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Jamie Waugh - Fortnum & Mason

Fortnum & Mason
Written by Gin Foundry

Ever wondered whose job it is to pick the gins you see on the shelves of stores and supermarkets? Why one gin is picked over another and what the criteria for selection really is? We decided to take a snoop behind the usually closed doors of spirits buyers and meet those responsible for their store’s offerings. First up in the hot seat is Jamie Waugh, head buyer for the iconic British retailer, Fortnum & Mason.

Gin Foundry - Hi Jamie, thank you for talking to us. How long have you been a spirits buyer and how did you get into it?

Jamie Waugh - I have been the Wine and Spirits Buyer for the past 3 years. I started off selling wine but working for a business like Fortnums opens you up to the wonderful world of wine and spirits.

Each retailer has its identity and you clearly need to know your consumers to ensure you are tailoring your offering to their tastes. Fortnum & Masons has a huge amount of heritage and such a very clear brand identity as a store - Do you feel like it has a very specific consumer to cater for when it comes to Gin?

I believe there is a lot of synergy with Fortnums and Gin. We were founded in 1707, and so have been retailing since the era of some very disreputable gin production, and now, 300 years on, are enjoying the fruits of the explosion in interest in a very English product.

We focused on gin for the opening of our new Spirits department in November 2014 with a selection of 60 gins, and, over this Christmas, we increased our offering to 100 gins. From the Margaret River to the Mosel to Cambridgshire.

Things are constantly evolving to keep up with trends, but do you have a constant goal for what you’d like the Gin selection to be?

Working with established producers and always having a keen eye for newness. We want to offer our customers a category that embraces all the wonderful styles now available.

You have had a lot of really exciting exclusive releases over the past 18 months. Are you going to continue with these collaborations - what can gin fans expect in the future?

The launch of Dodds Gin at Fortnum’s was highly successful and as a result we are now approached by many producers starting up. We have now launched Strathearn, Shortcross, Warner Edwards Rhubarb Gin, Edgerton Blue, and in February next year we will be launching a small cask of Shortcross Gin. Moreover we now release a Dodds special cask in April every year.

As premium wine and spirits retailers, you must be in huge demand with gins battling it out to make it onto your shelves. It’s a big coup for any producer to have you listed as a stockist. What two things do you look for most when considering taking a new brand on?

Quality and Distinctiveness.

And what’s the one piece of advice you would give to new brands getting onto the market now and looking for a place on your shelf?

The gin needs to have a strong identity, a point of difference, and a fair price. Fundamentally it must taste good.

So much of the initial consumer decisions are based on packaging design and price point rather than on taste (obviously, this changes on repeat purchase). In your opinion which brands are getting it right at the moment?

Tanqueray is the benchmark, but we believe that Dodds, Edgerton, Cotswold and a really new exciting gin from Yorkshire: Whittaker’s Gin (new from November) hit the mark. I am biased but I also believe the Fortnum’s Gin delivers.

They are all strong brands indeed. Gin’s enjoyed a prolonged renaissance over the past 5 years, do you think that the category will contract over the next 18 months?

I believe there is huge scope for growth in the gin category. Gin is of course a product of the Netherlands but Britain has developed and now own the London Dry style and there is immense opportunity for export abroad similar to Scotch. English heritage, history and quality and provenance count and I firmly believe that we are at a cusp of global growth. Fever-Tree, Fentimans and many other brands have helped enormously in improving the serve too, and this can only help increase awareness.