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Can famous faces save retail?


Celebrity endorsement started out in fashion stores as savvy designers recruited famous faces to market their product and now very few high street retailers do not include a famous name in a new season collection.

The idea of adding celebrity cache to a brand has slowly begun seeping into other areas, notably the grocery sector where such partnerships have proven to be lucrative for both parties.

Supermarket chain Morrisons capitalised on the growing popularity of TV food programmes by introducing a new celebrity food range last year, enlisting several Michelin star chefs to be associated with its brand.

M Kitchen comprises a different restaurant quality meal created by top chefs Pierre Koffman, Aldo Zilli, Bryn Williams, Nigel Haworth and Atul Kocchar with a flavour represented from each of their native countries.

Several of the dishes in the M Kitchen range have led to unprecedented levels of demand from the retailer and Julian Bailey, Head of Media Relations at Morrisons told Retail Gazette that giving a much needed facelift to its convenience range with the new celebrity chef line has increased sales considerably.

“We did a relaunch of our overall convenience range at the same time and sales lifted by 60 per cent last year,” he said.

“We reported in November we were selling 250 of the Nigel Haworth hotpots per hour.

“The relaunch of the whole range has been a success and we’re very pleased with those from our professional chefs. “

Aldo Zilli has created an addition line of organic baby food in store as well as being part of the M Kitchen chefs and the offering has proven to be so popular that Morrisons is planning to launch a toddler range by August of this year.

Zilli explained that the quality of the grocer’s produce and its ongoing growth in the market encouraged him to extend his offering.

Zilli told Retail Gazette: “The chain is looking up and they have improved their food buying.

“We M Kitchen chefs helped them with their production and development of the M Kitchen range. The idea was right for me as I like the supermarket in general and the way they moving on in the market.

“I like the way they buy their produce.They know what they need to provide for their customer

“The whole thing was very interesting for me so I decided to go along with it.”

It is not just the big four wanting celebrity endorsement to enhance their credentials as upmarket retailers have also realised the benefits of such a move. Waitrose brought in one of the nation’s most loved chefs, Delia Smith and one known for innovation, Heston Blumenthal at the same time to deliver a double pronged approach to its customer.

Waitrose has since been bowled over by the recipes which it feels brings a new breed of shopper to its stores. A Waitrose spokesperson said: “During the first 27 weeks, 1.3 million customers responded to the campaign and it continues to inspire new and existing shoppers alike.”

Waitrose believes it has sparked an increase in the nation preparing meals from scratch and getting involved in experimenting with ingredients.

“It has inspired the nation to get cooking, experimenting and enjoying food,” said the spokesperson.

“In the days following the launch of Delia and Heston’s recipes, we tend to see huge uplifts in sales of some of the ingredients.

“For example, when Delia’s rhubarb and ginger brulee recipe launched we sold 14 weeks’ worth of rhubarb in the seven days after the ad first ad, and sales of ginger leapt more than 3000%.”

Cultivating new ideas and fresh approaches is an underlying value shared by Waitrose’s celebrity chefs, which the grocer felt was key to its approach, rather than attaching an arbitrary name to its product for a surge in sales. Core to its belief system is that food should be interesting and fun, highlighted by last week’s release of Blumenthal special Christmas menu, including a Caramelised Banana and Raspberry Baked Alaska.

This follows the popularity of his specially made Hidden Orange Pudding last year during the seasonal period and the contents of the menu will be available from October.

While these famous faces are enlisted to drive sales, there is an expiration date for celebrity endorsements, notably with the end of Jamie Oliver’s long-running partnership with Sainsbury’s last July. When asked why this relationship came to end after a decade, a Sainbury’s spokesperson said:“The decision was made because both parties felt that it was the right time to move on, especially as Oliver sought to spend more time on his social projects through The Jamie Oliver Foundation both in the UK and abroad.”

Even though the supermarket no longer has the chef and restaurant entrepreneur working with its brand, it has managed to maintain profits in the last year which proves there is life after chef.

“In our last year (2011/12) we announced that like for like sales (inc VAT, ex fuel) were up by 2.1 per cent.

“We have recently announced our 30th successive quarter of sales growth and continue to outgrow what is a very competitive market.”

Homewares retailers are hoping to regain interest for big ticket items through celebrity campaigns and department store John Lewis is to launch a new line by G Plan and Hemingway Design, which will launch this autumn. Vintage pieces by celebrity designer Wayne Hemingway’s daughter Tilly Hemingway will be available and Tilly hopes the collaboration will be long-lasting, believing that she is set to gain as much from the partnership as the department store chain.

She feels the retailer is a fitting platform to increase awareness of the designs, commenting: “John Lewis shares the same values as G Plan and Hemingway Design, relating to high quality and great value whilst emphasising the importance of excellent design.

“A collaboration to which Hemingway Design bring an expertise in the current trend for Vintage, paired with G Plan’s expertise in designing and crafting quality furniture and having access to a fantastic and iconic archive.”

It seems that introducing a celebrity range provides an opportunity for improving brand recognition for retailers though crucially, also influences a younger generation of shoppers to try new products.

Hemingway concluded: “The era of ‘vintage design is now inspiring a whole generation of younger designers and creatives. “

Published on Wednesday 11 July by Editorial Assistant

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