Europe’s Food Halls Coming to America
By Bernice Hurst, Managing Director, Fine Food Network
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 tantalizing 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.
|Fortnum & Mason’s food hall; photo courtesy of F&M|
With only 1,500 square meters (17,000 square feet) of selling space, John Lewis’ 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 U.S. 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 U.S. department stores (e.g. Macy’s) and supermarkets (e.g. Whole Foods) already tapped this approach thoroughly?
- John Lewis opens Oxford St foodies’ food hall – Guardian
- First lady of the royal grocer – Observer
- Spacious Food Bazaar in Turin Plans Manhattan Branch – The New York Times