Over the last ten years or so an increasingly standardised format and logo have gradually evolved, using Fortnum & Mason’s classic corporate of Eau de Nil and Burgundy, a single typeface in upper case, and the celebrated clockface so long associated with their trading activities. Marketing manager Yvonne Isherwood is in no doubt about the significance of the firm’s label.

‘Many of our customers come here looking specifically for a gift with our label on it,’ she explained. ‘Of course we’re talking here mainly about our ground floor food hall produce, which is about 74 per cent own-label. People expect a certain house style to be shown on what they buy, and to know that the package and labelling will demonstrate the quality and service associated with the store.

‘Therefore, we’re very conscious of the fact that while not being able to stand still in the way we present our goods via the labelling, we have to keep in mind the feeling of a long tradition. New visual ideas tend to be introduced more gradually than may be the case with the mass market outlets.’

As a result of these considerations, Fortnum & Mason labels employ simple, clean and classic logo and lettering lines as standard, but with each retail food area having its own particular emphasis.

Confectionery, biscuits and jams thus tend towards more floral designs than the plainly-stated Stilton cheeses. Some marmalades, such as blood orange or grapefruit for example, are colourfully illustrated with pictures of the fruit and its foliage, but all below the standard F & M masthead.

‘We don’t have an in-house design team of our own,’ said Yvonne. ‘We work via a management committee responsible for deciding the general approach required for a new label. When we’re sure of what we require in terms of general approach we contact the people who will translate what we’ve asked for into specific designs. This means one of the several graphic design studios who do work for us when needed. We supply them, on computer disk, with all the information with regard to the general design parameters, plus all the technical information to be included on the label. They then send alternative designs back to us for final choice.

Once the resultant design has been decided upon by the F & M committee, the next step is for the designer to deliver the finished artwork and necessary software to the product suppliers, who are themselves responsible for choosing the label makers and attaching the labels to the individual items before delivery to the Piccadilly store.

One recent design was for a new product to be known as ‘The King of Oudh’s Sauce.’ An F & M client designer submitted several proposals, the final choice being one which created a generalised mood of the tropics.

We tend to keep to fairly simple printing techniques,’ said Yvonne Isherwood. ‘Finishes such as embossing are usually employed only on our biggest-selling lines, such as some of our biscuit products. Some are foil-blocked as well, but the cost of those two methods means that we have to restrict their use. It also helps that our product suppliers use their own customary printers, because being a single store means we clearly don’t have the purchasing power to the large multiples or of the producers themselves.’

New EU regulations have to be constantly monitored, of course, and necessary additions or amendments made to the labels. Any information to satisfy those requirements tends to be incorporated within the label design rather than hidden away on the product base or on multiple peel-off labels.

‘With so many of our customers coming from Europe these days,’ continued Yvonne, ‘we’ve increasingly used the French and German languages, as well as English, on many product labels.’

‘So far as bar-coding for sales information and stock control is concerned, we’re gradually introducing it as a matter of policy on a store-wide basis. It’s a little difficult at the moment to say with complete accuracy how far we’ve gone on this, but I’d say that the majority of our own-label groceries and wines are now bar-coded. The information goes straight from our sales points to our stock room here in the building. This enables us to contact our suppliers for new orders when they become necessary.

‘In short, we’ve gone a long way in the past few years to introducing a much more satisfactory stocking system by the use of bar-code.

‘So, labels of all types are very significant to us here. That’s why we give them so much attention.’

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