Your job sounds like a dream role – what does it entail?
In essence, my role is designing everything to do with hampers, so curating the range and how many options we have, but most importantly, it’s choosing the filling and trying to give each hamper a unique DNA and personality. I’m always trying to think of the end recipient – what would they really love to open? That’s my favourite part of the job. And on a daily basis, it can be really varied. A lot of my work is looking into future researching trends and what I think people are going to be wanting to gift each other. I’m so lucky because I get to work closely with all the buyers and see all these amazing products that they’ve got coming. Obviously, the part of my job that people are probably most jealous of is the tastings I get to do! But something that people might not expect is that my colleague Georgia and I actually test every single product. We build a hamper as if we were a customer – it then gets sent to us, and I’ll open it and see what the experience is like. I’ll then instruct the warehouse to change a few things based on my experience. Throughout COVID they’ve been sent to our house – I think at one point I had about 30 wicker hampers in my studio flat! But it’s because we want to make sure the experience is as close to perfect as possible. Each one tells a story. I’m passionate about giving my friends and loved ones presents, so to be part of that, for so many people, it’s a real privilege.
Many people would associate hampers with Christmastime, but they are available throughout the year. How many do Fortnum’s stock and how regularly are these updated?
At any one time you can go onto the Fortnum’s website and find between 60 to 75 options across gift boxes and hampers – and that is across food hampers and wine hampers as well. And I would say that, especially in the spring-summer time, you’ve probably got a new addition every six to eight weeks because you’ll have something for spring, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s, etc. So roughly every six weeks you will find something brand new and exciting for every occasion.
Has Fortnum’s always done hampers?
Yes, since the very beginning. They’ve been on Everest expeditions, and I think they sent them to the pyramids when they were excavating them! We’ve always had them, but in recent years what we’ve been trying to go for are things like weddings, thank you gifts, thinking of you gifts, etc. We’re trying to get in the mindset of that person – what are the occasions that you want to buy a hamper for? – and then making sure we have the perfect option. It takes the stress out of buying presents.
What are you personally most excited about this year in terms of hampers and new items?
What I’m really excited about is the new options we’ve put out: The Magic of Christmas and The Fortnum’s Christmas Collection Hampers. The Fortnum’s Christmas Collection, especially, at £150 is such a great item. It’s a beautiful Huntsman wicker, which is the one with the flaps that open at the top and has a lovely handle. We’ve never done a Christmas option in that style before – it’s such a giftable piece and at £150 is pretty reasonable. It’s full of hero products; it already seems to be very popular and is such a wonderful gift to turn up at someone’s house with, so I’m excited about that. In terms of components, I think one of the best things we have are the little pre-mixed cocktails. They’re incredible. We have one gift box that comes with two elegant glasses, so even taking hampers out of the question, I think they are such a good gift. You just put them in the freezer for 20 minutes and they’re ready to serve. They’re delicious.
What would you recommend as a great all-rounder hamper?
There’s one that’s an absolute failsafe. It is our best seller every single year and it’s called The Classic Christmas Hamper. It’s £185 and it’s brilliant because you get two bottles of wine, a bottle of Champagne and then really iconic hero items. And it comes in our most versatile-style wicker, which people love to have around the house afterwards. Even more accessible than that I’d say is the Christmas Treat at £100. That is a perfect hamper because, again, it’s got all the iconic Christmas lines in it. And then if you didn’t want something Christmassy, I would go for the Grosvenor Hamper as an all-year-round gift. It’s got our bestsellers across the categories, so you’ve got our best biscuit, which is the pistachio, our best tea, which is the Royal Blend, and it’s got two beautiful wines in there and some caramel. It’s really varied.
What are other more accessible gifting options?
Our gift boxes try to home in on something special, such as tea or wine, whereas the components of the wicker hampers are far broader across all categories. We have The Festivi-Tea Gift Box, which costs £50. We also have a variety of chocolate gift boxes for around £70 to £80, so we do offer a lot for under £100.
And what about if you’re pulling out all the stops and want to blow the budget?
Well, we have The Imperial Hamper, which is £6,000, and you get a suite of wicker hampers – I don’t know who has a big-enough house to fit this! It is an absolute event. You not only get two wickers full of absolutely stunning food, but you also get a wicker that is full of beautifully curated alcohols, limited-edition bottles and amazing pieces from some of our partners. Then you have a whole tea set and you also have everything you need for a picnic – so it’s not just about Christmas, it’s things that will set you up for the whole year. And one I’m really excited about, which is brand-new for this year, is our Whisky Collector’s Hamper, which retails at £500. We’re very passionate about our whisky category and have an amazing spirits buyer, Oscar, who has curated a really gorgeous hamper, which is perfect for anyone who’s passionate about whisky.
Fortnum’s offers a great ‘free from’ range. Can you recommend some such hampers that cater to different dietary requirements?
We are trying to bring more of our ‘free from’ range to the forefront. We have our Yuletide Hamper, which is £150 and is completely vegan-friendly. And we also have our Wine Merchant’s Hamper, which is £175 and that is all vegan wine. Actually, a huge proportion of our wines are vegan. Then we have The Joy of Christmas Hamper, which is made without wheat. Something that’s becoming increasingly important that people are looking for is completely dry hampers, so completely without alcohol, even in the ingredients in the food. In that case, The Fortnum’s Christmas Collection and For the Love of Tea are two really good examples where there is not a drop of alcohol, even in the ingredients. We’ve always been passionate about having products that are ‘free from’, but this year, you’ll see a lot more options available.
Obviously, people love the wicker baskets, almost as much as they love the filling! Can you recommend unique and interesting ways to use the hampers afterwards?
I have four in my house already, including one that I use to store my dog’s toys – he can even open it himself! My mum and dad use it to put all their shoes in in the hallway. They’re fantastic for storing linens and stuff in your bedroom. Also, books; that’s always a great option. One of my friends actually uses it to store alcohol in her kitchen. You could even use them as planters – I’ve seen people put pots in them and get really creative. And you will have these for years. They’re sturdy and are amazing for home storage.
Make sure to place your order soon at fortnumandmason.com and pop into The Royal Exchange boutique to buy in-store and explore your options.