Kennedy’s Confection Editor Kiran Grewal, sits down with Gemma Whitaker, Marketing Manager at Whitakers Chocolates to better understand how the company is navigating the retail sector.

Give us some background on Whitakers Chocolates.

Whitakers Chocolates have been dedicated to chocolate for over 130 years. In 1889 John and Rebecca Whitaker established the principles of our chocolate manufacturing business, which through five generations have enabled Whitakers Chocolates to evolve into one of the UK’s leading chocolate manufacturers.  

Today we are one of the few remaining family-owned and managed chocolate companies in the UK, supplying chocolate & confectionery in branded & private label formats to catering, retail & gift markets, in the United Kingdom and around the world.  

Everything manufactured by Whitakers Chocolates is produced in a 30,000 Sq. ft modern, purpose-built chocolate factory. Our main processes include chocolate enrobing, depositing, wafer thin layering, high speed foil wrapping, foil and band wrapping and flow wrapping. In addition, we print all our own foil blocked chocolate wrappers, so we’re the kings when it comes to personalisation. 

What is Whitakers mission statement – how do you feel you are achieving this?  

Our mission statement is simple –  

To create great tasting chocolates at affordable prices for all to enjoy, every-day. To inspire and motivate our team, creating an environment of trust, loyalty and transparency’. 

We live by this statement & feel if we all work towards the same goal and adopt the same culture, the rest will follow. This is certainly true of Whitakers. 

What makes Whitakers different?  

As well as being a down to earth, real company run by real people, we have and always will stick to our roots and for Whitakers, that’s specialising in niche chocolate production. We are so passionate about what we do and we’re very lucky that the whole team is onboard and shares our vision for the future (they also come up with some AMAZING ideas!). 

How has the food and drink sector fared during the covid pandemic? Did you see a rise in chocolate sales?  

Like any sector, there are winners and losers, and the food/drink sector wasn’t any different. For us it was a tough time, whilst we did see an increase in our retails sales, especially online, other areas of the business really suffered. Half our business is in the catering and hospitality sector so, as you can imagine, this was heavily affected and one of the last parts of the business to make a comeback. Thankfully, we are now moving in the right direction and the future is looking very bright. 

What other trends are you noticing in chocolate at the moment?  

Lots and it’s a forever changing landscape. Whether it’s the development of vegan chocolates, dairy free or weird and wonderful flavour combinations. The choice for the consumer is so varied and is getting wider all the time. The skill is knowing which trends to follow and which to leave to someone else!  

For us, we see a real opportunity in growing our vegan range, in particular the development of vegan milk chocolate products.[Text Wrapping Break] 

Is the gift sector lucrative for you as a business? Why?   

As we develop and grow our own brand of retail products, gifting is a very important area to our growth plans and brand strategy. We’ve spent the last couple of years listening to what our customers want and developing new and innovative products to fill gaps in this market. In particular, the vegan and gluten-free chocolate gift market. 

Why is Fairtrade important to the business?  

At Whitakers Chocolates we value our environment and the community we operate within. We believe in doing the right thing, treating people fairly and understand that even the smallest of steps can make a huge difference.  

Our goals are broken down into five key areas: 

  • Responsible trading 
  • Protecting the cocoa farmers livelihoods 
  • Community wellbeing 
  • Protecting our planet 
  • Consumer confidence 

We believe everyone in this world should be treated fairly and given a fair price for the work they do. If that means we pay more to ensure everyone in the supply chain benefits – that’s what we’ll do. We only work with trusted and credible suppliers, ones that share the same values, so together we can strengthen cocoa farmer practices and help build a better world for the people that matter. That’s why we work closely with the Fairtrade Foundation UK & wherever possible purchase Fairtrade cocoa. 

How has sustainability impacted Whitakers? 

At Whitakers Chocolates we are passionate about the environment. As a business we continually assess our impact on the environment and strive to be as environmentally responsible as we can be.  We aim to apply the principles of sustainability to our packaging to minimise the environmental impact whilst at the same time not compromising the essential functions it currently performs.  

Our sustainability goals are broken down into four areas: 

  1. Reduce, recycle and reuse 
  1. Sourcing responsibly 
  1. Compliance 
  1. Support local 

We believe in doing the right thing and understand that even the smallest of steps can make a huge difference. 

Why is luxury important in chocolate?  

Chocolate is synonymous with indulgence, a rich treat to be relished. Nothing else gives you that luxury feeling than sitting down (usually with a cuppa!) and enjoying a moment or two with your favourite chocolate. Without the luxury qualities, chocolate would lose its appeal and I don’t think anyone would want that.  

I think today, more emphasis is placed on the need for luxury or a marked difference in the items we choose to eat, especially when thinking about chocolate, whether this is in the origin of raw materials, high quality ingredients used or the packaging itself. 

What challenges are there in the retail sector at the moment?  

There is so much competition in the retail sector these days that to be successful you need to stand out from the rest. That means being bold, creating innovative products that the consumer will love but also can afford. With the cost of packaging and raw materials ever increasing together with a need to use sustainable materials, it’s a real challenge to achieve this. 

What do you see for the future?  

Whilst we will continue to develop specific food service products (watch this space in 2023!) We will also be investing heavily in continuing to develop our ‘Whitakers’ branded retail range to the independent sector and increase online sales via our newly launched website (www.whitakers chocolates.com). We’d love Whitakers to become a household name, so we are working hard towards achieving this ambitious but exciting goal! 

In 2021, we were busy bees developing a new range of products ready to launch this year and therefore I am pleased to announce the successful launch of our luxury Vegan Truffles gift box, our Chocolate Squares (Dark Raspberry & Milk Smoky Salted Caramel) and three new Honeycomb Crisps gift boxes (milk mint, dark mint and milk salted caramel). As with the rest of our retail range, all our dark chocolate products are registered with the Vegan Society, are suitable for Vegetarians and are all gluten-free (excluding truffles), which is great news for Coeliacs! 

Editorial contact:
Editor: Kiran Grewal kgrewal@kennedys.co.uk