People need chocolate in a recession, Hotel Chocolat CEO says

The Hotel Chocolat store on Henry Street, Dublin, Ireland, 27 April 2022. (Photo: iStock)

British chocolate company Hotel Chocolat is preparing for a very busy Christmas period, confident that people turn to chocolate and treats to help lift their spirits in a recession.

But in a sign of caution given the tough economic environment, chief executive Angus Thirlwell said it was too early to provide an annual financial forecast for the group due to the return of pre-pandemic shopping habits which are more last minute.

“We’re finding that people need chocolate,” Thirlwell said in an interview on Thursday. “We’ve seen this in other recessionary times before, for example 2008, we were very resilient then.”

The company will provide an update in January.

It earlier posted an underlying profit before tax and exceptional costs of £21.7 million for its latest financial year, more than double the previous 12 months, helped by growing hot chocolate machine subscriptions.

After the previous two December shopping periods were disrupted by the pandemic, Thirlwell said British shoppers were enjoying being out and about in stores, which have accounted for about 70 per cent of the group’s sales in the last six months.

“The trajectory that we’re on is that momentum is building and building,” Thirlwell said of his expectations for Christmas.

Hotel Chocolat has more than 100 stores in Britain and a chocolate factory in Cambridgeshire, eastern England.

Rising household bills in Britain have seen consumers in supermarkets trading down to cheaper brands, but Thirlwell said it was different for a specialist retailer.

People still want to treat themselves and buy presents for others, he said, and Hotel Chocolat offered affordable luxury with 80 per cent of its range priced at less than £15.

As a British-based manufacturer he said he was much more worried about inflationary pressures, such as higher energy bills for his factory, than the demand outlook.