Browsed by
Month: January 2016

The best job in the world – making your passion your purpose

The best job in the world – making your passion your purpose

Hotel Chocolat is perhaps one of the most vertically integrated brands around.

It came into existence in 2003 as the latest iteration of the business that Angus Thirlwell and Peter Harris started in 1993, when they began selling mints as “MMC”. A few years later, they moved into the market that they were both truly passionate about – chocolate – and rebranded as “Geneva Chocolates”. 

Their stated objective was to make chocolate that really excited the senses and to make that chocolate widely available. To that end, they start selling chocolates online, becoming one of the UK’s earliest “e-tailers”, predating the likes of Amazon and eBay. Another change of name followed, this time to “Choc Express”. 

In 1998, they launched the Chocolate Tasting Club, a subscription-based service which allows members to receive, taste and test chocolates every month. It is still running and has around 100,000 members.

 In 2003, Choc Express rebranded as Hotel Chocolat and in 2004 launched its first retail store in the centre of … London? New York? Paris? Geneva? – no, Watford. 

It was a showcase for their unique take on chocolate, an approach that didn’t follow the accepted ‘rules’ of the market… 


Those rules said that a slab of chocolate should be regular and divided into bite-sized pieces, Angus and Peter made curvy and iconic Giant Slabs.

When they started making Easter Eggs, they were advised by experts to make them as thin as possible and put the chocolates on the outside. They did the opposite – making really thick shells with all of the chocolates hidden inside for extra excitement. 

Long before the recent trend for more cocoa and less sugar had started they were already doing it. Their house-grade milk chocolate was 50% cocoa, and their white chocolate was 36% cocoa, well above the averages at the time.

Despite breaking all these rules, the store was a huge success and others quickly followed in other towns and cities across the UK and later in the USCA and Europe.

In 2005, a loyal customer sent Angus a book she had found while tidying her husband’s study. She thought he might be interested, little did she know how interested.

It was a 1920 edition of “Cocoa & Chocolate, Their History from Plantation to Consumer”. It told the history of cocoa growing in the West Indies. It touched a nerve with Angus who had he spent part of his childhood there and wanted to link the brand more closely with its roots – literally and metaphorically. 

An intensive search began. A search that included several islands, before Angus and Peter found The Rabot Estate in Saint Lucia. They both fell in love with the estate and bought it in April 2006.

The brand now grew some of its cocoa, made its own chocolates, developed its own new recipes and sold them in its own shops, but this vertical extension of the brand was only just beginning.

In 2011, Hotel Chocolat lived up to its name and opened its own hotel – the Boucan Hotel. It sits on the edge of the Rabot Estate, perched high up in the Piton Mountains. The luxury hotel and spa has six lodges and a cocoa-inspired Boucan Restaurant. It too is a success and people fly in from around the world to enjoy the food.

In 2014, Angus and Peter decided to bring the cocoa plantation experience to Britain, and launched two new restaurants in London and Leeds.

Not content with that, they also launched their School of Chocolate at Cocoa Vaults in Covent Garden, London, where they offered chocolate-making sessions, tasting events and bespoke parties for everyone, from chocolate loving kids to cocoa addicted corporate teams.

In 2015, they published their first cookbook ‘A New Way of Cooking with Chocolat’ providing the recipes and tips so anyone can have a go at making some of their award-winning dishes in their own homes.

Not surprisingly, Angus loves his job. “I count myself as one of the luckiest people around – to work every day in a business that lives by my obsessions for chocolate, true creativity and honest ingredients, and which also has a link back to my childhood in the West Indies through our cocoa estate in Saint Lucia”.

It is a job that is the envy of millions of chocolate lovers.


A punk, a dwarf and the world’s smallest protest – how Brewdog changed the brewing world

A punk, a dwarf and the world’s smallest protest – how Brewdog changed the brewing world

James Watt is a self-proclaimed punk. He doesn’t pull his punches, he tends to go in both – beer – barrels blazing.

In his book “Business for Punks” he describes the launch of his brand “Rewind to 207. Based in a shed on a remote and godforsaken industrial estate in north-east Scotland, Brewdog came howling into the world. Martin Dickie (my best friend) and I set up one tiny brewery with one very big mission: to revolutionize the beer industry in the UK and completely redefine British beer-drinking culture.”

Their purpose was, and still is, to make other people as passionate about great craft beer as they are.

Since that launch, the brand has gone from strength to strength. From two humans and a dog, Brewdog now employs more than 500 people. Its beers are exported to over 50 countries and they now own and operate over 40 Brewdog craft beer bars in some of the coolest cities around the world. For the last four years, it has been the fastest growing food and drink producer in the UK.

It has done it all in its characteristic unconventional and in your face style. “You need to get incumbent companies, competitors, random people and in our case regulatory bodies to completely hate you”

And it was in taking on those aforementioned regulatory bodies that Brewdog truly demonstrated that brands can and do change the world.

The year was 2010 and Brewdog decided they wanted to serve their craft beers in two-third pint measures in their UK bars. They felt this was a better size to showcase some of their stronger and more complex beers. It also fitted with H.M. Government’s desire to avoid irresponsible drinking. 

What Brewdog didn’t realise was that they were up against a 300 year old piece of licensing legislation which outlawed the two-thirds measure.

James and his team tried writing to Parliament and lobbying politicians but conventional methods got them nowhere. They decided to adopt a more unconventional and frankly smaller alternative.


They hired a four foot five inch dwarf dressed as a punk and, armed with an array of placards bearing  slogans like “Size matters” and “Small for all”, they started a week long protest at Westminster and No. 10 Downing Street. They called it “The World’s Smallest Protest”. A petition and social media campaign were simultaneously launched.

It worked. In 2011 Science minister David Willets confirmed that the coalition government would change the rules and allow the introduction of the new two-thirds of a pint measure sometimes known as a  ‘schooner’ measure.

On hearing the news James Watt said: “The craft beer revolution has claimed another scalp in the form of archaic licensing rules. This is nothing short of a landmark victory for BrewDog and an acceptance at government level that we speak for the people and understand the changing landscape of the UK beer market. The two-thirds of a pint measure means British beer drinkers can enjoy bold and creative beers responsibly – we knew that and we made sure the government caught up.”

And finishing off in his characteristically understated way on the Brewdog blog he went on to comment: “If we weren’t so busy brewing, we would probably be able to solve most of the world’s problems.”

When Armand met Octave – Two famous Belgians

When Armand met Octave – Two famous Belgians

Or why Le Creuset is Orange?

It is often jokingly said that there aren’t many famous Belgians and that the most famous ones are only fictional – Poirot and TinTin.

There are, however, two other Belgians who deserve some recognition –  Armand Desaegher and Octave Aubecq. Both were successful industrialists in the early twentieth century, but their claim to fame arose from their meeting at the Brussels Fair in 1924.

Armand Desaegher was a casting specialist and Octave Aubecq was an enamelling specialist. They decided to work together, combining their skills.

The results were to transform a kitchen staple into a worldwide brand, making a commodity that was both more functional and more attractive. They added ease of cleaning and visual appeal to the durability of cast iron cookware.

As they developed their first prototypes they experimented with shapes and colours. The colour they chose, and which is still most associated with the brand, was Flame (an orange colour). Some sources say that the choice was based on a Scandinavian cooker that Octave had seen on his travels. 

Whatever the source of that original choice, it was to give their new cookware both the aesthetic appeal they wanted but also the inspiration for their name. Once applied and hardened it gave the pots the hue of molten cast iron inside a cauldron or “creuset” in French. The brand now had a trademark colour and name.

Now with a product, a brand name and what was to become an iconic colour, the partners set up the “Le Creuset” foundry. They chose to base themselves in the French town of Fresnoy-le-Grand, Aisne, Picardy, as it was the “crossroads” of transportation routes for iron, coke and sand. 

The foundry opened in 1925 and the first Cocottes (or French Ovens) were produced.

Today Le Creuset is sold in more than 60 countries around the world. The Cocotte is still the most popular item, still produced at Fresnoy-le-Grand  and of course still sold in the original orange colour.

Unfortunately for them Desanegher and Armand still don’t make most people’s list of famous Belgians.


The joy of branding

The joy of branding










According to IMDb “Joy is the wild true story of Joy Mangano and her Italian-American family across four generations centered on the girl who becomes the woman who founds a business dynasty by inventing the Miracle Mop and becomes a matriarch in her own right. Betrayal, treachery, the loss of innocence and the scars of love, pave the road in this intense emotional and human comedy about becoming a true boss of family and enterprise facing a world of unforgiving commerce. Allies become adversaries and adversaries become allies, both inside and outside the family, as Joy’s inner life and fierce imagination carry her through the storm she faces.”

Following on from its success I’m waiting by the phone for a call from Hollywood.

The stories of Brownie Wise or Sara Blakely both have all the ingredients to make great movies.

Indeed when I researched and then wrote my version of the Brownie Wise story – “The Queen of Tupperware, I introduced it saying; “The story of Brown Wise is an amazing one and one I wish I could take an option on to turn into a screenplay.” In case you have any doubts about its potential in 1956 the Houston Post reported that “It has been estimated that Brownie Wise has helped more women to financial success than any other single living person.”

The story of Sara Blakely, which I called “The billion dollar butt” – a movie title if ever I heard one – is the story of a woman who is actually grateful for cellulite and back fat. That’s because Blakely turned an idea and the $5,000 she had saved from selling fax machines into a $250-million-a-year business and when asked where that idea came from she candidly replied. “My inspiration was my own butt”

Alternatively you can use the serach button the right entering Tupperware or Spanx