Fortnum & Mason is considering the launch of a new service that will support independent British food and drink brands struggling to export to the EU.
The luxury retailer had previously stopped exporting its hampers, jams and biscuits into the bloc in 2021, after post-Brexit customs complexities left it struggling to fulfil customer orders. To fix the problem, Fortnum’s opened its own distribution centre in Belgium – effectively enabling it to export to itself – and restarted shipments of products into the bloc in October 2023.
Fortnum’s is now exporting into 15 countries, and plans to expand to a further 10 over the “next few months”, CEO Tom Athron told The Grocer.
While the retailer is still experiencing some “teething problems” Athron said he’d been “encouraged” by the response from customers, and felt Fortnum’s would be in a good position to use its learnings to help smaller brands do the same.
“When we left the EU, it was clear to me there were a very large number of small artisan food manufacturers of really high-quality products for whom exporting to the EU was no longer an option, and they’ve had that market closed to them,” Athron said.
“We have a role to play in showcasing the best of British innovation when it comes to food and drink, and I want to extend that responsibility into helping reopen their EU markets.”
The business is still considering the best approach to take. One option under consideration is for Fortnum’s to act as a third-party exporter, using its existing infrastructure. The business has been in discussions with its logistics partner iForce over the possibility of doing so, Athron said.
The second option is to create a document or information service that brands can use as a guide, based on Fortnum’s learnings of relaunching itself, Athron said.
“I want to see brilliant British food all over the EU, there’s no reason why that market should be closed. It’s administratively difficult. If you’re a tiny business, it’s not worth it.
“We can help do that. But I want to make sure we’re brilliant at it ourselves before I completely throw this open,” Athron said.
Athron revealed the plans alongside the publication of the retailer’s annual results and Christmas sales in January. F&M enjoyed strong sales at its Piccadilly flagship store and online, however the company struggled at times with a late spike in demand that saw many Christmas orders limited to December. As a result, Fortnum’s had to remove some lines from sale.
To rectify the issue, and to enable future expansion, Fortnum’s is to embark on a major reconsolidation of its UK supply chain, which will see it shutter several distribution centres in favour of a single consolidated site in Corby.