As Gordon Ramsay jumps into fmcg branding, are other celebrity names getting their fingers burned? Mary Carmichael reports
When Delia uses cranberries, or Nigella opts for watercress, it's not unknown for UK consumers to empty supermarket shelves of said items by the next day ­ such is our love affair with these giants of kitchen science.
It is understandable, then, that food manufacturers might assume bagging a big name chef would allow them just to sit back, let the celebrity's profile do the work and watch the sales roll in. However, a TV name is not always a passport to easy money.
While Chivers Hartley's six year-old Loyd Grossman sauce brand continues to boom (see p62), ready meals sporting the moniker of spikey-haired chef Gary Rhodes became a casualty two years ago, and other big name brands are still struggling to make their mark.
Sales of Ready Steady Cook favourite Ainsley Harriott's sauces and dressings, launched 18 months ago by Morehands, have been falling, while Antony Worrall Thompson's portfolio has yet to expand beyond goats' milk yogurts with Delamere Dairies.
Some pundits suggest that the contrast of food experts demonstrating four-star kitchen excellence one day and recommending conveyor belt convenience the next doesn't sit well with consumers' credibility.
This could be one reason why Grossman ­ better known for being a gourmand rather than a gourmet ­ has fared so much better than his more creative contemporaries.
Claire Nuttall, consultancy director at Dragon Brand Consultancy, offers another explanation. The synergy of product and name' is extremely important, she says. "Successful celebrity chef brands are those which are credible in the consumers' minds and which offer something that consumers cannot make themselves," she explains.
Fiery culinary maestro Gordon Ramsay ­ who will become the latest recruit to the potential minefield when Just Desserts premium chocolates are launched early next year (see p56) ­ has based his collection on pudding recipes used in his Michelin-starred restaurants.
"I have requests to put my name to products every week, but most go straight into the bin," he explains. "This venture was different because it was based around something I know and feel close to."
Involvement is certainly a key factor, with Grossman's brand making use of the food critic's own recipes. Regional pairings can also be successful. Nick Nairn has made the most of his Scottish heritage by putting his name to a range of Baxters sauces and a campaign for Scottish lamb, while Madhur Jaffrey has long added authenticity to the Tilda portfolio.
Association with a cause can also add weight, especially when the celebrity is not a chef. The late Linda McCartney's name backs vegetarian ready meals effectively because her belief in animal rights had such a high profile, while profits from Hollywood legend Paul Newman's salad dressing range go straight to charity.
Ramsay can take heart from Nuttall's belief that his venture with Ashbury Confectionery stands a good chance of success. "There is certainly a trend towards more premium offerings so despite a high price point they will probably be do well," she says.
But she warns that going over the top on claims is not advisable. "Celebrity brands start to fall down when they claim that each recipe is hand-stirred or made by the celebrity themselves. Consumers simply do not believe these claims," she says.
And she cautions against too many more celebrity chef launches."Consumers may become more sceptical and consider them to be jumping on the bandwagon," she explains.
"The current celebrity chef ranges out there should seriously be thinking about how they can deepen their relationship with their consumers and have a lasting place in their hearts and minds."