ï»¿Keeping customers sweet turns a shilling Hotel Chocolat occupies the high ground of its eponymous market. Sales are booming but plagiarism is rife, writes Philip Smith
THERE is something rather self indulgent about eating chocolate that retails at just under Â£4 for a 75g bar. But enough of us did it to see sales at Hotel Chocolat jump from Â£4m in 2000 to Â£30m in 2006.
Such is the potential in the market that better known high street names are looking for a taste of the luxury confectionery market, which is tending to occupy the mind of Angus Thirlwell, 43, the co-founder and managing director of Hotel Chocolat. "It's our biggest challenge,'' he said. "How do we stop others copying ...view middle of the document...
Since its creation in 1987 as a supplier of peppermints for corporate gifts, the company evolved, funded from retained profits, into Choc Express, selling chocolates sourced in continental Europe via mail order, before becoming Hotel Chocolat in 2003.
It has acquired a 130-acre cocoa plantation in St Lucia, a production facility in Huntingdon, a call-centre and an online shop supporting a European and US customer base. There are also 11 stores in tourist hotspots such as Canterbury and Kensington. The move into retail was prompted by a need to reach a wider audience.
The chocolate is expensive compared with other fast moving consumer confectionery: the price is determined partly by its premium brand image but also the cost of the ingredients. "Cocoa is the most expensive ingredient in chocolate,'' said Mr Thirlwell. "The cheapest is sugar.'' And Hotel Chocolat wants to maintain high margins.
The company doesn't want to open too many high street stores. "We don't want to become ubiquitous and have stores everywhere. We want to retain the magic of finding a Hotel Chocolat shop,'' said Mr Thirlwell. He and his co-founder and joint owner, finance director Peter Harris, want to maintain the company's style and therefore eschew concessions in department...