Brave new world of chocolate beckons
The owner of luxury chocolate retailer Koko Black wants to quadruple its turnover in the next four years, as it almost doubles its Australian retail footprint and ramps up its online business to capitalise on soaring demand in Asia.
Simon Crowe, founder of the Grill’d burger chain that now turns over more than $350 million annually, bought Koko Black out of administration almost three years ago. He said the chocolate company had been in a holding pattern while he settled a legal case with Grill’d business partner Geoff Bainbridge.
“As of this financial year the business is being moved into a gear that is future-looking. Before that it was really in a holding pattern. I wasn’t able to apply myself to the business to get the right momentum behind it to make the necessary changes,’’ Mr Crowe said. The firm has just hired Monash University Professor Nicholas Georges as its new CEO. Before he joined Monash, Mr Georges was at Mondelez International (formerly Kraft Foods), where he was the research, development and quality director of its Asia-Pacific chocolate category.
He also previously worked at Nestle, Godfreys and Vitasoy.
“His appointment means I can focus on the growth aspects of the Koko Black business — online, corporate and some of the innovative stuff that we should be doing,’’ Mr Crowe said.
“We should be 3D printing chocolate and working with our partners like Crown and Qantas more closely.”
In June 2017 the company announced supply deals with Crown for its Crown Towers properties and with Qantas for first and business class passengers.
Last year Koko Black started a collaboration with celebrated local chef Dan Hunter to launch a
‘Our future is doing things in a brave way’
range of handcrafted chocolates inspired by native ingredients.
Hunter has a focus on indigenous ingredients at his award-winning regional Victoria restaurant, Brae. The range was launched late last year.
“We think that is a unique contemporary space that no one else can legitimately own. The brand is also all natural. We have no preservatives, artificial colours or flavours,’’ Mr Crowe said.
Mr Crowe wants to increase Koko Black’s turnover from $22m to $88m in four years.
Having bought the company for $6m from entrepreneur Shane Hills, he has committed another $12m to transform its operations and says it is now moving towards profitability off a negative base.
“Last year the business was in the red. As we migrate and invest behind the business and the growth comes, undoubtedly it will move into the black,’’ he says. The chocolatier has 13 retail outlets around Australia, with shops in Sydney, Perth, Brisbane, Adelaide and Canberra. Four new stores will open over the next six to nine months, including one at Melbourne Airport.
Mr Crowe said there was scope for the total to grow to 25 stores over the next three to four years, but the majority would be straight retail offerings as opposed to the lounge and retail product of the past, such as the site at Melbourne’s Crown Casino.
The company also introduced an online offering in October, which it plans to move from a sales to subscription model over time. Mr Crowe’s vision is to take the company into Asia through online platforms such as Tmall and jd.com. He has already engaged with the former.
“Koko Black has a huge opportunity to play to Asian tastes with the high quality of Australian ingredients.
“What Australia has done in the wine category, Koko Black can do in the chocolate category,’’ he said.
He said the company was also benefiting from the strong crossborder gifting of chocolate from offshore to people in Australia.
“Our future is doing things in a brave way in a new world chocolate realm without the legacy issues that sometimes come with history,” Mr Crowe said.
“The change curve is something we are driving really hard. Koko Black has an opportunity now to take on the big guys. If we don’t do that now, we will get lost in the wash.”
SIMON CROWE KOKO BLACK OWNER
Koko Black owner Simon Crowe wants to experiment with 3D printing chocolate and will target Asian customers