Fortnum & Mason storefront in old town London. (Photo by Elisa Rolle)
Venerable , one of the world’s oldest tea brands, retains its retail vibrancy. Sales of the UK-brand are up 12% to £138 million ($178 million), and profits rose 26% to £12.1 million ($15.9 million) for 12 months ending in mid-July.
Coming in the wake of the uncertainty surrounding Brexit and slowing sales in Hong Kong—the location of Fortnum’s only store outside the UK—this news is both encouraging and offers useful insight.
The brand credits innovation as a significant reason for the boost in sales. Last year the company introduced a £16.95 ($22.35) Sparkling Tea for a world that appreciates elegance in food and drink. The company at launch that its “sparkling tea, a celebration-ready, organic blend of eight famous and rare brews, builds on Fortnum’s expertise in tea and responds to growing consumer appetites for sophisticated, non-alcoholic beverages.”
The brewed teas are blended with grape juice and lemon juice to make a refreshingly unique, non-alcoholic alternative that is only comparable to Champagne or sparkling wine.
Tea and alcohol have made the rounds – Fortnum & Mason themselves have a range that includes the Bloody Mary Tea and Gin and Tonic Tea – but this innovation is more exciting. The tea demanded the expertise of both wine and tea experts of the company. It is conceptualized by the award-winning Danish sommelier Jacob Kocemba who combined Chinese green, gunpowder green, jasmine green, Darjeeling, Japanese matcha, Nepalese jun chiya, Ceylon greenfield and Chinese silver needles, for a first.
The tea is described as “off-dry and medium-bodied featuring primary notes of tropical fruits, while the lemongrass and Darjeeling palate finishes with waves of tea and water mint.” Designed to pair with food, it works through a range from fresh seafood to sweet after-dinner treats, according to the company.
The high street retail brand was founded in 1707 by builder William Fortnum, who took a post as a royal footman in Queen Anne’s household (where he was permitted to sell the royal’s half-used candlewax at a profit). He found a business partner in landlord Hugh Mason, a shopkeeper turned grocer in a story worthy of an old classic. In the Victorian era, Fortnum & Mason were the royal caterers for special occasions at the Court. It is reported that Queen Victoria sent the brand’s beef tea to Florence Nightingale’s hospitals during the Crimean war. There are many firsts to its credit. It is the birthplace of the Scotch egg (1738); the first to stock tinned baked beans made by HJ Heinz (1886) and creators of the Royal Blend of tea made from Assam and Sri Lankan black teas (1902). The company was bought over by the Weston group in 1951 and now has four stores in the UK and one in Hong Kong.
In recent years, the retailer reported climbing tea sales, with a rise in upmarket tea-drinking; what has undoubtedly helped it grow is its emphasis and commitment to innovation, with food and now with tea. Fortnum & Mason’s Sparkling Tea is also an indicator of the trends in how tastes are changing among customers by clearly acknowledging the market for holiday shoppers who are seeking non-alcoholic gifts and beverages.