Montezuma’s, an independent British manufacturer of artisanal chocolate, has credited the health trend for boosting sales of its 100% cocoa chocolate range.
It has just received a private equity investment to allow it to focus on more innovation around products with a higher cocoa content, as well as vegan and dairy-free SKUs, while looking towards expanding its distribution in the UK and overseas.
The company was started 18 years ago by Helen and Simon Pattinson, who were inspired to set up their own chocolate shop after visiting South America. Back then, the only player they saw offering quality chocolate in the retail sector was Thorntons, which had done a decent job of making premium choccies more mass market, Helen Pattinson tells Food Spark.
“But by 2000, Thorntons wanted to be a billion-pound company. To do that, they were having to drive a lot of mass production and were losing that artisan touch that they had at the start. We felt there was definitely a gap in the retail space, and since we have come along we have seen a lot of small chocolate producers come and go,” she says.
“We have seen it change with a lot other foods over the last 18 years – people are more interested in provenance and making sure they are eating real food, and that’s really important to us – making an exciting product out of a few natural and unusual flavours.”
Montezuma’s is known for its quirky combinations of flavours: orange and geranium; chilli and lime; Chinese dragon ginger; caramelised sesame and sunflower seeds; Eton mess; treacle tart; chai latte; and rose and vanilla.
The Pattinsons will retain responsibility for product development as part of the deal with Edinburgh-based private equity firm Inverleith LLP.
In fact, Montezuma’s has been doing loads of NPD on new bars, which are set to launch next year. Helen has been testing 20 flavours a week, taking inspiration from a range of places.
“We try not to look at other chocolate brands as we think that’s a lazy way for inspiration, but we do look at what chefs are doing as there is so much foodie stuff out there at the moment. It’s not hard to find interesting inspiration,” she explains.
“A customer might come up with an interesting idea – if we think it might have legs then we follow that up. We only ever use natural ingredients, so don’t chuck in some artificial flavouring, and sometimes we are driven by new ingredients we have found like an essential oil, which might taste fantastic when it’s in chocolate.”
Not sugar coating it
There are 35 different chocolates across Montezuma’s range, though the core offering is the 100g bars, which continue to go from strength to strength, says Helen.
The business also runs a subscription chocolate club, but a bigger prospect could be the sharing market.
“Things like our bags of giant buttons are designed as a family-sharing product, and I think there is a lot more opportunity to bring that to life. We are testing the water at the moment,” explains Helen.
Even the healthy-eating boom has paid dividends for Montezuma’s – much to the Pattinsons’ surprise.
“We seem to be faring really well off the back of it because we produce a premium product that is far lower in sugar than a lot of the chocolate out there,” says Helen. “So actually, whereas people may not be choosing to eat a sugary bar of chocolate a day, they are instead choosing to eat one high cocoa content bar once a week.
“We have our Absolute Black products with 100% cocoa that have become our bestselling range. That indicates to us that customers want the chocolate but not the sugar – it’s been quite a revelation to us. It’s not for everyone as it’s full on in terms of the cocoa hit, but there is a lot of product development that I think we can do.”
The brand plans to take a few more risks now it has private backing under its belt, explains Helen, including opening new stores – although they won’t be going too crazy, she says, as they are already based in Brighton, Spitalfields, Winchester, Chichester and Kingston.
Currently, Montezuma’s products are also stocked in Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Morrisons, as well as John Lewis and Selfridges. Helen says the obvious next steps are bringing them into Tesco and Asda.
“That will be about getting that right for the retailer and the consumer, so it might mean talking about different ranges for each retailer,” she adds.
In the future, Helen believes that provenance will continue to influence consumers’ decisions when buying chocolate, as well as interesting flavour combinations from world flavours.
“Chocolate is really good at accepting flavours, so if we can find it in the right format – normally it will be an essential oil or dried fruit or nut – then we definitely will experiment with it,” she says.