Fortnum & Mason is planning a quick grocery delivery service

Fortnum & Mason plans to enter the booming fast food delivery market, expanding online and internationally after the pandemic severely impacted sales at its London flagship store.

“The underlying story [this year] was one of the online growth figures. We thought this would slow down after businesses reopened, but that’s not the case,” Chief Executive Tom Athron told the Financial Times.

The 315-year-old group’s e-commerce revenue was more than half of the total in the year ended July 11, compared with a fifth before the pandemic.

“Sales to UK-based customers have basically doubled. We step into people’s lives for more than just treats and gifts,” Athron said.

The former John Lewis manager, who took over from Ewan Venters in December 2020, is exploring opportunities in immediate delivery which he says will “fundamentally reset” customer expectations.

“Clearly, demand for emergency Florentines will be limited,” he acknowledged, while adding that the appeal of the company’s famous picnic baskets’ prompt delivery is obvious.

“We’ll probably do this in partnership, but I don’t want to just list items on Amazon or gorillas, that would be the wrong way.”

However, there are currently no plans to open further stores in the UK via the West End flagship and satellites in the city and travel hubs.

“In a world with limited capital, I would rather invest online. I can understand why Selfridges and Harvey Nichols expanded outside of London, but they made those decisions many years ago,” Athron said.

The site at 181 Piccadilly, the Queen’s caterer, will continue to operate despite a drop in visitor numbers that has resulted in a loss of £2.7m through July 2021.

Athron expected tourist numbers to recover would take longer than he thought, and working from home would also reduce visitor numbers.

“But if anything, that means we should invest more in Piccadilly to make it even more of a tourist destination,” he said, citing plans for theater kitchens with live-streaming capability.

Other branches abroad are possible. Fortnum & Mason operates a store directly in Hong Kong and has partnerships with department stores in Japan, Korea and Australia.

“We had a store in Dubai that didn’t work, but I’d like to look at that region again,” Athron said. Other areas like the US are likely to be served online.

He wants to resume supplies to consumers in Europe, which Fortnum & Mason has halted due to post-Brexit food export difficulties.

“Resolving that will likely require a more constructive and forward-looking relationship with the rest of Europe than we currently have.”

Three of London’s most famous department stores are foreign-owned and Selfridges was recently sold to Thailand’s Central Group by the Weston family of Canada.

But Athron sees no change in Fortnum & Mason, which has been owned by the Anglo-Irish branch of the Weston family since the 1950s. “I firmly believe that we will remain in our current hands.

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