Transforming London’s poshest grocer

Seen by some as fusty, just for tourists, Christmas gifts or the elite, Fortnum & Mason presented some serious challenges for Customer Experience Director Zia Zareem-Slade. She tells CR how she set about updating one of the UK’s oldest and best-known brands

Fortnum & Mason in London is 310 years old. A heritage of this kind is a wonderful thing: proof that a brand can survive the constant buffeting winds of change to remain relevant for generation after generation. But longevity can also be dangerous. Customers may grow complacent, and presume that you’ll always be there even if they themselves don’t actually buy anything from you. It can also lead to a certain fustiness, with the brand appearing old-fashioned in comparison to the new, trendy operations on the block. Throw in the royal patronage that Fortnum’s has, and the way in which it has become a focus for anti-austerity and other protesters, and the latter problem increases in spades.

It is these challenges that Fortnum’s has been directly addressing in the last few years, since Ewan Venters joined the company as CEO and brought in Zia Zareem-Slade as Customer Experience Director. From the outset, the duo wanted to tackle certain perceptions that had settled on the brand and stuck.

Fortnum and mason interiors
Maggi Hambling’s Mirror Bar painting in-storepart of the Fortnum’s X Frank show

“Fortnum’s is a prestigious, well-established brand but when you started talking to customers, they were like ‘love Fortnum’s, come there once a year for shortbread for my granny’,” says Zareem-Slade. “People assume we’re just for Christmas. So that’s a real challenge, to grow a business and change that perception. Then there were other people that were like ‘love Fortnum’s but it’s not really for me, it’s for the tourists’. There was a big perception that it was full of tourists and it was this stalwart of Britishness.