The most striking thing about Chantal Coady, Creative Director and Founder of Rococo Chocolates is that her business has come from her dream and her passion.
Coady took a plain department store experience and sensualised it, creating a genuine and fantastical place for people to come and shop. “Setting up my shop was quite a brave thing to do,” she says with sincerity.
Having created and designed a shop from scratch with her friends in the 80’s, the chocolatier began a shift in the way chocolate is marketed in the UK. It was bombastic, had a strong aesthetic and was a memorable luxury for people. “My friends from art school painted cherubs by Bottochelli on the ceiling and we made the shop into a fantasy land that was also genuine,” she adds.
Nowadays, design and how food is marketed is essential to success. The M&S ‘This is not just food’ campaign in 2006 made mainstream food sensual and memorable, but one could argue that Rococo got there two decades earlier.
“You look at what there is and then you think what difference you can make- you could say that is the secret to retailing,” says Coady.
With three stores currently around the most exclusive areas of London - Chelsea, Belgravia and Marylebone, and confectionary being sold in Waitrose, Harvey Nichols and John Lewis, her vision has a broad appeal and her shops are flocked to from all over the world.
Coady has always been interested in the history of chocolate and has written three books on the subject. The cocoa bean has enjoyed a rich and varied history; the first chocolate was not eaten but drunk and arrived in Europe via Spain at the end of the 16th century. The beans were not grown into a fine paste and made into bars of fine chocolate until the age of steam power. And Swiss chocolate inventor Rudolf Lindt invented the conching process, which removes the acid and gritty texture. Soon after 1795, Dutch chemist Conrad van Houten invented the first cacao butter.
When Coady began her business 30 years ago, the most extravagant flavour known was violet creams. Since then she has created so many more, often unexpected flavours, such as sea salt, lavender and chili pepper.
Now considered an expert in the food world, her chocolates are legend and she has been rewarded for her efforts by the Academy of Chocolate for ‘Changing the way people think about chocolate.’ The Wall Street Journal also recognised her as ‘The Founder of a new British school of chocolate.’
The old quote from Theodore Roosevelt “Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground.” rings true for Coady’s spontaneous yet settled attitude to retailing.
We speak about the high-street’s future in the UK following the rapid expansion by out-of-town supermarkets. Could an online tax help the high-street?
“I think it is terrible that Amazon can get away without paying tax because of offshore accounts. If an online tax could be policed and were successful then it would make a difference. But I don’t know how it would be done,” she says.
The future of the high-street is a topic that has been dominating retails collective consciousness. How can shops possibly adapt to the growth of online shopping channels such as Amazon? And should landlords do more to assist the independent stores?
“It is really hard to say but I think people seem to be able to move around less and less today because of time constraints. They may be able to only visit one little section of Marylebone High Street in their time off. That affects retail,” she says.
Coady adds that since the heatwave has struck London the shops have been quieter, but she is never resting and always tweaking and reveals that the £4.50 Rococo artisan bar will go into a box; becoming more of a gift.
With online sales growing faster and faster, would Rococo ever do away with their physical aesthetic and employ multi-channel in-store promotions?
Replying with grounded realism she says, “I wouldn’t say ‘no’ to anything e-commerce or m-commerce. Our website sales are growing all the time.” However, she has considered joining up with contemporaries Godiva, Hershey’s Chocolate World, and Forey & Galand in an even more sweltering location than London. Would Rococo ever consider going to Dubai as part of the billion pound booming shopping revolution?
“We actually went out to Dubai a few years ago because we were interested in the area, but decided against it for now because it would be a massive distraction!” But after the experience of a British heatwave denting her London profits could her chocolates ever handle a fierce Middle-Eastern heat?
Whatever Coady does or goes next, she will continue to shock the palate and please the eye with her brand of pioneering confectionery.