Lucy Menendez’s retail journey has taken her from pick ‘n’ mix to Harvey Nicks. Here she reveals how she plans to revolutionise the luxury store’s food and drink offering
Harvey Nichols’ largest Christmas food & beverage retail revamp in a generation is barely signed off and out the door – yet executive food, beverage and hospitality director Lucy Menendez already has a keen eye on next year’s range.
“I’m working on 2024’s Christmas food and drink hook,” she admits. “The success of the current offering is in its early days, but you can see shoppers are being conservative and consolidating. So, for 2024, we’re looking for the ‘new’ but also trying to not pass price rises on to customers.”
Pondering a luxury department store’s festive food and drink offer is a long way from Menendez’s more humble retail beginnings as Woolworths’ pick ‘n’ mix buyer back in the late nineties. But that’s as modest as her CV gets.
“That’s what you pay for in luxury, someone’s judgement. Seriousness should come in the quality of the food”
Menendez’s career includes director positions at Tesco, WH Smith and Fortnum & Mason, plus stints at The River Café and Selfridges before joining ‘Harvey Nicks’ in January this year. Her experience covering both everyday and high-end means a skills blend that should stand her in good stead to navigate shoppers’ financial strains.
Despite some claiming the luxury industries are recession-proof, Harvey Nichols appears sensitive to the economic climate. Its latest full-year accounts show the retailer remains loss-making, having shed £31.8m despite revenues that were up 58% to £191.6m. Although that loss is significantly lower than the previous financial year – driven by higher turnover – the ritzy retail chain is still pushing hard to get back in the black.
Menendez is under no illusions her department will single-handedly change the fortunes of Harvey Nichols. Success will be “a significantly larger food and drink” retail range, driven by a central company challenge to “reset its food business”.
Premium food and drink is an increasingly crowded market, however. While Harvey Nichols undoubtedly has a cohort of loyal shoppers across its seven UK stores (plus one in Dublin) and online, along with tourist footfall, there’s only so much space in the market for luxury consumables. Menendez feels a focus on products that surprise and delight shoppers will help bolster sales.
Name: Lucy Menendez
Potted CV: Started at Woolworths as pick ‘n’ mix buyer; moved to Tesco in various roles; on to WH Smith to lead the books business; then commercial director at Fortnum & Mason; then consultancy work.
Best decision you’ve made: Going for a retail career straight out of university.
Your business icon: Either Jeremy King or Ewan Venters.
Biggest mistake: Not following my gut instinct on a new product or project and letting something go ahead when I wasn’t fully confident.
Proudest professional moment: Working with the team in Copenhagen to develop Fortnum & Mason’s sparkling tea.
Something you wish you’d done differently: Stood up for a better work-life balance when I had small children.
While “there’s a core of luxury suppliers who know us and the sector really well, and we will work with them and enjoy the familiarity”, much of her plan hangs on finding the niche, up-and-coming suppliers that can’t easily be found elsewhere – many of whom are “likely in confectionery and chocolate, but also bakery”.
And if, 11 months into the role, the launch of the Christmas range this year is the culmination of the strategy, Harvey Nicks is only “three-quarters of the way through the retail food and drink revamp which will continue to develop and bring in newness”, she says.
The year-round own-label range has been given a clean look that reflects the retailer’s personality, while the Christmas offering has a “cheekiness or wryness”, says Menendez. “Our own-label range is about not taking ourselves too seriously but reflecting trends as an edit – that’s what you pay for in luxury, someone’s judgement. Seriousness should come in the quality of the food and the way it’s presented.”
Menendez is also looking for partnerships, she says, and vows that Harvey Nicks can offer support to smaller suppliers in areas such as packaging to ensure their offering hits the premium brief.
Other routes to market, such as a recent World Duty Free launch and incoming tie-ups with as-yet-unnamed international partners, are also vital to the food and drink growth strategy, she says. The business already operates six stores across the Middle East and Hong Kong but sees potential in extending further.
While she speaks freely on her own aims, Menendez is tight-lipped about the financial performance of the food and drink offering, including hospitality, which she is also charged with revitalising.
“The hospitality scene is commercially tough,” Menendez admits, but she talks of excitement about the potential in the sector beyond London, with regional stores in the likes of Leeds and Manchester planning pop-ups and soon-to-be-announced new ventures.
Future food strategy
Beyond the economy and the myriad other external factors, there’s one issue much closer to home that could block Menendez’s path to success: the fact her mandate to deliver a more robust retail F&B offering has come from an outgoing CEO. Manju Malhotra announced in August she would step down by the end of the year.
Menendez won’t discuss the resignation but insists she has no concerns on future food strategy, which was “identified and established before I joined”.
She appears genuinely upbeat about the future of Harvey Nichols and high-end department stores in general, which she feels allow customers to identify with a brand, or at least “aspire to be part of it”, in a way other retailers can’t.
“For 2024, we’re looking for the new”
Unlike ailing or now defunct high street peers such as Debenhams, stores like Harvey Nichols will survive if the customer experience and service standards aren’t squeezed, she says.
“That’s where the danger lies,” she warns. “Luxury department stores are here to deliver a fab experience all year round.” The pressure, though, is always doubly intense at Christmas.