Over the last decade we have expanded organically, one customer and one shop at a time, self funding all the increases in capacity along the way,” remarks Anne Weyns, director of Artisan du Chocolat. A world renowned chocolatier based in England it was started in 2000 in a 300 square foot unit by Gerard Coleman, an Irishman trained as a pastry chef in Dublin, London and New York who, at the age of 25, travelled to Belgium to master the art of chocolate making. At the turn of the millennium Gerard returned to London and founded his company. In 2006 operations moved to a new state-of-the-art 18,000 square foot factory in Ashford, Kent and in the years that have followed stores have opened across the capital and in Manchester and Birmingham. Surrounding himself with a small team of trusted and dedicated production and retail staff, Gerard has always used the resources of the business to purchase the finest ingredients and control quality rather than use it on marketing and sales.
Starting with the search for exceptional and rare cocoa beans harvested in South America, the Caribbean and Asia, Gerard takes these, each with their own distinctive profile, and transforms them into chocolate bars, adding cane sugar and dried milk from the British Isles. Artisan du Chocolat is one of a very select few British artisan chocolatiers that produces chocolate from ground cocoa beans instead of buying in already made couverture. Embracing the idea of using technology to enhance innovation, Gerard’s atelier has state-of-the-art equipment that defies the long held belief that beautiful chocolates are only ever made by hand. Using technology selectively to improve quality and consistency allows Gerard the freedom to utilise his creative skills to invent original products, for example his unique liquid salted caramels. Gerard’s creations can be inspired by almost anything he comes into contact with, but each is grounded on the concept of inventing something delicious and different. His mind is described as being ‘sponge-like’, absorbing dozens of influences from customers, suppliers and other artisan producers.
Artisan du Chocolat’s obsession for all things chocolate and for providing a unique eating experience for its customers can be seen first hand at its newest shop situated in Notting Hill. As Anne describes: “When you enter the shop, the first thing you notice is a gigantic suspended lamp printed with a 360 degree view of a cocoa plantation in Panama. In this unique retail environment customers can browse a vast range of chocolates, truffles and pearls kept in refrigerated vertical counters or sit under the plantation lamp and enjoy some chocolate nibbles and drinks. All of these drinks contain a component of chocolate in them and we also offer a range of innovative cocoa based cocktails such as dark chocolate martini, theobroma cacao pulp bellini and a chocolate rum mulato.”
The sterling reputation that accompanies the products of Artisan du Chocolat comes from a decade of providing chocolates to a number of famous establishments and companies including Marks & Spencer, Waitrose and British Airways: “We are very proud to have been supplying Gordon Ramsay’s three star Michelin restaurant since we started a decade ago, as well as supplying Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant The Fat Duck in the past. Generally customers come to us as we can produce from a couple of kilograms per week of highly bespoke chocolates for a restaurant to 50,000 boxes for an airline. We are in an unusual position within the market where most of our competitors are either much smaller or much bigger and this is to our benefit,” explains Anne.
Being a high end chocolatier it is important to be very demanding when sourcing raw materials for its products: “Luckily we have built long-standing relationships with suppliers who understand what we are after. Each ingredient coming into our facilities is thoroughly inspected and tasted, a necessary procedure as the majority of our chocolates have a short shelf life,” continues Anne.
The most significant recent development within the company occurred two years ago when it started to manufacture a large portion of its own chocolate in-house, conching and refining cocoa liquor in its atelier in Kent. This decision allowed Artisan du Chocolate to expand its list of raw material suppliers from traditional couverture manufacturers to liquor suppliers in Western Europe and cocoa producing countries.
A number of developments and projects are currently in the pipeline, but there is one project that Artisan du Chocolat would very much like to bring to fruition as Anne highlights: “We would like to be a catalyst in giving boxed filled chocolates a presence on fresh food, chilled aisle of stores. Historically chocolate, much like baby food, has been a strictly ambient item and therefore most chocolates in the mass market have a high fat or sugar content that allows it to be kept at ambient temperatures for a shelf life of six months minimum. We believe that offering fresh, chilled chocolates will allow for a significant increase in quality, however we know this will be a long, challenging process and requires a certain amount of convention breaking.”
Taking a measured approach to growth, the last 18 months have seen significant advances for Artisan du Chocolat with three new regional concessions at Selfridges opening. That doesn’t mean it is resting on its laurels as Anne concludes: “We are going to continue to grow our retail presence in the UK and internationally, where we already have a nice presence in Japan and plan to open outlets in Dublin and the Middle East, while still serving a number of wholesale clients. We are also giving strong consideration to going back to cleaning, winnowing, roasting and processing the beans we use in house, but the beauty of being small and lean is that we can react to changes and opportunities quickly so, in that context, who knows what the future will hold.”
Artisan du Chocolat