The Luxury Leader Interview | Harriet Hastings, Founder, Biscuiteers

Today we meet Harriet Hastings, the founder of one of Walpole’s newest members, luxury hand-iced biscuit brand Biscuiteers. Click below for an interview with Harriet, where she discusses the inspiration behind the business – dubbed the ‘NET-A-PORTER of biscuits’ – and the impact the last 12 months has had on it, as well as the unexpected positives to come out of the crisis.

Harriet Hastings founded Biscuiteers with her husband Stevie in 2007, and the couple are also co-directors of leading London events company, Lettice. Having started her career in publishing, latterly as a Marketing director at Penguin, Harriet spent 10 years as Director of consumer brands at Trimedia, a top 20 PR agency where she also set up their new consumer technology division. Harriet is also the Managing Director of the Women’s Prize for Fiction, a registered charity, which she helped to establish in 1996.

How did the idea for Biscuiteers come about?

I thought there was a gap in the gifting market for a luxury brand that could offer a personalised experience with the emphasis on great design. It was really important that it was an eCommerce brand that could offer a service as well as beautiful gifts. We realised that iced biscuits presented a whole new opportunity in the gifting space – wonderfully flexible in design terms, long shelf life, and ultimately very postable!

What is your vision for the business?

To create a brand for the long term and to introduce a whole new concept to the luxury gifting market. Our aim is to deliver a seamless, joyful experience that delivers a little magic, one hand-iced biscuit at a time. The artisanal ethos is at the heart of the brand, and the artistry of the biscuits and the packaging is what defines our approach – while demonstrating that it is possible to scale a business based on these principles.

How have you led Biscuiteers through the current Covid-19 crisis?

We had to move very quickly like everyone else to pivot the business. We were faced with extraordinary demand, combined with the challenges of social distancing, which meant we needed to completely change our manufacturing approach – moving to shift working and a much smaller staff. We sold all our stock in two weeks, and as a result had to limit our range and develop a whole new lockdown collection of letterbox biscuits in a couple of weeks. We also launched a Rainbow biscuit in aid of the National Emergency Trust and an online Icing Club, which we use to share some of our skills with our customers, along with a whole new range of DIY-icing kits. We learnt a lot and were delighted to be awarded ‘Best Brand in Lockdown’ in the 2020 eCommerce Awards.

And what do you see as the lasting impact of the pandemic on your business?

We have grown exponentially this year, which has required us to make many changes in our business, taking on more manufacturing and dispatch space, and implementing many new systems to cope with the continuing increase in demand. We are a full 360-business, manufacturing all our own products and managing everything in-house from sales and marketing, customer service and dispatch. Many of the changes we made are now here to stay, both from an operational point of view and also brand engagement. Our Icing Club has become so successful that we have built a studio to enable us to create more content in-house, and continue to deliver icing lessons to our customers at home.

What was your big break?

When we launched the business it was adopted very quickly by the fashion industry. We were lucky enough to work with Burberry and Mulberry among others, as well as being a favourite of the fashion PRs in the early months. We positioned ourselves like a fashion brand rather than a food brand, launching collections seasonally. I think that platform helped define us as a luxury, aspirational brand from the outset, and led to us being described as ‘the NET-A-PORTER of biscuits’

What inspires you?

I love the product design and development and it is a real buzz when one of our collections really takes off. I am also incredibly proud of my team, which of course includes the extraordinarily talented artists who ice our biscuits. Perhaps the biggest challenge has been building a manufacturing business from the bottom up, particularly as we had to design almost all our equipment and processes ourselves.

What piece of advice would you give to someone wishing to start a luxury business now?

All businesses need a good understanding of their customers and business USPs. I think luxury businesses also need to focus on the ‘value’ of their products in terms of the time and skill required to make them, and to work out how to communicate that value effectively to their customers.

What would you be doing in a parallel life?

I started my career in publishing and that was probably the most likely path for me as I come from a family of writers and my mother was a publisher. As MD of the Women’s Prize for Fiction I am still connected to the book world, and I’m sure I would have enjoyed a career in books.

What does British luxury mean to you?

Beautifully made, definably uniquely British in some way. We have always positioned Biscuiteers as a London brand and reflected that influence in our designs and partnerships.

What’s your favourite luxury?

I love modern design in furniture and homeware. I think there’s enormous pleasure to be found in beautifully designed everyday objects, like a kettle or even a coffee cup. I am a big fan of modern Scandinavian furniture too.
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