Friday, August 26, 2011

Why Alex James's Asda cheeses are a rip-off

Having been away this week I've only just picked up on the debate on ex Blur guitarist Alex James' foray into flavoured cheese. Apparently he's collaborated with Asda in developing a range of cheeses flavoured with tomato ketchup, salad cream and tikka masala paste among others.

I'm not going to rehearse all the arguments here as they've already been well covered by the Guardian Word of Mouth blog and fellow blogger Chris Pople's Cheese and Biscuits. And to be fair I haven't tried the cheeses but it seems to me there's a principle at stake.

Which is why does a (presumably) rich ex-rock star who has already established a reputation for making artisanal cheese need to get into bed with a supermarket? Couldn't he have used his clout, as he initially did, to boost Britain's small cheesemakers?

I imagine the justification is that it encourages kids (and, given the retro nature of the flavours, unhealthy adults) to eat cheese but is it not more about creating a 'value added' product for which Asda can charge more than its basic cheddar?

Even James's own 'Best Ever' cheddar at £10 a kilo is £2.50 a kilo less than his ready sliced Cheddar with Salad Cream 'blankets'. You can buy Cathedral City mature cheddar at Asda at the time of writing for £5.71 a kilo while Asda's own mild cheddar will only set you back a fiver. A whole jar of Asda Smartprice salad cream which you could slather all over your sarnie costs just 50p.

And the free publicity from the controversy must be worth several hundred thousand pounds for the chain.

At least Jamie Oliver in his collaboration with Sainsbury's tried to raise the bar for their customers.

Maybe James has run through his millions. Maybe they all have. Blur has apparently got together to record a new album. But I still doubt, despite his protestations of being 'hugely passionate' about his new range, that he eats Asda cheeses at home.

James hits back at his critics on Asda's blog by labelling them 'food prigs' and 'snooty imposters' so what do you think? Should he be using his influence this way or would you do the same in his place?


Bistro Becs said...

In fairness I haven't tried the cheeses either - however I don't think adding things like ketchup or salad cream to encourage children to try cheese is applaudable by any stretch.
Once regarded quite fondly by independents I think he's lost all credibility in this partnership - such a shame, selling his sole for pound notes!

Emma Lee-Potter said...

I will definitely try Alex James's cheeses - out of curiosity. But like you, I can't see a market and not at such an expensive price!

Anonymous said...

It is amazing to me that people who have not tried anything pass judgement so readily.

You are making an unfair comparison especially with the slices. They are called blankets because they are extra large and extra thick. Thick enough to cover a slice of bread for the perfect cheese on toast.which is what they are designed for. I have tried this with normal slices-and you need about 4 to to the job! .... hardly cost effective.

I will buy Alex's blankets again.

Anonymous said...

Reviewer-go buy and then review
Surely that is the point of a reviewer.

Fiona Beckett said...

Not quite sure why you're hiding your identity, anonymous? You seem to know a lot about the range - could it possibly be that you work for Asda?

I've said I haven't tried the range. It may, for all I know, be delicious but it still costs a lot more than eating even a well-known branded cheddar with ketchup or salad cream. Given Asda has a large PR budget to promote this message it seems to me fair enough to highlight the other side of the case, namely that you pay a substantial price for Alex's name on your cheese.

Denis Salnikov said...

@anonymous (x2)

Perhaps a commenter should read a piece before questioning its ethical clout?

The writer isn't saying the cheese is disgusting (though I'm pretty sure it will be - salad cream, really?), she's saying that irrespective of its quality it's clearly a rip-off.

And she's right. Back to the Asda PR desk with you!

Chris Young said...

If, for some reason, I ever want salad cream or ketchup flavoured cheddar (not happened yet, but you never know, God could change the laws of nature, I'd get pregnant and develop such weird cravings) then I'd buy quality, real cheddar (a smaller chunk if I was watching the pennies) and then squidge a dollop of salad cream or ketchup (as applicable, Heinz in either case) onto it.

And eat it with a hunk of Real Bread.

Chris Young, Real Bread Campaign
(with personal real cheese tendencies, too)

snowballthrower said...

A very valid point: a real opportunity for small British cheese makers missed.

I've not tried them either, but the logic behind these ingredients is bizarre.

Rob Birse said...

I'm fascinated by the whole product launch and campain. Why Alex James? Is it an attempt to bring ageing Blur fans into the Asda customer fold? Or maybe they thought an artisan cheese maker would bring a touch of foodie integrity to their offering.

If it's the latter then why on earth do such horrible things to the *cheese* pushing the discerning food lover even further away as they recoil in disgust? And, if it's integrity they want why turn in their target audience by labelling them snooty?

From both a food and PR point of view I find it confusing and very badly handled. The idea that all publicity is good publicity should have been thrown out with the recipe for Tikal Masala cheddar.

Couple of Mugs said...

Good article, well said!

Pavel said...

He was a celebrity fair play, but he might need a bit of cash to help him get by now the blur glory days have finished.

After all how many artisan cheese millionaires have you heard of?

How many real foodies do you actually think are going to be buying this stuff anyway? It's sold in Asda for gods sake...

Fiona Beckett said...

'Xactly my point @Chris Young ....

Yes, agree, it's strange @Rob Birse. Don't think it's directed at foodies - or food prigs as Alex would have it - but must be pitched at over 30s with spending power. Teens aren't going to remember Blur - or be impressed by cheese celebrities

laurie said...

This is utterly outrageous. He should be ashamed of himself as should Juliett Harbutt. Read my post about cheese & supermarkets here:

Molly Johnson said...

you cant say that its going to be disgusting without trying it, so i suggest that you stop been so stupid and shut up. I have tried the cheese's and there are all gorgeous. You can't write a review of them until you've tried them. Don't knock it without trying it. I think what he's doing is great, as soon as i told my kids about the ketchup flavored cheese they wanted me to make them some cheese on toast, and they loved it. And its not as expensive as your all making out, i'd rather pay more for something that tastes better than buying the cheap stuff purely because its cheap.

Shu Han said...

it's funny, i came across this much earlier, not in a food blog, but on a design forum. I'm a graphic design student and people were raving about the great packaging work, but on the foodie forums, people were not really very happy with his venture. Personally, I'm not htat keen on the flavours, but you never know, I haven't tried them yet so I can't say for sure!

Sweet Hampers said...

Point very well taken.

Fiona Beckett said...

I'm not saying it's disgusting Molly, I'm saying it's expensive for what it is which is basically cheese blended with an inexpensive ingredient. And that I'm disappointed he's using his influence to promote a supermarket rather than do what he can to help fellow small cheese producers and farmers.

Obviously you should all try them and make up your own minds.

I don't think he's worked with Juliet for quite a while @Laurie.

James's cheese said...

Unfortunately Alex James never gave a shit about the cheese industry in the first place. He just used it as a springboard to get back into the public eye and regain his 'celebrity' status as 'ex blur bassist turned cheesemaker. And 'MAKER'? Please.
People who are likely to shop in Asda, I would think, are not likely to be looking for a piece of monty's or keens anyway.
I am sure that the creamery/factory that makes the base cheese are more than happy to keep their business afloat and secure the future of their staff, milk suppliers and all of the families involved.

David W said...

Y'know, if you want to eat ketchup-flavoured cheese on toast, you can. But I feel slightly sick at someone saying this processed stuff tastes "better" than "real" cheese, or failing to see that for a lot less money, they could use really good cheese and a dollop of Heinz's finest. This processed cheese-style product costs more per kilo than many finely made cheeses, you're being taken for one here.

And Alex James ? Well, I've always said nobody will let you down worse than an old hippie. Guess that has to be extended to indie rock band veterans now.

Emily Clark said...

I'm writing an article about Alex James' Asda cheeses after he came to the University of Manchester to promote his new cheeses to students. I've tried every one of his cheeses, unlike many people who have written about them in disgust.

Your research seems to be fictional. Looking on Asda's website right now, I can see that Alex James' cheeses range from £7.50-£9.38 but Cathedral City from £5.71-12.90, the latter brand averaging around £10. There really isn't the difference of £4.29 that you profess makes Alex James' cheese so expensive. Maybe when you wrote it, the prices were different, but perhaps you shouldn't have been so eager to criticise something purely on statistics, when it was so new to the market.

I'd talk to him yourself before you say he is abusing his influence to supposedly get even more money. When I spoke to him about his cheeses, he really was so passionate and so well-researched that it made me angry that people had criticised him for creating something a bit controversial. For God's sake, it's just cheese! The Tikka Masala Cheddar just has a bit of cumin mixed in it, it's not an abomination and no one should give their opinion before they've actually done their research as well as tried some of the stuff.

It also makes me angry that someone who has apparently won awards as a food writer can spout such nonsense.

Anonymous said...

what a pathetic reveiw its all very well looking at a product and saying its too exspensive but do you know the inside costs and the behind the scene details no and plus you have not tried it judging a book by its cover is very shallow!!!

TangerineKellster said...

The tikka masala cheese was amazing, I am most upset I can no longer buy it anywhere :-(