Fortnum's products

The Story of Fortnum's Packaging

As we celebrate your upcycling talents with our Long Love #Fortnums campaign, we take a look back at how reuse has long been at the heart of Fortnum’s

When you’ve bought something from Fortnum’s, it’s never just about the eating or drinking of it – despite how frenzied its delicious contents may ultimately make you – but also the pleasure of unwrapping, unpacking, unfolding, untying or lifting the lid.

You might spend some time just staring, and even find yourself entertained. Take our Merry-Go-Round Biscuit Tin that spins and sings, for example, or our Chocolate Library, each bar wrapped up in its own story. Then there’s the inside of our Handmade English Chocolate boxes, their hand-painted pastoral woodland scenes designed by actual wallpaper artists.

Our packaging has even been known to be helpful. Since the sharing of confectionery – especially confectionery as extraordinarily good as Fortnum’s – can sometimes be a contentious affair, on occasion we’ve provided instruments to ensure that portions are measured out accurately and fairly.

We could go on – and we often do amongst ourselves, as you can imagine. But the care and attention to detail that goes into making our packaging so beautiful and surprising means that many of our customers find that they cannot bring it upon themselves to throw it away, when the time would usually come. Instead, it remains part of people’s lives long after its contents have been devoured.

Toffolossus tin
Handmade chocolate lids
Chocolate library

With designs that draw on our rich visual archives, ornately decorated tea caddies find themselves born again as plant pots and biscuit tins as clocks. Hampers, meanwhile, become home for dirty wellies, or as storage for books, linens, and toys. When it comes to Fortnum & Mason, to misquote Tom Parker Bowles in Christmas & Other Winter Feasts, ‘Waste not, want not never looked so good.’

In fact, the business of Fortnum & Mason itself was built upon the reuse of a waste product. The insistence of Queen Anne’s household on fresh candles every night spelled a legitimate perk for an enterprising footman named William Fortnum: spare palace wax to melt down into new candles, and sell on. By 1707 – centuries before anyone had uttered the word ‘upcycling’ – Mr Fortnum had made sufficient profit to leave royal service and start a business with his landlord Hugh Mason.

It took many years, however, before our obsession with beautiful packaging really took hold. In the early days of Fortnum’s, in fact, nothing was packaged at all. Butlers and housekeepers would queue outside our store to refill wax paper bags with tea and pottery jars with Stilton and marmalade, before stocking up their kitchen pantries and returning the containers to Fortnum’s once again. And while it might seem inconceivable that anyone wouldn’t be fussed about possessing a wonderfully-woven, beautifully-buckled, F&M-emblazoned wicker, the same went for hampers – you bought the contents, but the baskets themselves were simply the vessel.

Wine Catalogue
Edward Bawden
Victorian picnic

This slowly began to change in the 1840s, when we were proudly one of the first shops in the city to install large casement window panes, an innovation that ensured all of our wares had to look appealing while on display beneath a raft of gas lights. This rather-modern way of doing things began to shake social norms to their core: by introducing curious Piccadilly passers-by to the concept of ‘window shopping’ we began to draw in the masters and mistresses of the households themselves, rather than simply their servants.

By the Edwardian era, hampers themselves were becoming desirable too, and people began to keep and reuse them, and upload photos of them to Instagram (wait, perhaps we’re getting ahead of ourselves…)

Our new efforts with our appearance paid off rather spectacularly for one prisoner of war in Singapore during the Second World War. In the 1930s, we created a wine catalogue for the Coronation of George VI, which was covered in what looks like parchment emblazoned with a Royal coat of arms. One of our customers managed to keep a copy hidden during his incarceration; after the prison was liberated in 1941, the catalogue proved so impressive-looking that he managed to use it as a diplomatic passport to ensure an early release.

Lovely-looking as they are, our modern brochures probably shouldn’t be relied on in the face of wartime conflict, although they can be a real help when it comes to navigating fraught dinner parties and difficult-to-buy-for relatives. But you get the idea. The imagination is a powerful thing. And so Long Love #Fortnums exists as a celebration of your creativity, talent, and ability to re-use and re-love our packaging – whether it’s for negotiating a swift exit visa or creating something beautiful for your mantlepiece.

Win a Hamper!

Find out more about Long Love #Fortnums and how enter our competition