Hipchips & the premiumisation of everyday British food

16 December 2016 | By Sign Salad
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Amid London’s plethora of Vietnamese pho houses, Turkish coffee dens and Hawaiian poke bars, one recent restaurant opening seems to be upsetting the apple cart – or rather the potato cart.

Hipchips is a new restaurant that serves only high-end British potato crisps with a selection of exotic premium dips, such as baba ganoush, beetroot and lemongrass marmalade sprinkled with nuoc mau (salted caramel) and, for the sweeter toothed, cheesecake or campfire S’mores varieties.

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A restaurant that only serves chip ‘n’ dip immediately springs to mind other predictably hipster dining concepts such as London’s first cereal cafe. For many, the Cereal Killers Café is a harmless indulgence of stylised gimmickry and childish nostalgia, but for some Londoners, championing children’s cereal and charging upwards of £2.60 a bowl represents everything wrong with gentrification.

In this vein, it’s easy to write off Hipchips as a restaurant profiting from Millennial hipsters by offering differentiation through self-conscious novelty and obscurity. But the brand is also tapping into hugely relevant shifts in the culture of food in the UK.

For better or worse, many basic, traditional foodstuffs have been replaced with more exotic alternatives. Breakfast bacon rolls and milky cups of tea compete with avocado on rye toast and flat whites. Greasy-spoon cafes and working class watering holes are losing ground to gastropubs serving superfood salads and bahn mi baguettes. Though these changes seem motivated by complexity and sophistication, they also communicate simplicity in terms of the easy assembly and unprocessed wholesomeness of food as opposed to comfortable convention.

This shift is accelerated by a combination of new legislation and taxes on sugar, fats and other chemical quantities, and an increasingly health-conscious and experience-driven consumer base. To stay relevant, many brands are either changing products to meet nutrition criteria or amplifying their credentials of localism, heritage, experiential pleasure and other codes of authenticity and excess to appeal to a more selective audience.

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Hipchips is no exception. It emphasises British origins by elevating its home-grown, diverse breeds of potatoes as simple and robust enough to be paired with global flavours. Its tongue-in-cheek labels on paper napkins (“serviettes”) and wooden spoons (“silver spoons”) add casual approachability by subverting the language of traditional British class-based formality. Its many touchpoints, including its pack and venue, are designed to encourage communal sharing of the product, solidifying playful enjoyment and simple pleasures over serious conventional exclusivity.

Rather than aligning the simplicity of its product (the humble potato) with conventional basic-ness, Hipchips flirts with the cues of premium quality and experiential consumption to communicate a no-frills wholesomeness highly valued amongst subscribers of avocado toast and single-origin coffee. Whether this promotes or challenges the role of the potato as a democratically accessible British foodstuff remains to be seen…

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