Meet the REAL Willy Wonka! £100m Hotel Chocolat tycoon gave away free chocolate for five years, gave customers tours of his lab and has chocolate on his eggs for breakfast EVERY DAY (and his dad was Mr Whippy!)
The eccentric life of Willy Wonka, with his fantastical outfits and sweet tooth generosity, has long captivated the minds of millions of children, with many wishing his giant chocolate factory existed outside of their imagination.
While there are no winding rivers of chocolate, Golden Tickets, and certainly no Oompa-Loompas, the day-to-day life of chocolatier Angus Thirlwell, the owner of Hotel Chocolat, is not too different to Roald Dahl’s most popular character.
The chocolate tycoon is now set to bump his huge multi-million-pound fortune after selling off his beloved company to Mars in a staggering £534 million cash deal, it was revealed today.
Thirlwell, who founded the luxury British chocolate brand two decades ago, admitted he had always been a ‘chocolate fiend’ since he was a child and to this day he remains a chocaholic.
Each morning he sprinkles cocoa beans on his poached eggs, washed down with water infused with the beans and ‘always’ has chocolate every evening.
And over the years, just like Wonka, Thirlwell has offered tours around his sprawling Saint Lucia cacao plantation.
The Newcastle-born exec, who followed in the footsteps of his father Edwin Thirlwell, creator of Mr Whippy, even offered five years of free chocolate to the hero who found a fully stocked ‘Chocmobile’ that was stolen from outside the offices of Hotel Chocolat.
Britain’s own Willy Wonka: Chief executive Angus Thirlwell set up the brand 20 years ago aiming to bring ethical and affordable luxury chocolate to the British high street.
It is perhaps not surprise that Thirlwell set up a business selling sweet treats after seeing his father set up the Mr Whippy ice cream company
Hotel Chocolat was named after the luxury hotel on its Saint Lucian cocao estate which overlooks a UNESCO world heritage site and the island’s iconic Petit Piton Mountain
While there are no winding rivers of chocolate, Golden Tickets, and certainly no Oompa-Loompas, the day-to-day life of chocolatier Angus Thirlwell is not too different from Willy Wonka
Over the years, Hotel Chocolat has become a regular feature on UK high streets, with 130 stores opened across the country. As his success in Britain grew, Thirlwell tried to expand into a global market, introducing a few spin-off shops in Japan.
But the chocolate shop has struggled with the rest of its expansion overseas and is now relying on the huge Mars Incorporation – that also owns the likes of Dove, M&Ms and Snickers – to tap into the international market, particularly in the US.
The announcement saw shares soar by 164 per cent this morning, with the conglomerate vowing to continue the businesses commitments to quality and sustainability.
Thirlwell will continue as CEO as Hotel Chocolat is taken under Mars’ wing, reassuring customers today he will remain the ‘long term guardian of the brand’ and that the company’s recipes will not change – focusing its ethos of less sugar, more cocao.
READ HERE: 60 SECONDS WITH: Angus Thirlwell – Co-founder of Hotel Chocolat
The entrepreneur is set to gain around £144m from the sale. While he plans to send 80 per cent of the paycheck back into his brand, his co-founder Peter Harris is using his huge cheque to ‘take a well-earned retirement’.
Hotel Chocolat was born 20 years ago when Thirlwell and Harris decided to ditch their careers in computing.
It was named after the luxury hotel on its Saint Lucian cocao estate which overlooks a UNESCO world heritage site and the island’s iconic Petit Piton Mountain.
In 2019, the 140 acre plantation on the Rabot Estate was opened up to the public, with tours showing the inner workings of the magical chocolate factory. Chocolate fans can even stay the night on the plantation, with rooms costing up to £640 a night.
A Channel 5 documentary, Chocolate Dreams: Inside Hotel Chocolat, showed how each day millions of perfectly formed chocolates are delicately created.
‘I met co-founder Peter Harris at a computer firm in Cambridge. Computing is so complicated, we talked about doing something simpler,’ Thirlwell previously told the Mail.
‘We started selling peppermints – it was the most niche product ever. After a while customers wanted a range of products so we started looking into chocolate.’
The Newcastle-born exec, who followed in the footsteps of his father Edwin Thirlwell, creator of Mr Whippy
Every day, the tycoon and his wife Linda start their morning with eggs – sprinkled with cacao beans
Hotel Chocolat was born 20 years ago when Thirlwell and Harris decided to ditch their careers in computing
Mars has announced it will buy Hotel Chocolat in a £534m deal to help the UK-based luxury chocolate brand expand its sales overseas
After six years of designing mints, they eventually transitioned to making chocolate.
While setting up a business is daunting, Thirlwell spent his childhood admiring his entrepreneurial father set up his own business – also in the sweet treat industry.
Edwin Thirlwell co-founded the ice cream company Mr Whippy and ‘was always full of beans about going to work’. He developed the trademark white ice cream and sold it from vans in the 1940s.
Years later he sold off his brand switching life in Britain for Barbados to set up a dairy and ice cream business on the Caribbean island – taking his family in tow.
It was there that the younger Thirlwell, who was just three when the family moved abroad, first became interested in the chocolate making process, growing to detest the surgery chocolate available.
He said: ‘I was a chocolate fiend growing up. In Barbados all the chocolate was American and I wasn’t very keen on it.
READ ALSO: Government official blew more than £6,000 in a day on luxury chocolate on taxpayer-funded credit card at department in charge of Freedom of Information
‘Instead we used to drink chocolate tea, which is a healthier, simpler version of hot chocolate you make by boiling ground cocoa beans and adding milk and sugar.’
‘Growing up there (in Barbados) was brilliant, you would go swimming in the sea after school every day. We have a cocoa farm in St Lucia now and whenever we go there it takes me straight back,’ he added.
Soon enough, the Thirlwells headed back to the UK switching their island life for North Yorkshire, where his business mogul father set up Prontaprint.
The Hotel Chocolat execs time on the other side of the Atlantic was an influential one, however, leading him to eventually buy a cocao plantation on a nearby island.
‘I fell in love with the [Caribbean] culture and the way people are and when, 30 years later,’ he told The Times previously.
‘I came round to thinking about buying a cocoa plantation, there was only one place I wanted to do it and that was the West Indies and the Caribbean.’
To this day, he still remains a chocaholic. His days begin and end with chocolate.
In the morning, he and his wife Libby ‘have a drink made from cocoa beans infused in water, and I have poached egg on toast with a few cocoa beans crushed on top’
‘It’s a really nutty flavour,’ he said. ‘We always have chocolate in the evening, or a mug of hot chocolate. I now want the company to focus on what it does best – making chocolate.’
After years of successful trading in the UK, Hotel Chocolat had decided it wanted to expand its chain further afield – tapping into markets across the globe who were in demand for high quality chocolate, with less sugar.
But the vision did not go to plan and last year the sweet shop was set to close all of its stores in North America – a devastating blow that saw the group’s shares crash by 40 per cent. Fives stores closed down with 50 staff being affected.
Today, Thirlwell said that while the brand ‘struck a cord’ with those abroad, the ‘behind the scene’ issues were born from ‘the manufacturing of the products in the country’ and ‘distribution logistics’.
Announcing the sale, he declared: ‘We know our brand resonates with consumers overseas, but operational supply chain challenges have held us back.
Mars and Thirlwell have insisted the UK will remain key in Hotel Chocolat’s new phase
Across the UK there are 130 stores, with Hotel Chocolat also having a presence in Japan
‘By partnering with Mars, we can grow our international presence much more quickly using their skills, expertise and capabilities.’
As news broke, fears were raised that the taking over the company would echo issues seen at Cadbury, which saw some factories closed and relocated overseas.
But Mars and Thirlwell have insisted the UK will remain key in Hotel Chocolat’s new phase.
Over the last year the chain had been operating at a loss following its major restructuring.
The previous partnership led the group to write off around £22 million and it was forced to restructure the deal.
The group’s share price has also suffered, trading almost a quarter lower for the past six months after two profit warnings earlier this year.
However, last month it said sales grew by more than a 10th in the three months to October and stores opened this year have been performing better than expected.
Mars, which employs about 10,000 people in the UK, said Hotel Chocolat’s luxury gifting and immersive brand experiences will boost its own presence in the region.
Andrew Clarke, global president of Mars Snacking, said: ‘The Mars and Hotel Chocolat businesses are highly complementary, and during the course of our discussions with Hotel Chocolat’s leadership it has also become clear that there is a very strong cultural fit – with purpose at the heart of both organisations, and a shared passion for quality and sustainability.’
Hotel Chocolat shareholders will receive £3.75 per share as part of the deal. Its shares were trading at about £1.39 when markets closed on Wednesday.
Hotel Chocolat remained one of the last British-owned chocolate makers, along with Cadbury and Thorntons for decades.
Source: Read Full Article