October 25th: '7Days of Chocolate Reviews' - Hotel Chocolat Question Time Edition

'7Days of Chocolate Reviews' - Hotel Chocolat Question Time Edition

Remember a while back when I asked you all to send me some questions to forward on to Hotel Chocolat? Well the Swines have only gone and answered every single one of them :) ....

Your questions in BOLD
Hotel Chocolat answers in ITALICS
My comments in RED

The answers have been provided by Matt (Online Commercial Development Executive 2.5 years) & Gabriela (Hotel Chocolat Buyer - 4.5 years).

1. Why do they think their chocolate demands such a high premium price?

Gabriela: The high quality of chocolate and packaging innovation justifies the higher price, but we think we still are an affordable luxury. Part of that money is also used to support our ethical programs in Ghana and St Lucia – more information ... check it out if you have an interest it is good read .... pictures too :)

2. What new products (if any) can we expect soon?

Gabriela: Expect new products for every season and occasion; Valentine’s, Mother’s Day, Easter, Father’s Day, summer, Halloween and Christmas. It’s one of our real strengths, developing products specifically for key events and seasons. We’re also always looking to improve our core range, so there are likely to be a few new twists and improvements made to our existing range. As for what products are currently in development, we like to ‘keep our cards close to our chest’! ... The NPD from HC has been fantastic this year ... I expect that same next!

3. Why do they put 'may contain nuts' on every single one of their products?

Gabriela: Unfortunately, because we handle chocolates containing nut in our packing facility, we cannot guarantee with 100% certainty that those products are nut-free.

4. Will they ever bring back their gianduja cubes?

Gabriela: We have brought them back, just in a brand new format. ... They look great to me ... expect a review soon.

5. Are they planning on opening any more stores soon?

Matt: Just a few! We’ve got stores opening in Chester, Chichester, Guildford and Meadowhall, Sheffield all before Christmas. Two new stores have opened in London in the past month in Victoria and The Strand, along with our very first store in the US on Newbury Street in Boston. With the launch of Hotel Chocolat in select John Lewis stores towards the end of September we are increasing our high street presence significantly and this will continue throughout 2010. Don’t be surprised if you see a new Hotel Chocolat store popping up in a town near you next year! ... The day these guys open a near a store near me I expect my life expectancy to drop a few years :)

6. Do they ever plan on doing anything with peanut butter?

Gabriela: There is a chocolate selector called “Peanut Passion” which is available in our stores, but in 2010 we will bring a new product that is all about peanut butter and chocolate (that is all I can say for now). .... I hope I will be first in like to try it :)

7. Will they ever produce any normal sized chocolate bars?

Matt: We do sell a chocolate bar in store which might be considered a ‘normal sized’ bar. Our take on the chocolate bar is reflected in our slabs range. Originally developed as Giant Slabs, we now have smaller 100g mini-slabs which are still slightly larger than your normal bar.

8. Can we ever expect to get their products through means other than their shops or online ordering?

Matt: You can find a selection of our range in some John Lewis stores, and at World Duty Free; however, for the time being our core focus will be selling our products through our own stores and website. ... Good decision I think! Look what happened to Thorntons!

9. What have they got planned for Christmas this year?

Matt: A BIGGER and BETTER Christmas than the last! We’ve expanded the Christmas range significantly this year and have introduced some new lines including Signature Collections which come in luxurious keepsake boxes, a huge Truffle Tree weighing 650g, Sparkling Stars selections and more. We’ve got a new Cookies & Caramel Wreath which I think will prove a hit, and a new, larger Christmas Sleekster. I could go on, you can check out all of our Christmas gifts here. Of course, in stores we’ll continue to have regular free tastings as well. ... My wishlist has been sent to HC ... expect reviews of the range in late November and early December.

10. What are your own personal favourites from the range?

Matt: This is a really difficult question. From a boxed chocolates perspective my previous favourite, the Hand-Piped Sleekster has recently been ‘replaced’ by the Dinner Party Platter. I also love our Christmas Wreaths and the Triple Wham Bam Giant Slab which is perhaps the most iconic of our Giant Slab range. When it comes to my favourite chocolate it’s a close call but our 62% Milk Purist Bar from our Rabot Estate in St Lucia shades it. ... what about the 85% Matt!???

11. Why do they produce such big choice of white chocolate products, considering people in general usually find white chocolate too sweet?

Gabriela: .... I’m not sure this is really the case! I make sure we have a range suitable for all tastes! Some of the flavours, for example strawberry, works better with white chocolates, as the flavours come through better. Also we made sure that our bespoke white chocolate recipe is not too sweet. ... I'm not sure where the consumer evidence came for this but I think HC's white chocolate is one of the best around.

12. Do you have any plans to do a chocolate cookie and biscuit range?

Gabriela: Not at this moment in time, but you never now…

13. Will you ever be bringing back your chocolate covered coffee beans?

Gabriela: Yes, in the near future. .... when they do expect a review from me!

14. Is there a Hotel Chocolat recipe book? If not will you ever consider doing one?

Matt: Yes, we have book called “101 Best Loved Chocolate Recipes”.

15. Do you plan to do more mainstream advertising next year?

Matt: At the present time, ‘mainstream’ advertising isn’t something we get heavily involved in. Some of the recent Cadbury’s advertising has been fantastic and has made great use of multiple channels. I find their use of digital marketing channels particularly inspiring. I think our strong brand identity and fantastic product range would provide a great platform for developing exciting and engaging advertising campaigns, particularly in digital channels. We will of course continue to advertise in search engines, via our affiliate program and within the occasional glossy magazine. ... Again sitting here with my marketing cap on a good decision. Keeping the brand away from the mainstream will the keep the core brand values and principles strong ... oh and save on the A&P of course :)

16. If you had to describe your brand in three words what would it be?

Matt: Original, Authentic, Ethical. Our mission statement is: “To open up to a wider audience, the escapist sanctuary of Hotel Chocolat. To do this whilst sticking to our core values of originality, authenticity and ethics.”

17. Have there ever been any products that haven't passed the taste testing?

Gabriela: Hundreds of recipes are rejected every month, so all the recipes that we include in our selections/range have passed a tasting panel. The recipes which pass the tasting panel are then included in the Chocolate Tasting Club Monthly Boxes. Members then have the opportunity to taste and score them and send us their feedback. ... This attention to quality is probably why their scores are so consistently high.

18. Would you ever consider producing a ChocolateMission branded bar?

Matt: I don’t think so, although I must say Jim’s ChocolateMission is a particularly popular blog amongst the office! ... I don't think the ChocolateMission 'brand' would particularly work for Hotel Chocolat :) but nice try guys.

19. What is the best selling Hotel Chocolat product?

Matt: This does depend on the season; however, the regular ‘chart-topper’ is our Hand-piped Sleekster.

20. What is it like working for Hotel Chocolat? Are there loads of chocolates hanging round the office? Do you ever get bored of talking about chocolates?

Gabriela: Fantastic! Depends in which area of the business you work. We are never bored of talking about chocolate! There are always so many new flavours and product concepts that it is impossible to get bored
Matt: Who wouldn’t want to work for such a fantastic brand, with such great products!? It’s an intense, fast-moving, innovative and ultimately very rewarding environment in which to work. Plus I’m surrounded by a great group of people who make it a fun place to work. As for chocolate hanging around the office, I’m sure there’s some round here somewhere… I’ll post some photographs from around the office on our Facebook fan page now! ... Oi I thought I was the only one around here allowed to pimp my Facebook page!?? Haha only joking! If Hotel Chocolat ever create a consumer/market insight department I'm there! It sounds a great place to work!

21. Do your friends still gift you chocolates? ... mine do - I find it very hard to look excited!!

Gabriela: No, they tell me I’m a chocolate snob! So they rather gift me with something else… I’m glad! ... I bet! ... Even if I get gifted chocolate there is always an urge to give it a score out of 10 and take a few photos :)

Thanks for Matt & Gabriela for taking the time to answer these questions - the answers were really insightful and I look forward to the reaction from you all.