dealing with the arrogance of celebrity chefs

I just got one of my regular email newsletters from Tesco (the grocery chain I shop at most) and the headline is “Be inspired by healthy recipes from celebrity chefs.”*

This sort of campaign wouldn’t normally catch my eye, but lately, there has been a big ruckus going on surrounding lunches in UK schools. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver (The Naked Chef) has had a really positive influence on getting school lunches to a truly healthy and fresh standard. Saying that, he’s been a bit harsh in how he refers to parents and their responsibility to feed their kids equally as well in the home. Some of the quotes have caused backlash to the point where there are actually mums going to fish and chip shops, buying a carload of deep-fried crap cuisine, and offering to kids on their lunch breaks. The mums I saw on the BBC News story actually thought they were doing the kids a positive service by dishing out grease soaked paper packages of chips. Stunning.

Back to the point. The connection I see between Jamie and my grocery newsletter is this: Jamie has been the commercial spokesperson for one of Tesco’s biggest competitors-¬†Sainsburys. He’s done loads of TV ads, print campaigns, and appearances for them. Now he’s caused controversy with his personal school lunch mission and it is likely having a negative impact on his overall marketable appeal.

As the rows escalate, Tesco has quietly announced through my email newsletter that they too have celebrity chefs on hand. The difference is in the plural. Tesco isn’t relying on a single spokesperson to be their public face for healthy food, rather, relying on the combined strength and weaker individual presence of a gaggle of chefs. That’s smart and infinitely easier to control the PR issues.

I don’t know the names of that many celebrity chefs, but even a non-food TV watching schmuck like myself recognises that having Nigella Lawson on board is a good move. I also appreciate having the range of styles offered by several chefs rather than just one.

Jamie Oliver is a good chef and a fairly likeable personality -¬†I gotta thank him for re-introducing me to frozen peas -¬†but he should keep his campaigns under control. He’s gone for blood from the wrong group now-¬†mums. There are subtle ways to get people to change their minds about what they should be eating, but badmouthing the demographic that watches your shows, buys your books, and uses your recipes is not the way I’d suggest.

Good job Tesco-¬†though opinions of your stores vary widely, you’re still really good at being successful. I’m logged on to their site right now and about to see what the panel of chefs has to offer. I’m sure I’m not the only one doing that today.

*Actually, they misspelled ‘recipes’ by using ‘recipies,’ but I won’t nitpick. They got it right on the site.

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