Interview

Matt Utber, founder and creative director of The Plant: “Food and art are our biggest passions and core areas of expertise”

Pursuing an architectural degree, he realised he didn’t have enough patience to master that complicated  discipline, so he quit it and turned to a related field—graphic design. Later in 2003, he founded his own design agency The Plant, jumped into the food business, and launched the Feast food festival in 2012. Recently he has celebrated the release of the first issue of his agency’s own printed media—the fanzine Tomorrow’s Chip Paper, based on ‘true food stories.’ All this is about Matt Utber, an Australian expat in the U.K., the founder of the boutique-sized design business, an art lover and food connoisseur.

—Most of your recent works are for food-related companies. Let’s take the latest project for the big TV and communications brand MasterChef. How did you win it and what is the newly re-launched brand all about?

—In August 2012, we took part in a three-way pitch organised by Shine, MasterChef’s brand owner, against four bigger branding agencies—and won it. Why us? I think it’s due to our profound experience in food, a strong strategic expertise, and a small size, which allows quick and effective communications.

We were appointed for the project in September last year, so it took about 10 months to create the strategic overhaul and rebranding of all the business. The strategy was taken from being a single-channel, predominantly television-centric brand to a multichannel brand that spans retail (kitchenware and food), publishing, a stronger online presence and television as well.  We also created photography, TV animations, packaging and brand guidelines that would be adopted by local agencies across all their international markets of presence.

Now MasterChef has 37 different productions around the world—and it still retains its integrity.

Photo: MasterChef's updated logo

Photo: MasterChef’s updated logo

Photo: MasterChef's kitchenware packaging

Photo: MasterChef’s kitchenware packaging

Photo: MasterChef's billboard

Photo: MasterChef’s billboard

—What are the MasterChef’s ambitions in retail?

—They have a food range and a partner company in the U.K. that will help them launch it by the end of this year. Plus, they have already had a kitchenware product range that we developed packaging for and helped expand it. A new MasterChef book will be also released in September.

—This project follows the rebranding of EAT. Was it a success? How did you help them grow?

—Regarding the effectiveness of the design, we launched the rebrand in December last year, and in about six next months they reported a huge spike in sales.

The part of that project was to find what made EAT different from Prêt à Manger or other competitors. Their strong competitive advantage is that they serve hot food, not just sandwiches. For example, hot soups—seasonal, of different world’s cuisines that you can’t try anywhere else but at EAT. We’ve emphasised their attention to detail, the fact that every single thing is done with care, that everything is fresh. We’ve given the brand a much more sense of energy and colour.

eat_The Plant_01

eat_The Plant-04

eat_The Plant_04

Photo: rebranding of the EAT food chain

Photo: rebranding of the EAT food chain

We are still working with this client, and at the moment we’re developing a campaign that will appear across all the packaging. Moreover, they’re continuously launching new menu offerings, they are growing—there are now about 130 EAT locations across the U.K.

—Are you working on any new endoavors for Jamie Oliver, probably, your most loyal ‘food’ client?

—We are now working on a new format of a smaller Italian restaurant—Jamie Oliver’s Trattoria, which launches this month. Last year we also developed branding for Jamie Oliver’s Union Jacks chain of restaurants that offered a “nostalgic” British food cooked with locally grown artisanal ingredients.

Photo: branding for Jamie Oliver's Trattoria in Richmond, U.K.

Photo: branding for Jamie Oliver’s Trattoria in Richmond, U.K.

Photo: Union Jacks restaurant in Chiswick, London

Photo: Union Jacks restaurant in Chiswick, London

—How passionate about food are you?

—Frankly, I’m obsessed with good food so much that last year The Plant’s friends Sam Aldenton, Tim Etchells and I decided to launch our first food festival, Feast, in London.

What we wanted to do was to bring London’s best restaurant and street food in one place at affordable prices—to eat, make fun, listen to good live music, spark new conversations and open up new business opportunities. This year we held it on July 4-7 in the Brick Lane Yard. Watch the video below if you missed it.

I wouldn’t say that Feast was started as a marketing tool for The Plant, but it became a great platform to communicate our passion for food and art. Surprisingly, this small festival attracts more clients than any traditional forms of PR.

Photo: cover of the first issue  of Tomorrow's Chip Paper, July 2013

Photo: cover of the first issue of Tomorrow’s Chip Paper, July 2013

Moreover, Feast has led to a new project, hopefully, a new business of ours—a printed seasonal fanzine “Tomorrow’s Chip Paper”—an official newspaper of Feast that is published every three months. It is grassroots, funny, witty, straightforward—it doesn’t promote any particular brand, just offers great food stories that can interest a broad audience of readers (and eaters). What we’re trying to do now is to build a publishing business around this model, to involve our existing clients as well as prospective ones. As we have lots of connections within the London food industry, we could provide opportunities for brands to have their own “food stories” read. The first issue was released in the first week of July to promote the Feast event.

Photo: design for the ART13 London

Photo: design for the ART13 London

—So has your “obsession with food” taken over the passion for entertainment, television and art?

—Hopefully, not. I can say that most of our clients are from the food and art industries. Last year we did a big branding project for the HK 2012, an art fair in Hong Kong. This year we also worked with the London art fair ART 13, which took place in March and was organised by the founders of ART HK. So, yes, food and art—panem et circuses—are our biggest passions and core areas of expertise.

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