Anthony Hilton: Caterers feel the ‘Jamie’ effect

I had never heard of Canterbury Foods, a company that went into administration last week, and I suspect its management is stretching a point when it tries to lay the blame for its failure at the door of Jamie Oliver.

Canterbury makes pastry and cooked meat for supermarket pies and school dinners – hence the connection with the TV chef.  It is unlikely that Oliver's school dinners campaign was the only cause of the company's failure, but it could well have been the final straw after a period in which trading had been difficult for other reasons. 

It is also true that – whatever the effect on Canterbury – Oliver's programme has certainly had a damaging effect elsewhere, notably on the reputation of Compass, one of the largest contract caterers in the world. 

Compass, a major provider of school lunches in the UK, is having a torrid time with a series of profit warnings, a chief executive who is working out his notice, and an unfortunate involvement in a US bribery investigation into the awarding of UN catering contracts.  So again it would be rather stretching a point to blame this company's travails on the powers of TV and Oliver. And yet they can't be altogether dismissed. What counts as business news has changed out of all recognition in recent years. Along with so much else in society it is being simplified and presented in bite-sized chunks – made relevant and more accessible to the mainstream with big graphics.

The other side of this is that  readers form impressions of companies without knowing much about them. They want to know what  they should 'feel' about a company, rather than what they should 'think' about it. It has become much more emotional and much less rational. So what chance does a company have when it comes up against a charismatic character such as Oliver?

anthony.hilton@haynet.com

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