Hotel Chocolat is selling more 'hedonistic' treats

chocolates in factory Image copyright Hotel Chocolat

This Christmas, instead of a luxury hamper, you may find a 'hedonistic' box of chocolates arriving at home or at work.

Hotel Chocolat's push to increase online gift-giving is paying off, according to boss, Angus Thirlwell.

The firm's website sales rose 20% in the year to the end of June.

And Mr Thirlwell says in uncertain economic times he expects more people to switch from giving more extravagant presents to his firm's products.

Customers bought £91.1m worth of chocolate from the luxury chain between June 2015 and June 2016. That was 12% more than in the previous year. Sales in stores grew as well as on the website.

The company's annual profits before tax were sharply higher, rising from £2.9m to £8.2m.

"We've been upping our marketing efforts. We've got a lot of new customers who've discovered the gift-sending side of what we do," the company's chief executive and co-founder Angus Thirlwell told the BBC.

'Trading down'

The company, which sells its premium chocolate online and in 83 stores in the UK and abroad, is still emphasising its "hedonistic" credentials at the luxury end of the market, and continues to focus marketing on its high cocoa and relatively lower sugar content, to tap into the "wellness" trend for healthier eating.

Image caption Hotel Chocolat co-founder Angus Thirlwell

But Mr Thirlwell said he thought there were also opportunities for the company to benefit from people "trading down".

"For example a corporate 'thank you' in the past might have been a hamper [but] you can send [our large] Chocolatiers Table for £100 pounds."

For that you'd get a 1.5kg box of chocolates including tiramisu, raspberry pannacotta and carrot cake flavours.

"It's expensive for a box of chocolates, but it's not expensive when you see the effect it has on people," said Mr Thirlwell.

Hotel Chocolat was floated on London's AIM market for smaller companies at the end of May this year, and these are the first set of results it has issued.

The company began as an online retailer in 1993, founded by Mr Thirlwell and his business partner Peter Harris, and was originally named Chocs Express. In 2003 it changed its name and a year later opened its first physical store in Watford.

Image copyright Hotel Chocolat
Image caption Hotel Chocolat has two restaurants which focus on cocoa cuisine

It introduced an innovative "chocolate tasting club" whereby subscribers are sent samples and asked for feedback to help the product developers respond to consumers' preferences.

The company also owns two restaurants and its own cocoa plantation in St Lucia.

'Not panicking'

Mr Thirlwell said that the weaker pound would inevitably push up the cost of raw materials, like cocoa and sugar, but that the company would find ways to reduce costs in the manufacturing process, rather than compromising on the quality of their ingredients or increasing prices for consumers.

"Our quality is sacrosanct. We'll never compromise on quality just because prices have gone up."

He said the company was waiting to see whether the pound's weakness was just a spike or a longer term trend but he played down the potential impact.

"We're not panicking here at Hotel Chocolat towers, I can tell you that."

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