Hotel Chocolat beats the high street slump

Angus Thirlwell, co-founder and chief executive of Hotel Chocolat
Angus Thirlwell, co-founder and chief executive of Hotel Chocolat
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Luxury chocolatier ​Hotel Chocolat ​has reported strong annual trading, in sharp contrast to the slowdown on the rest of the high street.

The firm, which is eyeing up new stores in Yorkshire, said it is homing in on sites in Halifax and Huddersfield.

​Angus Thirlwell, co-founder and chief executive, said: “We’ve opened in the York Designer Outlet and that is doing really well.

“We are still looking in Halifax and Huddersfield and we are gradually honing in. It’s really important we get the best locations. We are prepared to sit it out to get the best location and the best deal in town. We’ve got meetings in Halifax and Huddersfield this week.”

The firm said its range of chilled Chocolat drinks, ice cream and other summer favourites ​have been very popular during the recent heatwave.

“The real power product is ​Ice Cream of the Gods, which is now in 50 locations. It storms it in the hot weather,” said Mr Thirlwell.

“We’ve got a salted lemon sauce which you pour over the top of the ice cream, which is amazing.”

Other heatwave favourites are ​Chocs to Chill, a range of chocolates that are formulated to taste better straight out of the fridge.

“They are perfect for barbecues, sultry evenings and al fresco dinner parties,” said Mr Thirlwell.

The group has also improved its Cocoa Beers to include a darker beer and a Cocoa Blonde.

The final heatwave best seller is chilled chocolate milkshakes, which come in a range of flavours such as Salted Caramel Chocolate, Chocolate and Coffee, Higher Cocoa, While Milk Chocolate and Hazelnut.

Hotel Chocolat reported double-digit sales growth after it opened 15 new stores, which helped lift sales by 6 per cent. The ​firm’s revenue for the year ​to July 1 was £116​m, ​a rise of 12 per cent​ year on year. The ​group said ​its pre-tax ​profit​ ​for the full year will be in line with the market’s expectations of £12.8​m.

​Mr Thirlwell​ said: “Whilst there has been considerable recent media coverage of retail generally, we are encouraged by the performance of both our new and existing locations.

“Customers are continuing to respond well to our luxury brand and lifestyle propositions.”​

​Over the year, the group welcomed​ 200,000 new online ​customer​s, and ​said it ​has developed a number of innovative new products for the upcoming autumn-winter season.

​These include the Velvetiser - the group’s first hot chocolate machine for ​home use, which will be launched this autumn.

“It serves up hot chocolate in your own home in two and a half minutes,” said Mr Thirlwell.

“Coffee lovers are spoilt for choice when it comes to home machines and until now, making a proper hot chocolate has involved a saucepan, whisking and washing up.

“​It will be a limited edition so we expect it to be a great hit.”

The machine will cost £89.

Another new launch will be the Hotel Chocolat Cream Liqueur, which is derived from a popular cocktail that is only available at Hotel Chocolat’s three bars in Leeds, London and St Lucia.

“It consists of chocolate, vodka and cream and it’s a year round bestseller. We found a way to bottle it,” said Mr Thirlwell.

“We plan to take on Baileys, etc. It’s chocolate first, a clear vodka base rather than whisky, and it’s very restrained on sugar.”

Liberum analysts said: “This trading update is very strong in the context of the retail sector and there is no doubt that the strength of the brand, its balance sheet and cash flow profile all point to what is a sustainable growth model.”

They said Hotel Chocolat may decide to expand internationally “sooner rather than later”.