Brave new world of choco­late beck­ons

The Australian - - BUSINESS REVIEW - DA­MON KITNEY

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

STUART McEVOY

Koko Black owner Si­mon Crowe wants to ex­per­i­ment with 3D print­ing choco­late and will tar­get Asian cus­tomers

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