeks to October [Kantar]. And its current joint venture partner M&S has lost even more to the discounter – to the tune of £9m.

That is far less than the traditional big four are losing out on, but the crunch on consumer spending simply can’t be ignored by the more bourgeois end of the supermarket spectrum either.

At Ocado, baskets are shrinking every quarter. Down 5.7% in Q1, 8% in Q2 and 10% in Q4 compared with the same quarters the year before. Shoppers are also trading down, resulting in an average basket value drop from £123 to £116.

“The impact of energy prices and other inflationary pressures has led to customers trading down and putting fewer items in their basket as they manage total cash spend,” said Ocado Retail CEO Hannah Gibson last month.

So what is Ocado doing about it? Growing its own-label range, boosting availability of M&S’s Remarksable value range “as soon as possible”, pushing the affordability message with an ‘Everyday Savers’ ad campaign, and, erm, selecting a multimillionaire daughter of a Conservative Lord as brand ambassador.

On the face of it, choosing Lawson appears a major misstep. Her reputation for decadent recipes was no doubt a good fit when the deal was sealed months ago, before the strangling grip of the crisis took hold, but no longer. She remains a national treasure – forever in our hearts, thanks in no small part to her pronunciation of microwave last year. But not one you’d associate with cooking on bootstraps like Jamie Oliver or Jack Monroe. Cooking with indulgence, sure. Cooking with speed or ease, most definitely. But cooking to a budget? Definitely not.

Ocado seems slightly embarrassed by this fact. Announcing the partnership, it was at pains to point out the ‘cooking with less’ angle. Its own research had revealed almost two thirds (57%) of households are on the hunt for more budget-friendly recipes, Ocado said. Chief customer officer Laura Harricks added that the launch recipes – which feed a family of four for no more than £1.25 per portion – are “big on flavour” but also “low on price”.

However, Lawson herself rather spoiled the austerity façade, tweeting The Grocer that although low cost was “certainly the premise of these four first ones”, the ones that followed would “be varied”.

But on the other hand, perhaps Lawson is the perfect choice for Ocado right now. The name of the game is possibly not to broaden its appeal and compete on price with he mults, but rather retain its well-to-do customer base and convince them not to switch to Waitrose, Sainsbury’s or Tesco.

Lawson, for one, is a genuine Ocado customer. According to one driver who has delivered to her multiple times, she has been for at least 10 years. Plus, when the ‘feed the family for a fiver’ angle is dropped, cost of living will remain a consideration. The rest of the recipes will still push using “forgotten ingredients lurking at the back of the cupboard”. They’ll even be mindful of “energy consumption”, Harricks promises. Not exactly cooking on a budget, but still reining in some of the expenses.

In other words, you can cook decadent dishes, be like Nigella, avoid Spam, and not be excessive with your food and energy spending – and do it all by sticking with Ocado. This, then, is a hyper-targeted marketing move that can shore up Ocado’s customer base through tough times.