Luxury international tea, coffee, hot chocolate and gift retailer Whittard of Chelsea has been brewing the best since 1886. Here, company CEO Mark Dunhill sits down with RLI to discuss the company’s transformation from a UK high street retailer to an aspirational global brand.

The story of Whittard of Chelsea began back in 1886, when company Walter Whittard opened up the company’s first store on Fleet Street with the simple philosophy “buy the best”.

Today the British heritage brand operates 50 stores in the UK, two in Taiwan, three in Chile and one in the Czech Republic, with more stores forthcoming in the UK, Taiwan and Chile this year. “The past year has been another successful one for the business during which we continued to drive significant growth through our UK store estate despite adverse market conditions,” explains Whittard of Chelsea CEO Mark Dunhill. “We have opened three new stores in the UK including a new flagship in the heart of Covent Garden Market alongside our existing basement and Teabar. We also re-platformed our website and continued to refresh and expand our range of products and saw growth across all our three core drinks categories.

Whittards of Chelsea 1
Whittard of Chelsea.

The next 12 months will see the company focus on driving growth across all channels. In the UK, upgrades to the existing store estate will take place whilst actively looking at expansion opportunities, the brand will look to capitalise on the proven appeal of its brand in Asia, by supporting its partners in Taiwan and South East Asia as well as expanding its presence in mainland China and they will look to build their presence in the travel retail environment.

Recent years has seen the company expand from being a UK high street retailer that was known more for its affordably priced ceramics than for its Teas to become a global enterprise, building on more than 130 years of British heritage to position the brand as the destination for the finest teas, coffees and cocoa in every market it enters.

Whittards of Chelsea 2
Whittard of Chelsea.

“Demand for premium loose teas and fruit and herbal infusions are growing across the world. This generation is adventurous in their approach to discovering new tastes and delight in exploring the wide range of flavours and blends on offer at our stores,” explains Dunhill. In addition to its new flagship in Covent Garden which serves a full range of afternoon teas, cakes and savouries to accompany its menu of over 100 teas, range of hot chocolates and premium coffees, Whittard has expanded its presence in Luton and Gatwick airports and opened two stores in Taiwan and concessions in Singapore and Hong Kong.

Looking forward, the company has plans to enter selectively into several new international markets over the next five years, while continuing to concentrate on growing its business in those territories in which they are already established. Having established a strong, recognisable global brand in recent years, how does the company develop new products and initiatives to stay at the cutting edge?

“We have a team of dedicated expert buyers, product and packaging designers in our head office team. This group follows market trends very closely and works with our growers and suppliers to develop new flavours, formats and packaging solutions to ensure we continue to appeal to our existing and future consumers,” says Dunhill.

Whittard exists to ‘Savour the Adventure’ and to accompany its customers on a voyage of discovery of the world’s finest teas, coffees and hot chocolates. Dunhill believes it is important that his colleagues enjoy this adventure as much as the customers. “We refer to ourselves as Friendly Fanatics, our goal is to share our passion and enjoyment of everything we sell in our stores with our customers,” he remarks. Through the incredible rise of social media, it has become apparent that there is a fascination in sharing food and drink related experiences online, and people seek inspiration for the next trend in flavor, unique recipes and the places in which to discover them on social media. Because of this, Whittard focuses significant energy and talent on creating great content across its social channels to engage and develop a relationship with the community of tea lovers around the world.

“Demand for premium loose teas and fruit and herbal infusions are growing across the world.”

At Whittard everything starts with its people as happy colleagues makes for happy customers. The company spends a great deal of time and effort to recruit, train and look after its band of Friendly Fanatics and develop them into passionate ambassadors of its brand and products. It is because of this, and tracking customer feedback very closely to ensure that their experience in stores matches this are the reasons customers remain loyal to the brand. “Our success to date and in the future depends on our ability to deliver a great experience to our customers every time they visit one of our stores around the world or our website – an experience which extends to their enjoyment of our products at home. So it’s all about having the people and processes in place that make this ambitious goal achievable,” concludes Dunhill.