Hotel Chocolat is an upmarket chocolatier and cocoa grower that trades through around 124 locations in the UK and 25 or so international outlets. The vast majority of these are standalone stores, but it has also introduced Hotel Chocolat cafés, restaurants and tasting experiences such as the Hotel Chocolat School of Chocolate.

Group sales soared 20.7% to £164.6m over the year to June 2021 (FY2020) with 70% of sales driven by the retailer’s digital channels, partners and “continuity products”. The business had felt the impact of store closures in the latter half of FY2019 due to the coronavirus pandemic, swinging to a pre-tax loss that year, but it was back in the black in FY2020.

Beyond its retail operations, Hotel Chocolat also operates a luxury hotel at its plantation on Saint Lucia and supplies the likes of Amazon and John Lewis on a wholesale basis. In June 2021, the retailer acquired the outstanding shares of its Rabot 1745 restaurant and beauty business.

Management says the business was “born digital” and is “evolving from UK store-led brand to globally ambitious digital-led brand”. 

Investment in driving online growth has been ramped up since 2019. This includes insourcing all of its CRM and email activity to give greater control and improve personalisation. It has also digitised its successful VIP ME loyalty scheme, investing in apps and improving online navigation and conversion.

Hotel Chocolat floated on London’s junior stock market, AIM, in 2016, raising around £55m to accelerate growth. It issued a further share placing in 2020 to raise £22m in order to see it through the tumultuous post-lockdown period.

Innovation rating: 2

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