Confessions of a retailer: Fortnum & Mason

9th February, 2018 by admin

Unusual spirits and big brands: the wine and spirits buyer of luxury British retailer Fortnum & Mason on why you need both to meet customer needs.

Jamie Waugh, wine and spirits buyer at Fortnum & Mason

Jamie Waugh, wine and spirits buyer at Fortnum & Mason

How long have you been a spirits buyer and how did you get the role?

I’ve been at Fortnum’s for nine years and moved into the buying side five years ago. I’ve been selling wine and spirits all my life, so with an understanding of what the customer wants I moved to the other side.

What qualities do you look for when considering taking on a new brand?

I’m very drawn to the story of products – the provenance – and passion, in addition to the more obvious tasting processes. Fortnum’s has found a niche in launching new products and spearheading brands we believe in. We launched a standalone spirits department in 2014 to great success, and the spirits category is now our largest department throughout the year, aside from at Christmas. The range is constantly revolving; we bring in new exciting brands from extraordinary producers with incredible quality.

What is your best-selling category, and why has it been so successful?

Gin has taken over from Scotch. We have more than 100 gins listed and we continue to grow the range. We’ve become a destination for gin lovers and also for finding something that is unique or something with that little bit extra appeal.

How would you describe the typical consumer at Fortnum & Mason?

We’ve seen our customer base change dramatically. A typical customer is increasingly younger, British and looking for something new. We get a lot of people asking for recommendations as we are always launching new spirits; this is why we launched the Spirit of the Month – to show new products that we recommend.

How competitive is the luxury spirits industry right now?

Very. Britain is the place to be for spirits at the moment. We are the biggest exporter of spirits in the world and evidently our premium offer is world leading.

How has Fortnum & Mason influenced the traditional spirits retail environment? Why is it special?

We believe in our products – we will not bring anything to the shop floor that we don’t adore. We spend time with all of our producers, and rely on our suppliers’ expertise to bring the best products available to market. We are developing five new F&M spirits this October, which we are genuinely excited about, with great small­-crafted provenance and quality. The big brands have their place because they give the customer the confidence to seek out the smaller batch producers in which we excel.

Which spirits trends excite you at the moment and why?

Food pairings are something we love to experiment with at Fortnum & Mason because we are a food and drink­-focused business. Vodka looks to be making a resurgence and we launched a new Barley Vodka last Christmas that is of unparalleled provenance. We can state everything such as the farm from where the barley is sourced, the site from which the barley is malted and the distillery in which it has been produced: the crafted aspect of spirits will continue to grow. I also expect the consumer to start embracing more traditional spirits that have been modernised.

What do you enjoy most about your job? And what are the challenges?

Finding an amazing product that needs an opportunity for the next step up. We’ve launched several products that have gone on to be very successful because we’ve essentially given them a route to market – I’m very proud of our track record. However, we would like to do more.

The spirits off-trade is an extremely competitive environment – how can brands stand out and get noticed by retailers?

Unique selling points will get you noticed. We have enjoyed great success with, for example, Twisted Nose Watercress Dry Gin and Black Cow Vodka because they have good stand­out stories.

How would you describe the appetite for sprits in the UK?

Growing, developing and maturing.

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