Fancy a nibble on a painstakingly piped gingerbread Queen, a mini Buckingham palace or a replica Queen’s Guard, complete with red tunics and bearskins? Well gift retailer Biscuiteers seems to think there’s enough of an appetite among the nation for anything royal - it’s just rolled out a collection of hand-iced biscuits celebrating the Queen’s 90th birthday.
Its new ranges are released seasonally you see – co-founder Harriet Hastings says the firm operates much like a fashion business in that respect, with different collections of biscuits unveiled each season. Biscuiteers also has the licences to the likes of Beatrix Potter, The Snowman and Mr Men, with Little Miss Sunshine and Mr. Bump biscuits among those on sale.
‘That new product development helps to keep the interest in the business high,’ Hastings explains. Well that and some eye-catching bespoke corporate commissions which make up around half of the business, including a two and a half metre Leeds Castle replica, a gingerbread landscape of London for Selfridges’ Christmas window display and a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory creation for Waterstones to tie in with the musical’s launch in the capital. Turnover for last year was £3m and Biscuiteers now has 35 full-time members of staff and around 60 part-time in the manufacturing team.
The Leeds Castle replica in the works
Not bad for a business which started life back in 2007 in the catering kitchen of Hastings’ husband Stevie Congdon (who previously ran a catering business). The couple thought there was a big opportunity when it came to edible gifts and plumped for iced biscuits because of their long shelf life and the scope to create intricate designs. Hastings, whose background is in marketing and PR, felt that this meant they’d also be able to create ‘great branded products for the corporate market as well’.
The couple admit to being caught off guard by the initial response to their range of iced biscuits. ‘We launched in September, sent out some press releases and got an enormous amount of interest very quickly,’ Hastings says. ‘We weren’t ready for the demand that we created.’ Logistical issues had to be solved fast, including how to make sure the biscuits arrived in pristine condition. ‘We worked out a way of using the icing as a sort of glue to keep the biscuits in place so when we send the tins out, the biscuits don’t actually move,’ Hastings explains. ‘It’s about 98.5% perfect – occasionally we get one run over by a delivery van, but generally it works!’
Within four months Selfridges came calling and the business has continued to grow since – its biscuits are now stocked at Fortnum & Mason and Harrods too. These biscuits don’t come cheap – the entry point is around £10 for biscuit greeting cards, while its tins average at around £40. Hastings says the business has positioned itself as a luxury brand and has built its fanbase through partnerships with ‘like-minded brands’. For example, you can get Biscuiteers products as an add-on with Bloom & Wild, which posts flowers to fit through letterboxes.
Biscuiteers has also branched out into the high street, with shops in Notting Hill and Clapham, which host classes and parties. ‘It has really helped make our brand a bit more famous, but it’s a real learning curve because I think high street retail is a tough market,’ Hastings says. ‘Opening the shops really felt like big milestones though – there’s something about having a physical representation of your brand and they felt like a big step in terms of people’s awareness of us.’
A pressing priority for Biscuiteers’ future growth is scaling up its handmade production line. Their team creates all of the biscuits, which span occasions such as engagements and get well soon gestures (the First Aid themed tin complete with thermometer and cough syrup biscuits is a long-term bestseller). International opportunities are on the cards – Hastings says there’s particular appetite for their gifts in the Middle East and Japan, and the business exports 4-5% of what it sells online.
For now though, there’s a top-secret commission for Christmas already under way, which Hastings says is on a similar scale to the Leeds Castle project. That involved replicating the building both inside and out from fondant and biscuit. Creations on that scale are built ‘like a piece of architecture’ according to Hastings, and Biscuiteers has an in-house architect to help turn the 2D into 3D.
While the extravagant and outlandish commissions are fun to do, Hastings’ own favourites from their collections over the years are a little more understated. ‘I really liked our vintage ski tin called Après Ski.’ She also mentions the New York travel tin as it serves as a fond memento for where the idea for the Biscuiteers developed. ‘It was where the inspiration for the business came from.’