Royston, U.K.-based Hotel Chocolat is now officially open for business in America. The upscale European chocolatier launched a U.S. Website in early October.
“I’ve always wanted to make our products available in the U.S.,” says Hotel Chocolat cofounder Angus Thirlwell. In addition to its signature gourmet chocolates, the merchant’s 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.
Hotel Chocolat had about 5,000 U.S.-based customers who have bought from it before. “But 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.”
In sizing up the chocolate market in the U.S., Thirlwell notes that Godiva used to be the only premium player here. “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 for stores, and they rechristened the business Hotel Chocolat. Its first store opened in 2004; today it has 23 stores in the U.K.
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.”