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Chockablock with Good Stuff: Cocoa King Angus Thirlwell Defends the Mighty Bean

Our head of editorial, Gabby Griffith, is an experienced former journalist and writer for Times and Sunday Times

Consumer tastes rather than government intervention will start to tackle the sugar epidemic. That was the prediction from Hotel Chocolat co-founder Angus Thirlwell on last night’s episode of The Capital Conversation.

“I firmly believe sugar shouldn’t be at the levels it is at the moment,” he told host Michael Hayman. “But I don’t think the government should be tinkering in those sorts of issues.

“It’s consumer power that’s going to change it and companies like ours who are trying to get people to switch to smaller amounts of proper chocolate rather than bucket loads of sugar-loaded cheap stuff.”

The entrepreneur believes most people have yet to wake up to the complexity of chocolate. “It’s better than a great burgundy. Flavours of the cocoa bean are nuanced by the same things as wine grapes, such as terroir, the skills of the grower and fermentation.”

He’d even like certain other products to be reclassified. “If you flip a chocolate bar over and its number one ingredient is not cocoa, it shouldn’t be called chocolate. We’ll have to find a new vocabulary for that – effectively something made of sugar masquerading as chocolate”

Thirlwell, whose father founded Mr Whippy, started Hotel Chocolat because he spotted a gap in the market to deliver some excitement around real chocolate. “We felt chocolate in the UK had become deadly boring and was seen as the worst in the world. We wanted to bring back some national pride.”

The entrepreneur pointed to his passion as one of the secrets to his success, telling other would-be founders to do something they love: “If you can be lucky enough to align personal interests with what you doing, you can’t fail. Don’t force yourself into something you don’t like – I’ve seen it go the wrong way.”

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