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 £4 for a 75g bar. But enough of us did it to see sales at Hotel Chocolat jump from £4m in 2000 to £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 our ideas?''
One chain store has gone as far as mimicking the look, colours and even the name of one of Hotel Chocolat's top selling products, he claimed. Trademarking is the best defence against copycat products but as the Hertfordshire-based business changes 30% of its range each year to keep customer interest alive, that could become a bureaucratic nightmare.
"Our key product names are protected but we are coming up with new ones all the time,'' says Mr Thirlwell. "The Hotel Chocolat name is registered in Europe, America and Japan but if you go and trademark everything, you are burdening the business with huge amounts of administration and cost.'' It's an issue that needs to be addressed, though, if Hotel Chocolat is to continue its march towards its objective of becoming one of the world's top chocolate brands.
As well as new chocolate recipes, the company has recently added Turkish delight, fudge and toffee to its portfolio. "We are working on a coffee concept and we are planning to do brownies and chocolate cake. We don't see ourselves departing from the chocolate-led approach but we want to increase the number of products we've got,'' said Mr Thirlwell whose father, Edwin, founded the Mr Whippy ice cream brand and the Prontaprint shop chain.
Since its creation in 1987 as...