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Speciality Food Magazine Review

Proving there is innovation in the drinking chocolate sector is Hans Sloane, whose owner is Brian Watt

Drinking chocolate is a growing sector, says Brian Watt, owner and managing director of Hans Sloane Chocolates Ltd. His young and energetic company produces an innovative range of drinking chocolates whose product range includes high cocoa content and natural honey drinking chocolates and another Hans Sloane innovation, the Drinking Chocolate Cocoa Pod. The drinking chocolate market, Brian says, “is worth around £156m and is increasing at about 7% year on year.” This increase is driven by the premiumisation of the product by brands such as Hans Sloane, he says, and by “the knock-on effect of people drinking better tea and coffee. They don’t want the usual run-of-the-mill drinking chocolates; they are looking for a premium product.”

This is what Hans Sloane provides exclusively for delis and farm shops and also for Waitrose, which spotted the company soon after its launch in February 2014. Hans Sloane’s is a premium drinking chocolate made with shiny beads of chocolate rather than the usual powder or shavings,which actually tastes of chocolate, Brian says. “When we created Hans Sloane drinking chocolate, our focus was on taste. A lot of the big confectionery companies make drinking chocolate as an afterthought and over the years they have reduced the cocoa content, as part of reducing costs. But that changes the taste of the product, so when we developed ours it was all about getting the right taste. Ours has a rich, chocolate taste. The most common comment we get from people we sample with is that it actually tastes of chocolate. It’s almost as if they have forgotten what drinking chocolate should taste like. Our mission has been to put the chocolate back into drinking chocolate. Along with our Smooth Milk Drinking Chocolate and our best-selling Rich Dark Drinking Chocolate, we do a Madagascan with 67% cocoa and an Ecuador with 70% cocoa. They both have a high cocoa content, but each has a very different taste; one is fruity and the other is bitter. We also make a natural honey flavour. One of our chocolatiers is also a bee-keeper and we asked, why have people never put honey and chocolate together? It’s been well received at consumer shows and really sells well. People are surprised when they try it.”

Another innovation from Hans Sloane is the Cocoa Pod. “When we looked at single-serve drinking chocolate,” Brian says, “we found it tended to be a block of chocolate with a spoon stuck in it, so we gave the chocolatiers the day off and asked them to come up with a different idea for single serve drinking chocolate. They came up with the idea of a cocoa pod mould. When we showed it to the team, someone suggested that we put the chocolate beads inside the mould so when the packet is shaken, you can hear the chocolate beads inside. To make the drink, you simply pop it in the cup, pour in the hot milk or the hot water, and it all implodes right in front of your eyes. It’s a bit of theatre in drinking chocolate.”

Brian and his head of marketing, Jamie Ewan, both had strong experience in the chocolate world before embarking on this project. “After all my years of working on big products,” Brian says, “I wanted to see if I could develop a chocolate brand from scratch. When it came to branding, the name of Hans Sloane seemed a natural choice and one which would bring the company both story and heritage.“Hans Sloane inspires the company,” Brian says. “He too was a real innovator. Sir Hans Sloane was a physician to King George I. At the same time as he was treating the king, he was holding free clinics for the poor at his house in Bloomsbury. He was a massive collector, too. It was his donated collections that laid the foundations for the British Museum and the British Library. His connection with chocolate was that he travelled to Jamaica in 1687, where he saw the locals drinking cocoa and water. He tasted it but found it nauseating and created his own drinking chocolate recipe by adding milk to the cocoa. Hans Sloane brought the first theobroma cocoa sample back from Jamaica and launched a milk chocolate drinking chocolate into London in 1687.”

With an innovative bead format, high cocoa content, a natural honey variety and the groundbreaking Cocoa Pod, the high quality, yet affordable, Hans Sloane range seems designed for sale in delis and farm shops – which indeed it was, of course. With its smart packaging the product has strong shelf presence and gifting isn’t restricted to the Christmas bauble which Hans Sloane produces for Christmas. The Cocoa Pod makes a great ‘thank you’ token gift, Brian says.