In a market of changing tastes, it seems Oliver’s brand has grown stale.
But what were the flavours of the market that may have provoked the disappointing collapse? What are the lessons from all of this – the ‘take-away’ points?
The rise of coffee snobs, Instagram foodies and a plethora of cuisines are all trends that can be attributed to the last decade or so. The fact is people now know good food when they see it, and when they go out they expect it. Restaurants and cafes are increasingly needing to satisfy the critical tastes of customers and to stand out amid a highly competitive market.
When a worker at one of Oliver’s Sydney restaurants was caught using frozen, packaged gnocchi, it was not a good look for a company operating under the name of a chef who champions healthy eating and cooking from scratch. It was especially not a good look under the eyes of consumers with such high expectations for their food.
It is here that the infinite value of authenticity in business becomes so clear. When people dine Italian, they expect real Italian. When people dine at the restaurant chain of a celebrity chef, they expect celebrity chef calibre food. The name isn’t enough if it is not upheld by an authentic experience for customers.
This principle is universally applicable – a business may attract customers with a dazzling name but in order to maintain them, that is not enough. The name, product and experience must all be aligned if a business is to maintain customers and a trustworthy, authentic brand.
Speed, efficiency, productivity… buzzwords which dominate the minds of younger generations. In response to this, businesses need to adapt and adopt these very characteristics in order to maintain the attention-span of their market.
In Australia, $2.6 billion a year is spent on food delivery services like Deliveroo, Uber Eats and Menulog. With increasingly busy lives, the effort of an evening spent among crowds and a society driven by speed, it is unsurprising that companies such as this have dramatically risen in popularity in recent years, especially among Millennials. And when competing for a market driven by efficiency and convenience, against competitors who provide just that, it is understandable that chains such as Jamie Oliver’s are collapsing.
Perhaps the empire of Oliver simply did not satisfy our modern tastebuds fast enough, or at least compared to the services which could. Proven here is how accessibility and availability are key to seize and maintain the attention of your audience, and just how crucial it is to evolve with the tastes of a changing market.
A few years ago, at a bar licensee’s conference, I posed the question “What business are you in?”. Responses involved, “the food and beverage business” or “the hospitality business”. Perhaps this would have been the response of Jamie Oliver, had I pointed the question at him, and perhaps that is part of the reason his business grew stale.
Why go to a restaurant when there is food at home? Why buy a glass of wine when you could buy a whole bottle at the liquor shop down the road?
“See, you are in the experience and the atmosphere business – that’s who you are and why you exist. Food and beverages are just one way that you create the experience and atmosphere your customers are looking for,” I explained at the time.
Particularly abundant here on Australia’s East Coast, ‘café culture’ among Millennials describes the high demand for the experience of eating out. The Instagram-able, ‘deconstructed’ meals, the trendy playlists, the poky spaces with vintage chairs all contribute to the ‘café culture’ craved by younger audiences rather than the reproduction of the classic restaurant chains such as Oliver’s.
For businesses beyond the food industry, the lesson to learn from this is that more often than not, the product you’re selling is the customer’s experience. What is the ‘ambience’ of your business? Are there any areas of friction or awkwardness in the experience of customers? How can you create an overall experience that is positive, engaging and ‘ambient’?
The events of the last couple of weeks have exposed the way that evolving with the tastes of consumers (literally) is crucial. It is not enough to sit atop the empire of past success, but in order to avoid turning stale in the current market, businesses must provide authenticity, availability and an ‘ambient’ experience to the customers that crave them.
Michael McQueen is a trends forecaster, business strategist and award-winning conference speaker.
He features regularly as a commentator on TV and radio and has written 5 bestselling books. To order Michael's latest book "How to Prepare Now for What's Next", click here.
 Butler, S. (2019). Jamie's Italian struggled for relevance as people changed their habits. Available: https://www.theguardian.com/food/2019/may/21/jamies-italian-struggled-for-relevance-as-people-changed-their-habits. Last accessed 26th May 2019.
 Powell, D. (2019). Jamie Oliver “devastated” after British restaurant chain collapses into administration. Available: https://www.smartcompany.com.au/industries/hospitality/jamie-oliver-chain-britain-collapse/. Last accessed 26th May 2019.
 Van Der Meer, E. (2019). Jamie Oliver’s restaurant group collapses: How it all went wrong. Available: https://www.news.com.au/finance/business/jamie-olivers-restaurant-group-collapses-how-it-all-went-wrong/news-story/6ab5a508290b40e10a9bbe01140a4a74. Last accessed 26th May 2019.
 Mitchelson, A. (2019). Australia is becoming an Uber Eats nation.Available: https://thenewdaily.com.au/life/eat-drink/2018/03/19/takeaway-food-delivery-tv-cooking/. Last accessed 26th May 2019