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Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe and this is MorningNewsBeat Radio, brought to you by Webstop, experts in the art of retail website design.

Regular readers of MorningNewsBeat know that one of my biases is in favor of good food…I have long thought that too many supermarkets focus on efficiency rather than effectiveness. They sell bottles and bags and boxes and cater to the lowest common denominator rather than focusing on really good food that challenges and enlarges the consumer palate. That’s a shame, because it misses some of the innate advantages of being in the food business.

I love it when food retailers trumpet a favorite food. When Norman Mayne of Dorothy Lane Market talks about a favorite rub used on steak. When Neil Golub of Price Chopper brags about the corned beef sandwiches made by his Ben & Bill deli. When the folks at Wegmans insist that you eat in one of their Tastings restaurants, because they’re just so proud of the food that is made and served there. It speaks volumes, I think, about how they have their priorities right…it doesn’t mean that the operational details aren’t important, but that they understand the unique role that food can play in our lives.

It was interesting to me to read that Jamie Oliver, the British celebrity chef who has brought his expertise and spotlight not just to restaurants and cookbooks but also to an effort to improve school nutrition in the UK, plans to open a chain of meal preparation stores where people will be able to come in and make dishes from Oliver’s own recipes. In addition, the stores will sell prepared meals that Oliver says will be designed to provide both value and high quality. The name of the new chain, the first of which will open this winter, will be Recipease.

Here’s what he has to say on the subject: “I think we can really get people excited about food - young mums wanting ideas for the family, blokes wanting to impress the girlfriend, professionals planning a dinner-party, everyone. Whether you've got time or not, we can add a little bit of something extra and teach people in a friendly way, like I was taught. I really believe that if the produce and product is exceptional and good value, then people will find this service dead handy."

With Jamie Oliver’s name attached to it, there won’t be much question that quality will be a high priority for the new chain, and if it lives up to the promise, Recipease could be an interesting and formidable competitor. But you just know that the company isn’t going to cut corners or indulge in lowest common denominator food. It doesn’t make sense, and it would erode the power of the brand.

There’s been a fair amount of debate – here on MorningNewsBeat and elsewhere – about whether or not the meal preparation business is a viable one. At least here in the US, I’m not sure we know one way or the other.

But maybe the problem is that we’ve been looking at it wrong. We’ve been looking at it as a stand-alone industry rather than seeing it within the context of a broader food business. Now, at a time of economic uncertainty, customers may be more willing than ever before to try new things that they perceive as having value attached to it. They’ll be interested in saving money, but if you can offer them a new experience, a little bit of education that isn’t too heavy handed, a fresh perspective on mealtime, and maybe even fill some of the holes that have been left as people adjust their spending patterns…well, maybe that has the potential to be a winner.

It is all about consistent innovation, constant strategic thinking, and an ability to maintain momentum in a way that delights and surprises the customer. And if that includes making a great corned beef sandwich, or selling a steak rub that’ll knock your socks off…well, so much the better.

For MorningNewsBeat Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.

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