- First luxury food retail to resume deliveries to the EU after Britain quit bloc
Fortnum & Mason, the luxury food and drink emporium, has started delivering to customers in the European Union again after a two-year break following Brexit – in a major boost for Britain’s high-end export trade.
The department store on London’s Piccadilly will be despatching its iconic hampers and other delicacies to 15 countries on the Continent this Christmas from a special hub it has set up in Genk, Belgium.
It is the first luxury food retailer to resume deliveries to the EU after Britain quit the trade bloc.
Fortnum’s boss Tom Athron hopes the Belgian operation will also enable other small British artisan food businesses to sell their wares in Europe again, as he aims to open it up to other firms, including his own suppliers, next year.
The move, which is testament to the ingenuity of UK companies, shows firms can adapt to the post-Brexit trading environment, contrary to gloomy predictions from Remoaners that large chunks of trade would be lost forever.
The push into Europe comes amid fears high-end British retailers will lose out because of the ‘tourist tax’, which means visitors from overseas cannot reclaim VAT on purchases. The Mail is campaigning for this to be scrapped.
Pre-Brexit, deliveries to the EU accounted for 15 per cent of Fortnum’s online sales. Around half of those were UK customers sending gifts to friends or family abroad. ‘In 2021 we switched it off with a heavy heart,’ Mr Athron said, ‘because of the complexities of exporting food into the EU.’
‘But customers missed it. Every time we posted on social media, someone would put in the comments the question: “When are you restarting delivery to the EU?”’
Shoppers who go on to the Fortnum & Mason website are greeted by a pop-up asking where they would like their purchases to be shipped. If they select one of 15 EU countries, including Germany, France, Ireland and Spain, they are directed to a dedicated website with a range of the products available.
These include a ‘Christmas at Piccadilly Gift Box’ costing €110 (£96), and a box of its famous rose and violet creams for €49 (£43). Standard delivery takes between two and five working days, apart from Greece which can take up to seven days. It costs €10 (£9) for all countries.
The Belgian hub is run by Fortnum’s fulfilment partner, iForce.
‘We have spent 18 months working out how to do this and it has been a labour of love,’ Mr Athron said. ‘This is properly trailblazing and I don’t say this lightly.’
He added: ‘What we do is export to ourselves. We do all the paperwork. Then, once the product is in the EU, we can send it to customers who have ordered online.’
Around 85 per cent of Fortnum’s produce is made in the UK – with its tea blended by a family firm in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and its handmade chocolates supplied by a family business in Hove, near Brighton.
The brand has been in business for 317 years, with a long tradition of being able to send its goods to even the most far-flung locations – making it unlikely it would be deterred for long by Brexit.
It supplied provisions for Sir Edmund Hillary’s expedition to Mount Everest in the early 1950s and sent hampers to Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War.
Fortnum’s hampers – first created in the 1730s and which the store describes as ‘the world’s best travelled tuck box’ – have been sent to almost every possible location on the planet. The woven baskets are stamped with the F&M initials, tied in its eau de Nil ribbon and closed with brown leather buckles. Once the goodies they contain have been consumed, customers use them as dog beds and laundry baskets.
Mr Athron believes the model he has established could enable ‘a whole range of artisan suppliers to do the same thing’. He said: ‘Not just our suppliers, but all the small producers that in effect lost access to the EU with Brexit. We have a model that will let them get it back.’
The move back into the EU comes as Fortnum & Mason is seeking to serve more international customers. It opened a new store in Hong Kong International Airport earlier this year and is planning to open in Dubai International Airport soon.