Saturday, January 15, 2005

Toff Scoffs

The Marquess of Bath, the Duke of Marlborough, and the Earl of Sandwich are not the sort of names you´d normally associate with supermarket shelf-stacking. Yet that´s precisely what they´ll be doing if a new venture, headed by celebrity chef Marco Pierre White, takes off. White has been working on his latest brainwave - to sell nobbily-branded ready-made foods to the masses - since last summer, and his plans are now coming to a financial head.

In olden days the likes of him would have been given short shrift by the likes of them. After all, the original Earl of Sandwich merely ordered his servant to wrap his steak in two slices of bread, so that he could eat it and play cards at the same time - he didn´t get involved in the actual cooking process himself, let alone try to exploit his happy idea for lucre. But these days, sprigs of the most venerable families can be as keen as mustard to cash in on their family names. And so Bath will be providing "Bath Water" from his Longleat estate, Sandwich will be making fish-paste fillings, whilst Marlborough will supply not ciggies but "Blenheim Bangers," named for the family´s Woodstock palace.

All in frightfully good taste, of course. Still, White´s new company has a valuation of 11.1 million pounds. That seems a bit steep, given the group has assets of only 90,000 pounds, and no employees, no actual products, no contracts with suppliers nor listings in the superstores. Even on the back of the snazzy collection of names, 11 million pounds is stretching goodwill a long way.

For names of themselves don´t add value to a venture - the reverse is true, no matter how stellar the names may be. And one has to wonder just how pressing the demand is for ready-made food with socially-exclusive branding. The Prince of Wales showed the way, flogging his Duchy Originals with great success, but he´s been at it while, and the quality of his offering is associated with public perceptions of him as a genuinely organic, whole-wheat kind of guy. White´s chums, on the other hand, cannot quite shake off the whiff of opportunism.

Still, I yield to none in my abject worship of the British aristocracy. I hope they shift pallet-loads of the stuff, and may their sales sheets be as impeccable as their family trees!

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