If I had bought the “Biscuiteers Book of Iced Biscuits” I wouldn’t have had an excuse to visit Harriet Hastings and interview her for the blog. Everything you need to know about the birth of this amazing company is written in the introduction but basically the idea came about in New York on a weekend away. Luckily for me, I didn’t own the book, and had the pleasure to meet Harriet – one half of the Biscuiteers. She co-founded the company with Stevie Congdon, who just happens to be her husband. They also run the catering company Lettice and the biscuits are baked and hand piped in their industrial kitchen in Kennington. Artists sit on benches piping and flooding the biscuits fresh from the oven, surrounding by thousands of biscuits on trays and metal tins as far as the eye can see.
Biscuiteers delivers hand-iced biscuits to anyone, anywhere in the world to mark special occasions. Why send flowers when you can send biscuits, cakes and chocolates instead?
Harriet’s background is not in food but marketing and PR she worked in the consumer branding arm of a PR company for a large part of her career and had expertise in online companies. She saw a gap in the food gifting business and worked on a brand that was fabulous in every way to those receiving it. They wanted to create a brand not a cottage industry so a big investment was made in packaging and design and a website. Some may say it’s a niche business, but the company have big ambitions and Harriet is the first to admit its grown aggressively simply because they’ve been energetic in launching and marketing their product lines and through that they’ve seen quite rapid growth. She tells me that PR is the single most important tool they use to market the business and they work very hard at it. New ranges are produced each season so there’s always been a lot to talk about. Good photography is crucial and the company invests a lot in that, they also get the new ranges of biscuits out to the right journalists at the right time. The business is a “word of mouth business” by definition. Every time they take an order and send it to a new customer they in turn become a potential new customer. The work they do in the corporate world is a great way to showcase their limitless skills and of course they are targeting a bigger audience in turn the potential for new customers is a lot greater. Their biscuits were the much seen and talked-about shoe shapes for the launch of the Harrods shoe salon, they have featured on the front cover of the Boden catalogue, have launched the King’s Speech DVD and made the bicycle biscuits for the Kensington and Chelsea Cycle Campaign.
The packaging is quite remarkable and part of their USP – beautiful ink illustrations created with the agency Big Fish – they were after a look so unique that it would be difficult for anyone to imitate. And, Harriet says whilst people have tries to copy what they do they haven’t managed to imitate the amount of detail and effort in the packaging or indeed the biscuits.
It seems no subject is out of bounds, they make their own cutters so aren’t limited by shapes, and Lord knows they’ve been asked to recreate some weird and wonderful biscuits. The collections are collaborative but ultimately Harriet decides the direction and what they are going to do, what tins they should produce and opportunity. The Wedding of William and Kate, for instance produced and continues to produce orders from all over the world.
It also brought television crews and a whole heap of free publicity, the kind you just cannot buy. The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee tin is in production and for £40.00 royalists can celebrate the Queen’s 60th year – expect corgis, coaches and crowns, Buckingham Palace and guardsmen. Collections have to work on a number of levels, how they’ll sit with the other products, how they’ll photograph, how the finished product will look. Sometimes they come together very quickly, or otherwise it’s a journey much like any other design process after all it’s very different selling products online as opposed to wholesale.
For a relatively new company, it began in 2007; they are firmly established on the shelves of some of the finest retail outlets in the capital. Harrods, Fortnum and Mason, Liberty, Fenwick and John Lewis and then there’s the online sales. Bespoke biscuits are piped for loved ones all over the world. Chocolates with a personal message are off to Australia, ‘Its a Girl!” pink ducks are piped with the New arrival’s name and a production line full of Santa’s are being boxed.
Detailed watch shaped biscuits are being given special attention for a corporate launch and I get to see some of the works of art being piped for a West End show. No matter what the work, and how quickly the business has grown, all the biscuits continue to be made in the same way, all by hand, all individual.
The biscuits are so pretty and must be an absolute joy to receive. Know someone who’s feeling under the weather and want to give more than a bunch of grapes and a bottle of Lucozade? The ‘First Aid Tin’ is one of their best sellers, in fact the Biscuiteers probably have a more accurate handle on the health of the nation then the government’s number crunchers do! With Chanukah around the corner send a tin of blue-toned biscuits to celebrate the Jewish festival of light. A tin contains biscuits in the shape of dreidles, menorahs, havdalah candles and stars of David. Then there are the individual biscuits. Gingerbread men get the Biscuiteers icing makeover choose from a selection of characters which are individually wrapped in a box with a gift message.
The turnaround is impressive too if you order before 1pm for any UK delivery your recipient could have it the next day. Even international orders arrive surprisingly quickly. That box of chocolates for Australia will be in the hands of the lucky recipient within 4 days. The chocolates are handmade in Europe and get hand finished and dispatched from the London kitchens.
Not just sweet biscuits in their own core flavours – chocolate, vanilla and allspice – now there are biscuits for cheese. With the cheese tin expect caraway and Parmesan and rosemary and Parmesan button biscuits. A hunk of organic cheddar is heart shaped and is paired with a jar of hot pear chutney. A great gift if you’re stuck at any time of year.
Pampered pooches aren’t left out either. Probably because Harriet’s inspiration are her two adorable dogs who join her in the upstairs office. A big tin of dog biscuits comes with a big iced bone-shaped biscuit with a flavoured bone biscuit for each day of one week from sundries tomato to peanut butter.
Not content with conquering the biscuit market their cakes have been given the same amazing attention to detail. Serving 10-12 people they produced a triple-layered sponge cake in lemon, chocolate and for Christmas festive spice. Again, all iced by hand in a keepsake tin with the iconic Biscuiteers shop illustration. Birthdays, thank you messages, new arrivals, you name it, and they’ll make it. Each cake costs £65.00.
Can’t afford a cake or tin full of biscuits? Well there’s the more economical but equally charming biscuit cards for £10.95.
What I want for Christmas is one of their icing kits, greedily the Rainy Day icing kit (£60.00). It is a tin that contains all you’ll need to make biscuits just like the Biscuiteers. It comes complete with an apron, three shaped cutters, colouring pastes, sanding sugars and decorating balls and an icing guide.
Generous Harriet gives me the book as I leave. A joy to look through, it’s essentially a ‘how to’ book with easy-to-follow instructions, photographs and useful stockists details. In fact everything you need to recreate some of their collections.
As I say goodbye to Harriet she’s off to the kitchen to have a look at a new batch of Easter biscuits, and I’m sure the designs for Mother’s Day aren’t that far behind.
The Biscuiteers Book of Iced Biscuits (Hardback) by Harriet Hastings – ISBN: 9781856269414 Publisher: Kyle Books