Fortnum & Mason’s CEO Ewan Venters on the HK opening and appealing to gen-Z

The iconic Piccadilly location of Fortnum and Mason

Fortnum & Mason first opened its doors in the heart of London in 1707 and has since established itself as one of the UK’s most iconic upmarket department stores. For centuries, the historic Piccadilly location has served as a destination for Londoners and visitors in search of great food, services and the now-classic hampers and as a symbol of British excellence and elegance.

From its distinguished branding, to the top quality of its products, Fortnum’s has evolved with times and is still a go to destination for millennials and Gen-Z in search of unique experiences and goods. Since 1998, when the company launched their e-commerce platform, Fortnum’s has reached people all over the world and it’s intended to continue to do so.  

With multiple locations around London and a newly opened outpost at The Royal Exchange that includes a store and a restaurant, Fortnum’s is set to launch its first location outside the UK in Hong Kong  at K11 MUSEA cultural and retail complex at Victoria Dockside, Tsim Sha Tsui.

Ahead of the grand opening this November, we sit down with Fortnum’s CEO Ewan Venters, who has been at the helm of the company since 2012 and has been driving its evolution and success into the digital era, to talk Hong Kong and Fortnum’s presence in the city. 

Fortnum’s CEO Ewan Venters

Can you tell us something about the new Fortnum and Mason in Hong Kong and what can we expect from it?

It is a very exciting project, located at the K11 Musea on the waterfront. It consists of two floors, the first floor is dedicated to the home of retail with a fantastic array of some of the products we are most famous for, such as hampers and biscuits. We will be introducing to our Asian market a range of wines, champagnes, and spirits, as well as Fortnum’s famous smoked salmon.

The upper floor is dedicated to a restaurant, where you can have lunch, tea, dinner, or just a cocktail. The restaurant will celebrate some of the finest dishes Fortnum’s is famous for. Fortnum’s will provide a whole new destination in Hong Kong for exquisite food on the waterfront, presented in a beautiful way with the great atmosphere that we are famous for.

Why did you pick Hong Kong and K11 in particular? 

We have always had a long association with trading across the world and with Asia in particular, through our online digital business, we started trading with Japan almost 50 years ago, and have been building a relationship here in Hong Kong with Lane Crawford for the last four years. Through this relationship, we have been able to build a loyal customer base in this great city. We always felt that if the customers of Hong Kong, both the residents and visitors, felt a connection with Fortnum’s through our Lane Crawford partnership, then we would seek to open our own store and restaurant.

Then we had the daunting task of looking for the right property. It was challenging with Hong Kong being one of the most expensive cities in the world for real estate and finding an area that works for both local people as well as visitors. We were thrilled to be invited by Adrian Cheng and New World to look at the development of K11 Musea, and we just fell in love with the ambition of the project. I think K11 Musea in Hong Kong represents perhaps one of the most ambitious retail projects in the world today.

Some of Fortnum's iconic products

You have been at helm of Fortnum & Mason for seven years, how has it been throughout these years and how do you think it has evolved?

Well, seven years feels like seven months, it has gone so fast. It is an extraordinary honour and privilege to lead a business like Fortnum & Mason. It is so much more than just the business, it is an institution, it is part of British life, specifically London life. What has changed dramatically in the past seven years, has been repositioning Fortnum’s as the go-to destination for people with discerning tastes, and interests in quality, authenticity, and exquisiteness. We have become more relevant in the UK. For example, today, 60% of our trade in the UK at Piccadilly, comes from UK-based consumers.

I am a passionate believer that is very important for international customers who come and travel to the UK. Very often when I am on the shop floor, the most popular question I get asked is “does the queen really shop here” and my response is “you know, you just missed her by five minutes, she’s just left”

How does the Brand stay so relevant for millennials and future generations?

For the younger customer base, gen-Z in particular, they are more careful about how they spend their money. The practice of buying stuff for the sake of buying is over. gen-Z is telling me that they still want to spend money, but on things that they know are being produced beautifully and have a sustainable story and a real authenticity. The younger client base is absolutely wanting to connect with brands that respect how they go about sourcing, selling, presenting, as well as how they treat people in the supply chain. I think Fortnum’s DNA is rich in respect to how products are produced, manufactured, and brought to the market. Although we have 311 years of history, we are still very much looking to the future at all times. We were one of the very first adopters of online trading, starting to trade in 1998 and now 18% of our sales today are transacted online.

Fortnum & Mason is such an iconic establishment in London. Being much more than a shop, it represents an aesthetic and a feeling. Do you think it has the potential to be the same in Hong Kong or something different? 

Ultimately, the flagship of the business is in Piccadilly in London, and there is only ever one flagship, but what we believe we will achieve here in Hong Kong is a new destination in Asia. The curious locals, travellers, and visitors that come through Hong Kong will experience a new destination and a new representation of Fortnum’s. There will be lots of nods to the past, a lot of English eccentricities that you will see in the design of the store and restaurant. It will hopefully make people smile and make them feel a deep sense of pleasure and happiness to be in and around our business. It will help promote the idea of shopping online and going to visit the flagship store in Piccadilly, but also it will allow a whole new audience to experience the brand in a way that they haven’t been able to do so before.

Did you create any exclusive products for Hong Kong, or are you planning to create something that includes Chinese local products? 

There will absolutely be an element of localisation. We will be launching moon cakes at Fortnum’s, which we have never had before, so that’s exciting. In every location, we always have a dedicated tea blend and tea caddy, and of course, through the restaurant, there will be a number of dishes that will be respectful and appropriate to the local environment. At the heart of who we are, is the celebration of tea, biscuits, preserves, and all of those familiar favourites will be very firmly part of it.

Fortnum's is well-known and celebrated for its extensive range of preserves

What is your relationship with social media, and how important do you think it is with a brand like Fortnum & Mason, and for you as the CEO to have a digital presence?

Social media is very important. I think it is very important as the CEO to be engaged. It is what I call the “modern day” shop floor. In a traditional sense of retail and restaurants, any good leader spends time on the floor, talking to customers, clients, and patrons of the business, so why wouldn’t you do the equivalent of that in the social media space? That’s why I view the digital element as a hugely important element to communicate, discuss and to be transparent about why we are in business. I have been in Hong Kong for a couple of days, and I posted the images of the new site, where we are going to be opening, and immediately I got great engagement from across the world showing how excited people are. We also have had copious demands of people saying “where next” and “can you come to Shanghai, Sydney, Melbourne.”

No promises of where we are going next, or if at all, but social media does play a really important part of that narrative.

What can we expect from the brand in the future?

You can be reassured that we will continue to put prioritise our relentless attention to detail, whether it is the product quality, how we source, design of our packaging, the thoughtfulness of our packaging (how it is produced, how it is made, its recyclability, its reusability) and a love of discovery, which is what Fortnum’s has always done

In this Story: #culture / dining