Hotel Chocolat is set to create 250 new jobs this year as part of expansion plans as the boss revealed online sales are expected to overtake store sales for the first time in its history.
Founder and chief executive Angus Thirlwell said the shake-up for the business comes as customers surged to its website in record numbers during the pandemic and continue to return.
Online sales were just 15% of the total business in 2019 but will hit more than 50% this year, he added.
As a result, sales are expected to beat expectations for the year and store sales have returned to pre-pandemic levels.
Mr Thirlwell told the PA news agency: “When our stores opened they performed better than we had modelled.
“We recruited three million new customers online during the pandemic who are continuing to buy digital as well as going into our stores to enjoy immediate gratification.”
He added: “We anticipate we are going to be producing about 250 new jobs this year. They’re in manufacturing, they’re in data, or in design.
“These are high calibre jobs as well as a fair spread of entry-level jobs. We’re pretty pleased to be playing our part in communities.”
Expansion plans include growing its chocolate factory, a fourth truffle-making line, a new line for its home hot chocolate machines, expanding its warehouse and improving its online capabilities.
Sales in stores have returned to pre-pandemic levels on average – with particular growth in market towns, including St Albans and Hitchin in Hertfordshire and Stamford in Lincolnshire, although business in city centres and transport hubs continue to struggle.
Mr Thirlwell said: “The work-from-home change has meant people with good jobs are sticking around the locality and want to shop there and enjoy more local experiences.”
Revenues in 2021 are set to be £165 million – up 21% on 2020 and 24% on 2019 before the pandemic.
In the 10 weeks to June 27 as stores reopened, sales were up 34% compared with 2019 and 63% on last year when all stores were closed during the pandemic.
Rents have been renegotiated and are now 30% lower – either via lower fixed amounts or switches to sales-based rental models, with the rest of the store estate leases either ending or up for negotiations in the next two years.
Sales in the US and Japan have also improved, with sales up 62% and 277% respectively on last year.