It seems the mystery shopper at the Information Commissioner’s Office is not the only one craving the delights of Hotel Chocolat, with the retailer’s latest results showing huge growth in online sales offsetting a sharp fall in instore takings caused by the Covid-19 lockdown.
Last month, it emerged the ICO had launched an internal investigation – perhaps dubbed “choco-gate” – after news website Insider revealed that a corporate credit card registered to the regulator had been used in December to buy £6,248.40 worth of Hotel Chocolat treats.
They certainly do not come cheap, either: the Signature Cabinet, a 147-piece collection of filled and solid chocolates and biscuits in milk, white and dark, retails at hefty £170.
At the time, the watchdog said: “This payment is currently subject to an internal investigation. We believe that the transaction has been made contrary to ICO policies.”
Even so, consumers have also woken up to the joys of luxury chocolates; in the six months ended December 27, Hotel Chocolat revenue was up 11% to £101.9m and pre-tax profit reached £15.5m, an increase of 3% from the first half of 2020.
More than half (51%) of UK sales were made online during the period, with the number of UK customers up by 38% in the six months. In the US and Japan, the customer base grew by 170% and 900% respectively.
Hotel Chocolat co-founder and chief executive Angus Thirlwell said: “We certainly kept the chocolate flowing thanks to our online capabilities and multichannel expertise. We recorded superb results in the UK, USA and Japan despite Covid-19 restrictions affecting all our physical locations.
“We achieved sales growth during those periods when all UK physical locations were closed, demonstrating the brand’s appeal to our loyal customers, and our flexible business model.”
Thirlwell added that all 125 stores will reopen once the Covid restrictions are eased and that there no plans to shut any permanently.
While he said he expected to see a slowdown in business at city centre and travel locations, Thirlwell maintained that stores could see a boost from home workers working more flexible office hours in the future.
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