maille - Curating luxury

Three brand stories in a short walk down Piccadilly

I went to tea at the Ritz last week, for the first time ever. The catalyst for this outing was a birthday request from my daughter, who asked, some time ago, if we could go there as a family for her “big” birthday present.

As well as being an amazing experience, complete with great service and high quality people watching, the researcher/marketer in me was fascinated on a number of levels. Conceptually, the “Tea at the Ritz” brand appears to be in robust shape, resonating as it did down the generations to my 12 year old from her grandparents (to prompt the event in the first place), and the evidence of a packed restaurant and our need to book 2 months in advance to secure a table for five. Useful tip: arrive hungry, as they do try very hard to feed you very well for the £50 a head fixed price.

On our way there we visited Fortnum & Mason, whose ground floor has been transformed by the current management over the past decade into a temple to food-oriented gifting. Despite the throng of tourists, the sales floor feels calm and friendly, and the extraordinarily neat and colour-coordinated shelf displays.

Both of these venerable luxury brands have had to reorient themselves significantly for the 21st Century, employing some of the trends we have discussed in our 2015 Consumer Trends Report, such as Sensory (the hushed club-like feel of Fortnums; the unexpected weight of the silver teapot and strainer). Both now successfully convey a feeling of Upgrade (posh biscuits for Father’s Day; the most expensive afternoon tea ever, but a unique and resonant experience) to a healthy mix of Brits and foreigners, based on our short observation.

In between these two icons of British luxury, we stopped by the Maille mustard shop. Sitting at the north end of the ornate Piccadilly arcade, the shop window gives off the impression of a jewellers. Inside, the traditional mustard dispensing taps sit alongside an extraordinary array of flavoured mustards: thai spices, curry, blackcurrant liqueur, walnuts, and mango, to name a few, echoing the trend of Fusion.

The retail venture is a relatively recent development for Maille in the UK. The brand has been around since the 18th century, and is now owned by Unilever. The shop has been open about 18 months. Unlike the products from Fortnums and the Ritz, you can buy Maille in your local supermarket (£1.49 for 210g pot in Tesco).

How did a supermarket mustard come to be in a luxury storefront in Piccadilly? After a few confused moments wandering around the store, the penny dropped for me: through this seemingly indulgent setting, Maille are communicating their respect for themselves, and for their heritage. The fact that they care about themselves, and that I can now understand why, gives me an additional reason to pay my £1.49, as opposed to the Tesco own label Dijon mustard at half the price.

Author: Richard Halstead