“I needed people to understand that when they’re doing business with me, you’re doing business with a businessman, not doing business with an athlete,” Shaquille O’Neal famously told the NCAA convention in 2013. No one would doubt it, either. His investments and entrepreneurial activities run the gamut, but owning 155 locations of Five Guys hamburgers is one of his most successful ventures.
He’s not alone when it comes to investing his time and money into the business of food. Celebrities have long associated their names with different snacks, beverages, and other eatable goods. The trend of late, though, is quite a bit different from the usual old endorsement, where a famous person simply licensed their name and collected a fee.
Now we’re seeing celebrities enter the food world as proper business owners, whether it’s by operating franchises, partnering with a known third-party brand or chef, or owning a food brand and remaining a key driving force behind it.
This shift towards entrepreneurship makes sense. One of the biggest is that consumers trust celebrity endorsements far less than they used to. “Authenticity” and “transparency” are two of the biggest buzzwords in marketing right now; celebrity endorsements tend to be neither.
It’s also a legitimate business that can last much longer than the primary careers of lots of these people. Gwyneth Paltrow, controversial though she may be, started Goop as a weekly email newsletter. It’s now a full-fledged wellness brand and e-commerce site that sells, among other things, supplements, protein bars, and something called “longevity food.”
There are tons of other celebrities turning their side gigs into legitimate entrepreneurial ventures.
Real Housewives star Bethenny Frankel sold her low-calorie cocktail company SkinnyGirl to Beam Global in 2011. In a wise business move, she opted to receive ongoing payments contingent on high sales instead of taking a lump sum at the time of the deal. Clearly, the bet is paying off. She also negotiated the rights to the brand name “SkinnyGirl” and now has an entire source of revenue from popcorn, juices, lunchmeats, and a host of other products wearing the label. She keeps a corresponding lifestyle blog to round out the brand.
George Clooney’s Casamigos Tequila started as an accident. As the story goes, Clooney and two friends came up with the idea for a tequila they could “drink all day without getting a hangover.” They sold the company to Diageo this year, for $1 billion, though fans are assured the three will still be heavily involved in production.
Drake peddles luxury liquor, too. In 2016, he, ex-financier Brent Hocking, and Proximo Spirits launched Virginia Black Whiskey. And while Hocking might be CEO, he assured the world this past summer that Drank wasn’t just lending his face to the brand. “I understand what you see out there and what is the reality and celebrities getting an endorsement fee, but he is an actual partner,” he told Business Insider. Drake also recently invested in MatchaBar, the uber-trendy NYC cafe that makes a tasty matcha beverage. As the fifth-richest rapper in the world right now, he’s clearly not in it for the money, which is a refreshing detail to learn.
Ayesha Curry, meanwhile, is getting involved in the meal-kit business, with Homemade. Her company targets families with young eaters, promoting the idea that eating dinner together is just as important for health as the food itself. Traditional-but-nutritious food comes easy-to-prepare and “saves the family chef from feeling like an underappreciated short-order cook.” There’s also a corresponding TV channel and community where people can share stories.
Back to Gwyneth. Along with Serena Williams, she’s invested in Daily Harvest, a subscription service that delivers frozen smoothies and parfaits loaded with superfoods to your door. Their mission is to show you that frozen fruits and veggies can be just as healthy, if not more, than the “fresh” versions. It carries a high price tag (almost $200 for a monthly subscription), but then, so does top-shelf liquor.
With all the successes, though, there are still plenty of flops. The nature of business doesn’t change just because it’s a famous person running the show. That also means that celebrities going down the entrepreneurship and business ownership path bear more responsibility for problems when they do arise.
Largely speaking, though, the majority of celebrities involved owning or investing heavily in brands seem to be behind to their products for more than monetary reasons. That, along with savvy business decisions, can help make any one of these celebrities business moguls in their own right. Just ask Shaq.