Innovative Retailer: Biscuiteers

The Name: Biscuiteers

The Place: Well, the Biscuit Boutique and Icing Cafés are in Notting Hill and Belgravia and the main icing factory is Wimbledon so I think we will say its heart is in London although online is the main and original sales channel so technically everywhere.

The Story: If you had to pick a sector that would do well during, and into post-Covid-19, it would have to be the gifting industry. Whether it was people self-rewarding for seeing it all through or people wanting to send presents to people that they were not able to see in person, the whole nation needed a treat. We all got very excited about letterbox hampers and DIY kits to while away the many, many, many hours of staying indoors. This also led to Biscuiteers’ ice-olation online tutorials.

Harriet Hastings, founder, Biscuiteers

Ah, the virus that launched a thousand puns: And even now that the pandemic appears to be behind us, that trend towards showing you care, whether from corporates or private individuals, has not completely receded. Neither has the British liking for funny and quirky gifts done to a quite ridiculously high standard. Taken altogether with alternative revenue streams such as the cafes and icing classes and this all means that Biscuiteers is in a very sweet spot.

But did it start during Covid? Indeed no. It was founded by one Harriet Hastings way back in 2007 as an online-only concern after the birth of her fourth child when she decided to give developing her own business a go. Because, you know, she just wasn’t busy enough for her liking!

Crikey: Yup, she is on record as saying to the Financial Times: “With four kids and a big job, I was looking to take control of my own time.”

If I had four children I wouldn’t know what time it was – ever: She’s made of stern stuff is Harriet. But she had noticed a gap in the present-buying market for something really special and her husband ran a commercial kitchen so she had a ready-made playground for testing and a lot of her previous PR nous went into positioning her brand absolutely correctly. Guess what she spent most money on?

Factory? Nope.

Icing sugar? Nope.

Cookie cutters? You’re being daft. It went on packaging, my dear. And I think we can all appreciate the wisdom of that move now with turnover in the many millions. It doesn’t matter how nice it tastes, people, if the box is no good then no-one will pick it up in the first place.  That’s a life lesson right there.

Interior of a Biscuit Boutique

And who did pick up the pretty boxes first? Clearly, gifting is a female thing in the main. And at the premium prices charged by Biscuiteers it was always going to be an affluent demographic. The good thing though is that consumers have a wide range of entry points – from the full hamper to the single affordable biscuit – and all beautifully presented. But it really was a roaring success from the beginning and after only six months the company had to find bigger premises. That’s reflected in the retail stores that picked it up too.

Do tell? Selfridges Food Hall after only a couple of months. I’ve spotted them many a time in Fortnum & Mason. Also, Harrods, The Savoy, Waitrose sometimes, and The Conran Shop to name but a few wholesale partners.

Right, let’s get down to basics. What sort of biscuits? Gingerbread, vanilla, lemon and chocolate. Baked on-site by hand every day. Guess how many a day?

Oh just tell me: 12,500 per day. Yes, it’s around three million of the things every year. And every single one is hand-iced. Biscuiteers employs a lot of very artistic people down at its purpose-built headquarters in Wimbledon. Otherwise known as the Grand Icing Hall at the Ministry of Biscuits. Also containing the Department of Dough, Biscuit Post Office, and Biscuit Happiness department.

Blimey: The original online gifting channel is still by far the biggest source of revenue accounting for 70% of turnover. And part of its charm is how it plugs directly into some of the best-loved institutions in Britain. Whether it is the best-selling Beatrix Potter collection, the Monarchy or the Paddington Bear series the witty and too-dinky-for-words biscuits appeal to the child within everyone. And impressively the business is a 50/50 split between repeat and new customers.

The Platinum Collection

What’s new in the world of biscuits now that the Covid-19 surge in letter-box deliveries is down a bit? Well, the US is a big new export market opening up with a new website and high hopes. And there is a new app due this autumn, which makes the ordering process even easier. But there are no immediate plans for any more cafes if that’s what you mean.

Yes, do tell me about the Biscuit Boutiques: This is what you might call the public division of Biscuiteers with a mission to extend the word-of-mouth interest and provide super-duper marketing for the brand. In 2012 the company opened the Notting Hill Icing Café. Here one can learn to ice like a Biscuiteer at the School of Icing (two hours of icing expertise for £90 pp), hold a children’s party, or an adult one for that matter. They also operate as normal cafes – and offer Afternoon Tea. Oh, and they are shops too where a good chunk of the range is always on offer. Notting Hill was joined by the Belgravia outlet a while later.

The market for collabs must be enormous: Oh it is. A previous collection done with Vogue and the National Gallery to celebrate 100 years of the publication really created a big buzz and there are no end of potential partners. Last Mother’s Day it was the turn of ceramicist Emma Bridgewater’s designs to be immortalized in gingerbread.

Surely the ultimate accolade: Although Biscuiteers does not do straightforward white-label (you always know it is a Biscuiteers biscuit – they haven’t spent this long building up brand awareness to throw it away now) the corporate business side of B2B is truly a huge opportunity and it will continue to do multiple bespoke packaging and designs through that channel.

Steady hand required: A biscuiteer at work

What if biscuits don’t always fulfil every need known to man?  Firstly, nonsense of course they will. Secondly, biscuits are definitely the gift that keeps on giving. It’s a blank canvas and as such there are so many iterations – Biscuiteers will sell you personalised hampers of dog biscuits, vegan biscuits, DIY kits of plain biscuits for you to decorate at home, as well as the large range of seasonal (watch out for Hallowe’en) delicacies.

But for arguments sake… Sigh. OK, there is already diversification within the brand. Macarons are a thing for example. And they also do shortbread and iced chocs. Plus there is an own brand Prosecco and cocktail range. And at Christmas mince pies, puddings and cakes. So there. Oh and they publish books too.

Would you agree that it’s a bit reminiscent of Anya Hindmarch bags but with biscuits. No, not really.