Hotel Chocolat expands as success of hot chocolate machines inspires Aldi version

Hotel Chocolat is ready to make sure the new stores are much bigger than the old ones, set up cafes and offer samples of their hot chocolate machines. Managing Director Angus Thirlwell said sales of his Velvetiser were strong and he wanted to find new ways to ensure customers could try and buy them.

Four stores have been expanded in the past six months with cafes and more floor space could be added and two new locations have been opened. About fifty Hotel Chocolat stores already have cafés. Two more sites will open in the coming months, he added.

Mr Thirlwell said: ‘We’re going to be showcasing a Hotel Chocolat ‘store of the future’ look. We’ve upgraded several locations and we’ve seen a shape of the future for stores which is basically going for bigger spaces and that reflects the changing shape of the business.

“Before, we were mainly focused on freebies…that’s our cornerstone, but alongside that we have our home barista model and now we have the ability to run larger spaces.” He highlighted a store in Harrogate, which had been open for 10 years, quadrupled, with a cafe added.

The hot chocolate machine proved popular to the point that rivals began making their own versions, including Aldi. German supermarket Aldi was recently the subject of legal action by M&S over allegations of copying the latter’s Colin the Caterpillar cake and has previously been accused of copying other brands.

Mr Thirlwell said: “As you would expect, counterfeit copies of any successful brand are always available and we are no exception. We have several patents in various areas of our business and we don’t hesitate to protect our intellectual property, but there is nothing pending.

The plans come as the company revealed that sales in the six months to December 26 rose 40% to £142.9m, with pre-tax profits up 56% to 24, £1 million. The growth was mainly due to weak comparisons, with much of the high street closed in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Thirlwell said sales could have been higher but were hit by the closure of stores of the Omicron variant due to staff illness and large numbers of sick or isolated customers. The number of UK customers increased by 38% to 2.3 million and sales were strong despite rising inflation which drove up prices towards the end of last year.

Looking ahead, the company added that it aims to create more jobs at its chocolate factory as it ramps up production and brings new products to market. Its markets in the United States and Japan also saw strong growth, particularly in online sales.

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