Food & Drink From Ricky Gervais to Snoop Dogg: Inside the wild...

From Ricky Gervais to Snoop Dogg: Inside the wild world of celebrity food and drink brands

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Sitting partially submerged in bathwater, eyes wide and empty like some sort of menacing frog sits Ricky Gervais. In his hand he clutches a bottle of Dutch Barn Orchard Vodka. It’s a vaguely unsettling image, one which doesn’t quite bring to mind the bucolic North Yorkshire farm where the vodka is distilled.

Even so, after nearly 47,000 views on Twitter, and 556,000 on a follow-up reply from the @Waitrose account, a good deal more people will have laid eyes on this post from Gervais’s account than many more traditional advertisements. Dutch Barn’s owners won’t mind about the unusual aesthetics, not least because one of those owners is Gervais himself.

Ricky Gervais's selfie in the bath with a bottle of Dutch Barn vodka

Ellers Farm Distillery, which makes the vodka and other spirits, was founded in 2021 by Chris Fraser, who had previously been in charge of a Yorkshire mining project. It was announced in November 2023 that Gervais had invested in the business to become a part-owner.

“I’d been looking to invest in eco-friendly businesses for a while and as soon as I found Dutch Barn, I wanted in,” Gervais wrote in a prepared statement to announce the deal. “I love the planet and I love a drink, so it was the perfect combination. On a serious note, Dutch Barn really is a quality product. I love the fact that it’s done differently and I can’t wait to let everyone know about it.”

All fairly anodyne, but the investment marks a canny move from Gervais. He follows in the footsteps of George Clooney (Casamigos Tequila), Dan Aykroyd (Crystal Head Vodka) and Katherine Jenkins (Cygnet Gin).

A Casamigos Tequila billboard featuring George Clooney and Rande Gerber

Perhaps the most famous celebrity-owned brand was Aviation American Gin. Purchased in 2018 by film star Ryan Reynolds, the drink became a household name across America with a string of viral adverts from the star. Two and a half years later, Reynolds sold his stake to drinks brand Diageo for $610 million (though he maintains an “ongoing ownership interest”). Less successful, perhaps, was Reynolds’s ex Scarlett Johansson and her launch of a popcorn shop in Paris (RIP Yummy Pop 2017-2020).

Dutch Barn Vodka’s founder and chairman, Chris Fraser, notes that the collaboration with Gervais is explicitly not just about advertising. “With so many hollow celebrity cash-for-face brand endorsement deals out there, we are really pleased to have forged an authentic partnership with Ricky involving both investment and creative leadership,” Fraser explains.

As more and more celebrities pile into the food and drink space, the bar being set by brands is higher than ever. An inauthentic partnership can damage both parties.

“Stamping a celebrity name or face on a product that has no bearing on what they are known for can provide a good initial buzz, but that rarely translates to sales anymore,” says Nicole Marguerite Gray, a personal branding and marketing specialist. “There’s a higher degree of discernment and brands are having to become more strategic about who they partner with.”

Done properly, a brand partnership can be more beneficial for the celebrity than merely lining their pockets. “It can be a way to diversify celebrities’ income portfolio and brand beyond just their industry,” explains branding and marketing expert Katya Varbanova. “It’s also a way for them to showcase that they’re not a ‘celebrity airhead’ but also have business acumen. It helps them stay relevant in the news beyond the latest movie, television show or album release date.”

Varbanova thinks we’re likely to see the trend accelerate further. “People are less interested in following brands,” she says. “They want to follow people they relate to or aspire to be like. Consumers are keen to buy into the lifestyle and the tastes of stars. The perception is often that these people aren’t so interested in profit so they may be more likely to trust them.”

In short, people are more likely to pick up products that they feel have been recommended to them personally, than ones advertised by a faceless organisation. A celebrity partnership is a way for a branded product to have its cake and eat it: “personal” word-of-mouth marketing on a global scale.

Here are some of the most noteworthy recent celebrity food and drink collaborations:

Uncle Wrighty’s pies

Backed by: Ian Wright

Ian Wright in the kitchen of Willy's Pies with Will Lewis

Pie delivery service and wholesaler Willy’s Pies was founded by friends Will Lewis and Josh Hill after the former lost his job as a chef during lockdown. The business gained the investment of former Arsenal footballer Ian Wright in 2021. Last week, the sportsman (who has no background in food) launched his own catering line within the business: Uncle Wrighty’s. The limited-edition Roast Chicken, Sage & Onion pie is available in two sizes: 200g handheld pie (£7) and a 500g sharer (£11.50).

Tingly Ted’s Hot Sauce

Branded by: Ed Sheeran

Ed Sheeran holding bottles of Tingly Ted's hot sauce

He’s one of the best-selling musicians of all time, but Ed Sheeran’s taste in condiments is decidedly pedestrian. In fact, such is Sheeran’s love of Heinz that he has a tattoo of the brand’s famous ketchup bottle on his left bicep. So when the opportunity arose in February 2023 to launch a hot sauce brand with the Kraft Heinz Company, we can only imagine Sheeran leapt at the chance. Despite the name sounding like something one might find in an Ann Summers shop rather than on supermarket shelves, Sheeran has big ambitions to turn the brand into “the ketchup of hot sauce”. Already sold in six global markets, Tingly Ted’s has inked an exclusivity deal with restaurant chain Frankie & Benny’s and retail sales in the UK topped £400,000 between March and December 2023 – not a patch on Sheeran’s earnings from a new album, but not to be sniffed at either.

Big Sexy Cheesy pizza

Branded by: Lewis Capaldi

Lewis Capaldi holding Big Sexy Pizza packaging

The Scottish singer is known for his down-to-Earth and somewhat sarcastic personal branding, and Capaldi’s pizza was him to a tee. Sold at Tesco and Iceland Food Warehouse between 2021 and 2023, the products have now been discontinued and delisted. The brand’s social media pages haven’t been updated since February 2023, so don’t expect to try a big sexy pizza any time soon.

Snoop Cereal

Branded by: Snoop Dogg

Snoop Dogg launching Snoop Cereal on Instagram

Initially launched by the rapper Snoop Dogg in 2022 as Snoop Loopz, the name of this cereal had to be changed after Kellogg’s, which owns the brand name Fruit Loops, blocked it. Even then, it hasn’t been clear sailing for the rapper’s breakfasting endeavours. As of February 2024, Snoop  is suing the brand’s manufacturer, Post Consumer Brands, which, he claims, committed “diabolical actions” and “underhanded dealings” to prevent the cereals ever reaching shelves.

Kylie Minogue Wines

Branded by: Kylie Minogue

Kylie showcasing her sparkling rosé at the ProWein wine far in Dusseldorf, Germany

Created in 2020 in collaboration with Australian businessman Paul Schaafsma, the chief executive of UK-based distributor Benchmark Drinks, Kylie’s wines have proved a huge hit on these shores. The singer’s rosé prosecco was given a special commendation as “launch of the year” in The Drinks Business awards and, by 2021, was the best-selling wine in the sparkling rosé category, turning over £7.7 million.

Prime Hydration Drink

Backed by: KSI and Logan Paul

Launched in 2022 by two of the world’s biggest YouTubers – with a combined following of more than 40 million subscribers – Prime became an overnight sensation. Originally imported from America (now made in Britain), the product was a must-drink for teenage boys. People were fighting over bottles in supermarket aisles. One eBay listing for a 12-pack went for £400 (RRP £11.99) and most retailers, including Tesco and Sainsbury’s, had to institute a three-bottle limit per customer. Not bad for a drink Gordon Ramsay described as “like swallowing perfume”.

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