Marco Pierre White led a group of celebrity chefs today in forming a new venture to supply their branded products to supermarkets.
Mr White – the first British cook to gain three Michelin stars – will develop an array of ready-made meals offering haute cuisine at affordable prices.
The move is designed to cash in on the explosion of interest in celebrity chefs and cooking generated by popular TV shows such as Ready, Steady, Cook and The Naked Chef.
A market for products endorsed by celebrities has already been carved out by Paul Newman, Ainsley Harriott, Loyd Grossman and Jane Asher.
Mr White, who owns 10 of London’s top restaurants such as Quo Vadis and L’Escargot, will take a 17% stake in a new company created by an £11.1m (€15.8m) takeover deal today.
Conival has agreed to buy Portfolio Products – a specially-formed company that has the right to use trademarks relating to Mr White and nine other celebrities.
Conival, which floated on the stock market in August, has been set up to focus on developing and marketing ready-made meals endorsed by well-known chefs.
All 10 celebrities will become shareholders of Conival including Jean Christophe Novelli, Nancy Lam, Vineet Bhatia and the Duke of Marlborough, who will develop game, meat and poultry products and non-alcoholic drinks such as Bath Water.
John Maundrell, executive director of Conival, said: “Celebrities and celebrity chefs in particular seem to be all the rage at the moment.
“Many have put their names to products and in the case of Jamie Oliver, an entire supermarket chain.”
Conival will not make any of the products itself but will sub-contract the process to independent food manufacturers.
No supermarkets have been signed up yet, but Mr Maundrell said discussions were taking place and more celebrities were also in talks to come on board.
Shoppers should not expect to pay premium prices for the products, which may be on store shelves in six months’ time, he said.
The first target for Conival is to recruit a new chief executive. A couple of people with links to supermarkets were in the frame, Mr Maundrell added.
The idea is that Mr White will develop products across all culinary ranges and Mr Novelli – a chef patron of the fashionable Novelli in the City restaurant in London – will come up with a selection of desserts and ice creams.
Chinese meals and ingredients will be endorsed by Ms Lam, while Mr Bhatia will develop a “pick-and-mix” concept for shoppers to choose ingredients for his curry recipes.
Health expert Matt Roberts will offer a range of vitamins and supplements, drawing on his experience as an owner of training centres in London, New York, Dubai and Mauritius.
The majority shareholder in the new venture will be Andrew Regan, whose Corvus investment firm will hold a 39% stake. Mr Regan hit the headlines in 1997 when he failed to land the Co-op with a £1.1bn (€1.6bn) takeover bid.