Jamie Oliver: The world’s his oyster

After conquering Britain he is taking his brand global. That’s well pukka, says James Thompson

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The Independent Online

He has taken on the Government over school dinners, tried to convert American rednecks to healthy eating and introduced his mockney “bish, bash, bosh” to the nation as the Naked Chef on television. But Jamie Oliver now has his sights set on a new target: world domination.

His empire outside the UK is small but growing fast. With its domestic business well established, Jamie’s Italian restaurant chain is plotting to launch in countries from Brazil to India. Beyond his other restaurant formats, including Union Jacks, Fifteen, Jamie Oliver’s Diner and Barbecoa, the ebullient 38-year-old’s group also boasts three Recipease retail outlets, television programmes, his own homewares range, magazines, and books – his 15th tome, Save with Jamie, is due out in September.

John Jackson, chief executive of Jamie Oliver Holdings, says: “The Jamie Oliver brand is a very international brand. We sell books and TV in well over 50 countries.”

But with his fingers in so many pies, surely Jamie himself can’t be a hands-on figurehead? Nonsense, says Mr Jackson. “Jamie Oliver is the creative force within Jamie Oliver [Holdings]. He gets involved in all the menu selection and all the recipes and marketing. He signs off on the ‘look and feel’ of every store and he is heavily involved on the TV side with his production [company].”

Mr Jackson, who took the helm in 2007, says: “He is full on with the rest of the senior management team in making sure the operations run effectively. I am working closely with Jamie on the creative and strategic side.”

Its international strategy is to test the water with the celebrity’s books, TV, homewares and magazine in countries before launching restaurants in those countries.

The group launched its first Jamie’s Italian overseas in Dubai in 2011 and followed it with another in Sydney that year. While it has added another in Australia and one in Dublin since then, this is just the tip of the international iceberg. Jamie’s Italian will launch in Russia over the coming weeks, with a site in St Petersburg followed by one in Moscow, and its first restaurants in Istanbul and Singapore will open from September.

It also plans to open its inaugural eateries in Brazil before the football World Cup, Scandinavia and Canada next year, with China on the cards for 2015.

The group is having preliminary chats with franchise partners about potential restaurant openings in Hungary, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Canada and India. Its international expansion also includes Barbecoa, its shrine to meat-eating that opened in London in 2010, with Dubai, Moscow and Singapore under consideration.

The group also still has plenty of growth to shoot for in the UK, although Mr Jackson thinks that expanding Jamie’s Italian from 32 to 45 over the next three years will give it the optimum number in conurbations.

It has not all been plain sailing. Jamie’s Italian initially irked some customers in London by not allowing them to book, instead forcing them to queue, which drove many away. “The problem was that when we first opened everyone flocked to it and Jamie did not just want people who had booked. He wanted passing trade,” says Mr Jackson. This has been changed and punters can now reserve a table in all the Jamie’s Italians by phone or online.

Mr Jackson says the secret of Jamie’s Italian is “good food”. He adds: “We have a consistency on quality food with excellent service in a good surroundings.”

He admits that trading this year has been challenging, but says its UK sales at restaurants open at least a year remain in positive territory. “It has been OK. You have to fight for yourselves, but we are trading in line with expectations,” said Mr Jackson. 

With Jamie’s Italian heading towards its optimum number, the group will open a new format restaurant in London in two weeks’ time. Jamie’s Italian Trattoria will be targeted at “market towns”, says Mr Jackson, and will largely focus on pizza and pasta in a “home-from-home environment”. He sees the potential for 50 to 60 Jamie’s Italian Trattorias in the UK. Food at the new format will typically cost £3 to £4 less than the established chain, with the start-up costs of the smaller restaurants also significantly lower than Jamie’s Italian. While the capital expenditure of a bigger Jamie’s Italian is on average £2.2m, the new entrant will typically cost £1.1m.

Judging by its latest accounts, Jamie Oliver Holdings has shown it can manage costs as well as grow profits. The group more than tripled its pre-tax profits to £9.8m over the year to 31 December, on increased turnover of £35.3m, boosted by “excellent” sales of his 15-Minute Meals book.

Such stellar growth has served up plenty of speculation in the leisure industry that the group could eventually float on the stock market. But Mr Jackson, who was managing director of The Body Shop for five years, is keen to shoot down this rumour. Asked if he has any plans to float the business over the next five years, he says: “None whatsoever.”

Mr Jackson, who worked with the late founder of The Body Shop, Dame Anita Roddick, says: “It is very hard to be on the stock market with brands that are personality-driven. We made a decision not to float Jamie’s Italian or Jamie Oliver [Holdings] on the stock market.”

He added: “If we want to we might bring in a private investor. We [currently] have all the funding we require.”

Certainly, Jamie – who owns 80 per cent-plus of the group of companies – appears to be building his empire on a tight-knit circle of family and friends, including his Mum, Dad and brother-in-law. With the personal wealth of Jamie and his wife, Jools, estimated at £150m, parents could do worse than get their children to practise cooking, as the Olivers did with their son at their pub, The Cricketers, when Jamie was a lad.

Jamie oliver: Diamond geezer

* Jamie’s Italian: 32 in UK and four overseas, in Australia, Republic of Ireland and Dubai

* Jamie Oliver’s Diner: 1 

* Fifteen: 3, two in UK and one in Netherlands

* Barbecoa: 1 

* Union Jacks: 4 

* Recipease: 3 

* Books: Save with Jamie this autumn will be his 15th 

* Homewares and kitchen electricals: Jamie Oliver by Tefal; Jamie Oliver by Philips

* Cutlery and glassware: Jamie Oliver’s Merison

* Knives and utensils: DKB

* Jamie magazine: Distributed in Russia, France, Holland, Germany and Estonia.