Hotel Chocolat agrees new Japan joint venture

Hotel Chocolat at Donegall Square North in Belfast city centre
Hotel Chocolat at Donegall Square North in Belfast city centre

RETAILER and chocolate maker Hotel Chocolat has agreed a new tie-up in Japan after the costly collapse of its previous joint venture in the country.

The chain, which has an outlet in Belfast city centre, unveiled a deal with Tokyo-based Eat Creator Corporation which will include 21 Hotel Chocolat-branded shops across Japan.

Hotel Chocolat will hold a 20 per cent stake in the joint venture and will receive brand royalty revenues.

It said Eat Creator will provide "growth capital, new supply-side know-how and proven expertise in food brand development for the Japanese consumer".

Hotel Chocolat's previous partnership in Japan with Chris Horobin, the former boss of shopping channel QVC Japan, hit the buffers last year, leading the group to write off around £22 million.

This pushed it to a pre-tax loss of £9.4 million in the year to late June, down from a £3.7 million profit a year earlier.

It was forced to restructure the joint venture - launched in 2018 - under bankruptcy protection after its then-partner demanded a hefty sum of investment to keep going, which Hotel Chocolat said at the time was not viable.

Hotel Chocolat said the new agreement with Eat Creator will see its partner provide the funding for it to grow and apply the "key business learnings from the first four years of trading in Japan".

The company's previous attempt at cracking the Japanese market was hampered by Covid in 2020 and 2021 and then the Japanese government reinstated movement restriction guidance in 2022.

Hotel Chocolat co-founder and chief executive Angus Thirlwell said: "During Covid, it became really difficult for the (previous joint venture) business. We were providing all the funding from the UK.

"We figured out that, having got to the first chapter of the business, what we wanted to do next was to find a partner that could bring expertise on the supply chain side. This new partnership brings skills, connections and fresh capital as well."