With 23 stores in the U.K., a catalog, online business, and a Tasting Club, Hotel Chocolat still had a hankering for expansion. So the upscale European chocolatier/cocoa-grower hit U.S. shores with the launch of its American Website in early October.
In addition to its signature gourmet chocolates, Hotel Chocolat products available in the U.S. include specialty gift selections, hot chocolate mixes, and cooking chocolates. The U.S. operation will be based out of Boston, New York, and San Francisco
“I’ve always wanted to make our products available in the U.S.,” says Hotel Chocolat cofounder Angus Thirlwell from company headquarters in Royston, U.K. “We’re quite ambitious with the brand,” he says. “American consumers are very discerning. We’ve got a lot of things go get right.”
So far, Thirwell says, Hotel Chocolat has about 5,000 U.S.-based customers who have bought from it before. “Shipping chocolate from the U.K. to the U.S. carries a considerable shipping charge,” he says. “If we can make it available for shipping from Boston, it will be that much easier for us.”
Why a Website? “With the huge acceptance now of online shopping, we thought if we can hang off the back of the Google economy it’s a way to get something going,” Thirlwell says. “We’ve been looking at the market in America.”
Godiva used to be the only premium player in the U.S., Thirlwell notes. “Now there are more chocolate companies and more competition, which are signs of a healthy market. I’d far rather enter a market that has potential with competition. We’ve been waiting for the right time.”
Founded as a catalog titled ChocExpress in 1993, the company launched a Website in 1997. But when gearing up for its retail expansion in 2003, company officials decided the brand’s name wasn’t suitable to stores, and they rechristened the business as Hotel Chocolat. Its first store opened in late 2004.
Thirlwell believes that Hotel Chocolat has an edge over other chocolatiers in that it grows its own cocoa. “We have an estate in the Caribbean in St. Lucia, where some of the best cocoa comes from,” he says. Hotel Chocolat is building a chocolate factory in St. Lucia, which should be finished in 2009.
Hardly any other chocolatiers get involved in growing their own cocoa, he adds. “We offer the market a rare single estate chocolate, which is not blended. It’s a similar approach to fine wine.”