Retailwire: Europe’s Food Halls Coming to America
By Bernice Hurst, Managing Director, Fine Food Network
[Editor’s Note: Through a special arrangement, here is an excerpt from one of RetailWire’s online discussions, along with the results from RetailWire.com’s instant poll. US-based RetailWire.com presents the latest industry news and issues with key insights from a “BrainTrust” of retail industry experts.]
Although it is 300 years since Fortnum & Mason first opened in London, the notion of a food hall is far from dated, in England at least. The store recently increased not only the floor space devoted to food, but also the number of restaurants. Whole Foods Market’s recently opened flagship emporium as well as department store John Lewis’s new food hall in the basement of its Oxford Street branch are the latest additions. Targeting local residents as well as commuters and tourists, they all stock basics plus a tantalising range of prepared foods, cheeses and anything else that a hungry shopper could possibly want.
Central London has a huge range of places for those who want either instant gratification, something quick to reheat, or the wherewithal to cook a banquet. Unlike supermarkets that may abide by the “stack it high, sell it cheap” philosophy of food retailing, food halls concentrate on presentation and mood as much as anything else. It’s almost taken as read that the people who shop there can, and will, be emotionally engaged. Customers are catered for in every sense of the word. It is the experience that counts, not just what people buy.
With only 1,500 square metres (17,000 square feet) of selling space, John Lewis’s food hall is slightly smaller than the average high-street supermarket but will employ 180 staff. Andy Street, the department store’s managing director, told the Guardian that the new addition was “inspired by the great food halls of the world” and that the concept will be introduced to other branches in future.
Fortnum & Mason demonstrates their dedication to service by having their staff wear tailcoats, although managing director, Beverley Aspinall, insists you don’t have to be posh to shop there. She believes that the current interest in food will support the changes she has made and revive what have been lagging fortunes for the past few years.
Whether food halls are aimed at upscale shoppers or not, plans are afoot for American incursions. Fortnum & Mason plans to establish a US subsidiary as does Italian specialist retailer, Eataly. Opened by Oscar Farinetti in Turin earlier this year, the store’s goal is described in the New York Times as a way of making “high-quality Italian food available to everyone, at sustainable prices and in an informal environment where they can shop, taste and learn.” Again, atmosphere as well as products will take top place in the branch planned for West 48th Street in Manhattan, due to open next spring.
Discussion questions: Do you think European-style food halls, such as the one planned by Fortnum & Mason, offer an opportunity to bring a unique luxury approach to selling high-quality food in America? Or have US department stores (e.g., Macy’s) and supermarkets (e.g., Whole Foods) already tapped this approach thoroughly?
Fortnum & Mason’s unique retail platform will almost certainly be successful in the US market. While skewing more high-end than Whole Foods, so long as the concept fulfills its mission of making great food accessible to everyone—and does so in a genuine, authentic manner, the forthcoming Manhattan location will be a success. Americans continue to embrace and support experiential, expressive brands, and Fortnum & Mason are leaders in this form of retail execution.
Jeff Hall, President, Second To None, Inc.
Europe’s food halls will do well in the United States and will not take business away from existing channels. The sales will be incremental. Bring it on.
David Biernbaum, Senior Marketing and Business Development Consultant, David Biernbaum Associates
The food hall is not necessarily a new idea here. We have had similar, albeit more modest, “halls” in America in the past as well as a host of Farmer’s Markets of many dimensions. We are a nation whose new generations of consumers want new, different venues and ideas. The Fortnum and Mason-type Food Hall (also Harrod’s) should appeal to the shopping thirst of large segment of today’s Americana. They will add interest to food shopping. Bring ’em on.
Gene Hoffman, President, Corporate Strategies International
Fortnum & Mason is a wonderful brand, but with very little penetration in the emancipated world. No royals or royal seals of approval here. We seek out their marmalades every time we’re in London, but tailcoated service people in what we call food courts (not food halls) would be subjects of derision here. Nordstrom installed grand pianos in their stores and they look great, but as a regular shopper there, I’ve only heard their ivories being tickled near Christmas. Much too pretentious any other time of the year. In this part of the world, snooty/stuffy sells well only in the Elite East and on Rodeo Drive. The rest of us are far too plebeian.
M. Jericho Banks, PhD, Partner-Owner, Select Marketing LLC
I think there are really two questions here: 1) will the few halls that open up here be successful, and 2) will there be many of them; the answer to #1 is yes, to #2 no.
At the risk of reducing this to one of those “Europeans are different” clichés, food halls do well in Europe where the conditions are right (a wealthy population living close-in to the store), and would probably do well in the United States/Canada when the situation is similar (i.e., Midtown Manhattan). Would it be department stores that feature them? Well, Philadelphia had one in Strawbridges (it would have been 20 years old next month) and Macy’s—in its infinite wisdom—closed it (along with the store).
Anytime I’ve gone food shopping in Europe, I’ve spent way too much time basking in the joy of it, knowing that trying to replicate the experience in the United States would be futile. I dream of Harrod’s restaurants and endless food shopping options from raw to cooked in particular. Whole Foods, and concepts such as Eatzi’s in Dallas, have touched on the potential here; however, luxury food shopping in the United States is still the land of opportunity if you ask me.
Carol Spieckerman, President, newmarketbuilders
I was enthralled the first time I saw Harrod’s Food Hall, and I can only think that anything that duplicates that experience here will eventually be a major hit if it starts out accessible to folks who care enough to pay for quality now, then adds boatloads of sampling and to educate folks who are at first price-resistant, as they learn the difference between real food and that corn-based swill that so often passes for same in the center aisles of the Midwestern supermarket.
I can’t wait!
Mary Baum, Chairman, Mary Baum Creative Services
Food halls run by high-end European retailers will probably fail in the United States. Although Manhattan may be seen as a great location for such an upscale concept, profits won’t be visible. Rents in Manhattan are extremely high, and food shoppers won’t transport large purchases. Rich folks in Manhattan eat in restaurants. Home delivery is also astronomical, and once again, rich folks in Manhattan eat in restaurants. Did I mention that rich folks in Manhattan eat in restaurants?
Mark Lilien, Consultant, Retail Technology Group