Will Tesco’s partnership with Jamie Oliver be a recipe for success?

In today’s increasingly competitive retail market, grocers are looking for ways to stand out, and Tesco has looked to Jamie Oliver. Jamie has called his partnership with Tesco “one of the most exciting opportunities”, but with his 11-year Sainsbury’s partnership estimated at £10m, will it deliver bang for Tesco’s buck?

Tesco’s recent push on health, quality and sustainability has been fruitful—removing sweets from the checkout, pledging to scrap any edible food waste this year, and launching its Love Food Stories campaign among other things. An association with Jamie, who is well known for his transformation of school dinners and lobbying on sugar and children’s access to energy drinks, will support Tesco’s agenda, which helped boost its UK profits margin by over 30% in 2017.

Love Food Stories has been particularly successful. Featuring real-life people celebrating their favourite recipes, the multichannel campaign was rolled out across outdoor, radio, social, and digital media. In-store and online, ingredients and recipe cards for each feature prominently to help customers create the meals for themselves, building on the work Tesco has done to improve the customer journey in the last few years. According to advertising company MediaCom, this led to an 18% increase in quality scores—the campaign has been a big part of its turnaround story.

With the grocery giant’s last campaign reading like a masterclass in marketing, it’s interesting to see it turning to celebrity endorsement over the more relatable people who featured in Love Food Stories. M&S too recently launched a celebrity-fronted digital campaign, ‘What’s New at M&S Food’, which sees the likes of Rochelle Humes and Amanda Holden test new ranges.

As supermarkets see the benefits from engaging with influencers and their large followings with their home and clothing ranges – with one in four Brits having bought a product as a direct result of social influencer recommendation – it’s no surprise they are turning to the same strategy for their food marketing. It’s also notable that both M&S and Tesco launched their campaigns on social media: a far cry from the prime-time TV slots that Jamie Oliver’s Sainsbury’s adverts had.

It was just seven years ago that Jamie walked away from that decade long partnership with Sainsbury’s, but YouGov research reveals that Jamie Oliver’s fans are more likely to be Tesco shoppers—he resonates with the grocer’s audience. He is a savvy choice, with appeal to families and a foodie edge.

And the grocer’s audience shouldn’t be overlooked. The campaign must be translated into the physical and online experience. Shoppers won’t buy into a glossy sponsorship deal if the retail experience isn’t good. Ultimately, to impact the bottom line, the partnership needs to deliver on what shoppers want. And as Tesco’s research revealed, the majority of families want supermarkets to do more to help them make healthier choices. The campaign which promises to deliver “helpful little swaps”, recipes and offers on products with reduced levels of sugar, salt and fat, looks on course to deliver all of that.

Frontline staff will be crucial in delivering this. As supermarkets feel the squeeze from discounters and pure online players with hyper-lean operating models, in-store experience is more important than ever. The latest UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI) found that the vast majority of consumers would prefer a balance of customer service and price from their grocery store. This campaign provides an opportunity to motivate Tesco’s 300,000 strong team to deliver these healthier changes to its shoppers, and ultimately improve their shopping experience.

Looking to the future, as the incumbent grocers face off new competition from the likes of Hello Fresh and Amazon Pantry, is the old hat approach of a celebrity-focused campaign going to work? Product, price, shopper experience and utility: without these basics in check, it’s not worth the investment.

If the roll-out of this partnership with Jamie Oliver is delivered in the same multichannel vein as Food Love Stories, it has every chance of being a success. At Sainsbury’s, Jamie helped trigger a 900% increase in the sale of ingredients used to make prawn curry after his first ad aired in 2000—so look forward to discussing your vegetarian noodle stir fry and quesadilla bake (Jamie’s first recipes for Tesco) at the watercooler soon.