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Forget Champagne — sparkling tea has sent sales soaring at the queen’s grocer

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By Rupert Steiner


F&M
Hampers sell for $7,744.

Upmarket food store Fortnum & Mason has developed a twist on the great British cuppa by tapping a growing trends toward nonalcoholic drinks.

The privately owned retailer, bought by the billionaire Weston family in 1951, has created a sparking tea that it credits for a set of bumper annual earnings released on Friday.

The London-based company posted a 26% increase in profit on sales, up 12% to £138 million ($178 million) for the 12 months ending July 14.

In a tough economic climate for retailers that has seen consumer confidence dented by uncertainty surrounding Britain’s exit from the European Union, Fortnum dodged the gloom by focusing on innovation and the premium end of the market.

It said in a statement that sparkling tea had reinforced its reputation for creativity and elegance in fine food and drink: “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.”

Best drunk chilled, it contains notes of tropical fruits, lemongrass, water mint and Darjeeling, leading into drier tannins and a long-lasting hint of jasmine .

Read: Why the alcohol-free movement is becoming fashionable

Demand for its teas increased 11% in the U.K. and it also saw strong performance in hampers. There was a 300% increase in sales of its Imperial Hamper, a wicker basket filled with alcohol and fine foods that sells for $7,744.

This hamper contains a whole Christmas ham, Scottish smoked salmon, Beluga caviar, cheeses, chocolates, panettone, port, and pink and golden Champagne.

Kate Hobhouse, chairman of Fortnum, said: “Ours is a business that celebrates the very best, be it food, drink, joy-giving gifts or indeed experiences. We are a traditional British business with a truly global outlook, and I am proud that people’s appetite for our brand is increasing around the world.”

The business has come a long way since 1707, when builder William Fortnum took a post as footman in Queen Anne’s household and started selling Her Majesty’s half-used candle wax at a profit. He was renting a room from shopkeeper Hugh Mason, and the pair went into business together.

During the Victorian era, the store provided food for prestigious court functions, and Queen Victoria was reputed to have sent shipments of Fortnum and Mason’s concentrated beef tea to Florence Nightingale’s hospitals during the Crimean War.

It was the birthplace of the Scotch egg in 1886, and was the first store in Britain to stock tins of baked beans made by a Mr. H.J. Heinz /zigman2/quotes/203625533/composite KHC -0.07%  .

Read on: Paris protests and striking Amazon workers in Germany punctuate Black Friday in Europe

/zigman2/quotes/203625533/composite
US : U.S.: Nasdaq
$ 27.31
-0.02 -0.07%
Volume: 7.95M
Feb. 19, 2020 4:00p
P/E Ratio
17.27
Dividend Yield
5.86%
Market Cap
$33.36 billion
Rev. per Employee
$673,308
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Rupert Steiner is Barron's Group bureau chief for the Europe, Middle East and Africa region.

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