Nick Vermont is not a fan of Jamie Oliver. In fact, the McCain Foods regional CEO pinpoints the arrival of Jamie's School Dinners on Channel 4 as the moment the bottom fell out of the oven chip market. A healthy 3% annual growth swung violently to -9% in a matter of months of the show airing. That was February 2005, and it has taken more than two years for McCain to overcome the consumer backlash, which quickly spread from what could be eaten in the school canteen to the home. It has involved a lot of soul-searching, product reformulation and, above all, consumer education. Vermont claims that the entire convenience food market was tarred with the same "unhealthy" brush, and consumers couldn't see past the controversial Turkey Twizzler. If it was frozen, it was bad for you - that was the message consumers took on board. "The Jamie programme, which was bookmarked between the Sudan 1 and Para Red dye scares, had a fundamental impact on consumer confidence in convenience and processed food," says Vermont. "With the benefit of hindsight, we can now see that the shift was caused by the combination of those factors - even though the highlighted ingredients weren't in any of our products - but it took a lot of time and research for us to realise what was going on. In consumers' minds we were part of the same problem - they stopped trusting our products, so the market crashed." Talking about the need to "regain trust", Vermont sounds more like a politician than the boss of a manufacturing company, but in some ways, that is what Vermont has become. He decided the personality of McCain needed to change, and that the company needed to become a mouthpiece for the frozen food industry. So it set up a corporate affairs division, and learnt to lobby. "We've traditionally been a shy company, not bothering anyone as we got on with business, but that had to stop. As a brand leader, we had a responsibility to do something," says Vermont, who litters the conversation with phrases such as "walk the talk", "get front and centre", "do the right thing", and "let's shout about what we are doing". If he was going to campaign for renewed trust on the platform that "oven chips are healthy chips", Vermont had to ensure products were whiter than white. Being honest and open about what went into McCain's food meant that products had to be stripped back to the essentials. Chips had been fried in sunflower oil since the early 1980s, but now all products were switched to it - cutting McCain's use of saturated fat by 70% - and an intensive salt reduction programme was introduced. "If we could remove it, we did," says Vermont. "We wanted to use only ingredients that would be found in your kitchen cupboard, so any unnecessary additives were removed." McCain became the first major food manufacturer to put traffic-light labelling on packs, but went one stage further and combined it with Guideline Daily Amounts (GDA), a move that others have also since adopted. To promote the changes, McCain launched the £15m 'It's All Good' campaign a year ago, spotlighting the potato story from harvest to baking. "We had allowed customers to get disconnected from the raw materials - potatoes - and the factory was getting in the way," says Vermont. McCain has also set up an educational project to help children connect with food and where it comes from. A converted Routemaster bus will be touring primary schools and country fairs from September, educating kids about the planting, harvesting and cooking process of potatoes. A year on from the launch of It's All Good, Vermont is in a position to reflect on its success. Brand share and penetration are at record levels, and sales are now growing at 11% [TNS data for 52 weeks ending June 2007]. "I'm convinced it was the right move," he says. "The market has stabilised now, and in terms of value, is back in growth. We had a very difficult potato season last year, so volume hasn't recovered as dramatically, but things have turned around. We are just starting to enter a new season with unrestricted supply, so we will see continued growth in value and volume in the market." This will also be the first season where - floods permitting - McCain sources 100% of its chips from British potatoes, instead of importing some from Belgium, allowing it to use the Red Tractor label on the back of packs. Having learnt the lessons of the convenience backlash, the company is keeping an ear close to the ground for consumer trends - and sourcing is a hot topic at the moment. "The fact we're British could now be a compelling reason to buy McCain," says Vermont. "There is consumer concern about where food is coming from as part of the climate change and food miles debate. We had considered 'buy British' as a concept before, but we did not believe consumer appetite was great enough. Now it is." There were also problems over the short growing season, but improvements in storage and growing techniques means it is now possible to use only British potatoes, even for a company that purchases 600,000 tonnes of spuds each year. "When I joined 24 years ago, the factory shut for six to eight weeks in summer as they waited for new crops - now it's a 52-week operation," says Vermont. "We don't need to import to extend the seasons, and besides, potatoes are bulky and 80% water, so it's uneconomic to ship them far." The green measures don't stop there. McCain recently gained planning permission for three wind turbines at its factory in Whittlesey, near Peterborough in Cambridgeshire, as part of a £10m energy project. Up to 60% of the site's electricity will be produced by the 80 million turbines. "It's a pun, but we will have very green chips," says Vermont. "We will be feeding back to the grid at times, saving money and making money. It makes good environmental and business sense." The move is also a sign that McCain is more confident about its future, having committed about £10m to the project. And two years after Jamie Oliver turned his world upside down, Vermont is confident McCain is on a secure footing, with company research showing consumer perception has shifted again. "We've seen a lot of critical acclaim, from customers and the trade, for our campaign," says Vermont. "We've got consumers' trust back." Q&A What's your problem with Jamie Oliver? Lack of research. His efforts to get children to eat more healthily are laudable, but he should have thought it through before airing his views on TV. The government didn't help with a kneejerk reaction to the programme, rushing through policies on nutritional composition. Children are now voting with their feet and deserting school canteens for the corner shop or the chip shop. They simply want to tuck into their favourite foods - and oven chips happen to be the healthiest way to consume chips. How will the recent floods affect your new 'buy British' potatoes policy? Some of our growers in the south west were affected by the bad weather, but in terms of the UK's entire crop, it is still too early to predict confidently the potential impact. If the wet weather continues, concerns for yield and storability will increase. What's your career history? My background is in marketing, and before I joined McCain in 1983 I worked for Travellers Fare for three years. I have worked in Britain and Canada and my current role covers Great Britain, Northern Ireland, South Africa and Eastern Europe. What is a typical day like? There's no such thing as a typical day. How often do you eat chips? We have a tasting session on a Monday which involves eating quite a few chips. It's simply an occupational hazard. After that, I probably eat them once or twice a week. How do you relax? On my small farm spending time with the family and by playing the occasional game of golf.