Feature: Harrods Taste Revolution. Alex Dower Interview.

Posted on: December 1st, 2017 by sysadmin

Alex Dower, Director of Food and Restaurants at Harrods Interview, Vision and Practice of The Harrods Taste Revolution. Interview took place at Harrods during November 2017.

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The core of the vision for the Taste Revolution is for Harrods to start leading again as a food business.  Should you look back into the history of Harrods, the business has always had an innovative, pioneering and leadership role to play and we want to re-emphasise these roles in the present day.  For example, Harrods was the first to innovate air cooling for produce; employed chefs to work in the department store kitchens in the 1920s; first to build a chocolate factory in the 1900s; first to start roasting coffee in the 1920s – Starbucks was not formed until the 1970s!  So overall very impressive and in comparison you might look at the last 20-30 years and feel that perhaps the store has not had the same impact as at other points in its history, well that’s about to change: The Taste Revolution is about “We are going to lead again!”

We have carefully looked inward and outward to establish the right path – that is tap into our depth of heritage and history as well as what our very diverse and significant customer base demand from a store like Harrods. From the customer perspective, we draw clients from all over the world and the store has naturally done great work to service the international customer.  The opportunity here, however, will be satisfying the local customer – the discerning London foodie! 

We started as a food business in the 1830s and the store was 50 years selling primarily groceries so our heart is as a food business.  A part of our aim through the Taste Revolution is to become the go-to; the destination; the relevant place for local London foodie customers.

How do we achieve this?  Well in the current times there are specialist offerings in every category; customers are more knowledgeable, discerning and demanding in their quality needs than ever before and whilst we’ve been strong in certain areas, what we must do is provide credibility and authority in the key areas that are required by our discerning local London customers.

The first hall opening as a launch to The Taste Revolution is The Roastery and Bake Hall, which will feature a number of offerings but with a focus on important categories such as Coffee and Bread. 

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We will do it in a way that makes us relevant again; particularly through a focus on creating as much as possible in front of the customer!  Harrods history is about creativity; for example, we’ve had chefs since the 1890s – currently over 150 chefs and Harrods! – and perhaps hid them away behind closed doors for too long!  The importance of bringing out our creative talent in front of the customer is the ultimate provenance so when people can see, touch and taste what is being made it will also serve to build trust and satisfaction in the products.

So putting that into practice, the bakery is going to be a full scratch bakery with true preparation, quality execution and some theatre – every 15-20 minutes a bell will ring whenever something fresh has come out of the oven.  There’s an interactive immediacy to the process, you can see what is coming out of the oven and when, all your senses become engaged with freshly baked bread!  Wherever you may be around the world, you look at research on the most emotionally engaging product, it is without exception freshly baked bread!  It is actually hard to get right and with our accent on highest quality that’s exactly what this new scratch bakery will deliver; we’ve hired a lead master baker, Lance Gardner who will bake 15 types of sourdough loaves per day all day.  So in terms of time of day for the shopper it won’t matter they can come they will be able to purchase the best fresh bread. 

Note: On the preview evening I sampled the making of a personalised loaf of bread which was a learning and exciting experience which juxtaposed the historical process in the context of a sympathetically restored (to 1925) room with the ultra-modern state-of-the-art equipment of an up to the minute bakery.

In terms of coffee, once again, our customers are incredibly discerning about quality, freshness and provenance.  We’re doing a first in a department store in that a rather large, Probat shop roaster (Probatone 25) as a showpiece in the middle of the room!  We will roast all our own coffee, which enables the store to do our own bespoke blends, the customer can take fresh bean home, the store can grind it for customers or even pod it for a coffee machine. 

In fact, if you can’t wait and you want to consume some coffee there will be an art deco coffee bar next to the roaster where you can consume any of the coffees.  Great provenance builds great trust and having the experience of everything created around you is the kind of value-added impact that is sought after by our customers. Consuming between 24 hours and two weeks is optimum for coffee, we have our own blend from four countries which is 100% arabica beans and called Knightsbridge blend – the combination of the quality and freshness sees the notes sing and provide a great experience.

Another example in the first room will be the tea tailoring; tea is a product of great historical importance to the store, with the Taste Revolution we can personalize an experience to produce a bespoke blend for each customer.  Tea Tailoring  brings a little of the magic back to tea, the customer buys an experience lasting 15 to 20 minutes (for £30) with the tea tailor, the customer will  interactively be smelling various infusions that can be blended with tea to produce a bespoke end product which is personally labeled and packaged in beautiful tins and boxes.  The chosen blend is then stored on our books and can be purchased at Harrods at any time in the future.

Note: On the preview evening I enjoyed the ‘experience’ of the tea tailor helping me to choose an infusion blend that worked perfectly – Vanilla and Rose petals in the name of Helen Louise Carter which I gifted as a 22nd Wedding Anniversary present

We also have a bar in the Taste Revolution where people can sample fresh coffee by day and try coffee cocktails from late afternoon, evening.  We’ve also wanted to combine hospitality with retail, where the shopping experience is interactive, bespoke, educational and many customers can come to a social meeting place where they happen to shop!

Note: Amazing cocktails sampled on the preview evening.  Recommend: Espresso Martini!!

The first food hall in Harrods was 1884 and this room has been stripped right back to every painstakingly restored detail to 1925.  So for the first transformation in our food offering in over 30 years, we are ensuring we are utterly relevant to the modern local foodie, we are being creative and innovative, we are bringing customer experiences that are interactive in a hospitality meets retail setting and we aim to be utterly consistent in delivering the strongest provenance to our customers.  Bread and coffee, providing total sensory engagement will be the anchors of the first room of The Taste Revolution, ably assisted by gourmet grocery, patisserie and the like.

Because we are one store and not able to close everything down at once, we have this first room then the second hall to be refurbished and launched will be the Decadence Room then the third and the fourth and within two years we will have transformed the Harrods food business!