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20 December 2005

Heston does soup

It was always clear that Ferran Adria was an inspiration for Heston Blumenthal.  Adria has pushed out the culinary boat - creating the unexpected is what he's famous for.  Never more so than when he put his name to some crisps.  Where Ferran goes, Heston it seems, follows.  He has signed an agreement to produce branded soups, gravy and stock to be sold in supermarkets.  Interestingly, the company he's partnered with, Conival (under the trading name Portfolio Products), produces similarly branded products for other high-profile chefs, including Vineet Bhatia and Jean-Christophe Novelli.

I'm surprised Heston is following such a commercial route, it doesn't seem to fit with his clinical/scientific approach and he hasn't really become a 'celebrity' chef, à la Ramsay or Oliver.  I would have expected to see a well publicised Fat Duck cookery book, before I saw the Fat Duck Soup Company.

This article in Brand Republic raises the question of whether such moves are commercially worthwhile for chefs.  If the consumer doesn't trust the product, why on earth would they pay a premium for it?  Which raises another question: does product endorsement do more harm than good for the chef?  Such deals are clearly tied into their marketing and PR programme but I wonder whether it is worth it.  Do they become devalued in some way?  With a commercial hat on, I can appreciate this is a sensible business move.  The majority of people buying their branded products are unlikely to ever eat in the chef's restaurant.  But they are attracted by the prospect of getting as close as possible to the restaurant experience or passing off the chef's invention as their own.  The odd one or two may even decide to go to the restaurant on the back of eating the ready meal. From the other perspective, for us food snobs, whether they've got Heston et al beaming at us from their cardboard box, we're unlikely to buy a ready meal but will still happily revel as we eat in his restaurant.  So, answering my own question, I suppose product endorsement does make sense, it just feels a bit tacky.

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