When celebrity chef Ken Hom agreed to endorse Lee Kum Kee prawn crackers he hardly expected makers Westmill to end up before the beak on a “no prawns” charge.
Who: Ken Hom and Westmill Foods
When: April 2002
When celebrity chef Ken Hom signed up with Westmill Foods of Bishops Stortford to endorse their "Lee Kum Kee" prawn crackers, he could not have imagined that things would turn out quite has they did. On Lee Kum Kee packs, Ken's face and signature featured, as well as Ken's ideal ingredients for the perfect prawn cracker, described as "a combination of prawn meat, starch, salt and sometimes sugar".
Unfortunately, as Northants trading standards established after a test purchase from Waitrose in Daventry, the "prawn meat" was off when the crackers in question were made. Trading Standards’ forensic tests established a complete absence of prawn meat from the crackers, thus giving the lie to the pack's "real taste of China" and "traditional ingredients" claims. In the ensuing prosecution before Daventry Magistrates Westmill Foods were found guilty of an offence under the Trade Descriptions Act, fined £3000.00 and ordered to pay £686.89 costs.
Why this matters:
Westmill Foods described the situation as a "technical labelling issue" and announced that as soon as they were made aware of the error the product was withdrawn from sale and would not be reintroduced. Ken Hom may not have been so measured in his immediate reaction to this embarrassing outcome for his endorsement deal, and although he was clearly not a party to the prosecution, he would surely have preferred not to have his name associated with a product which had undergone this costly experience before the Magistrates. It is common in ad/talent contracts to include "death or disgrace" provisions obliging the artist not to behave in a manner likely to bring the advertised product into disrepute or cause embarrassment to the manufacturer. In the light of this case, personalities may be seeking similarly worded clauses the other way round, which entitle them to terminate the endorsement in circumstances where their own reputation might be endangered.