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He observes: “The way the retail market is going the only path that’s sustainable in future is if there is some kind of customer experience that you can’t get online. Virtual reality offers interesting potential in that respect, so we’re already looking into how that could work for us.”


The majority of Leonidas’ new-generation small standalone stores will open in London and the South East, in high footfall High Street or transport hub locations, with pop-up units already trading in Blackfriars, Soho and upcoming units in Hampstead and Kingston. But the duo is not putting all of its chocolates in one box.


Manchev adds: “We’re not just working on shop openings; we’re also concentrating on establishing the brand in the UK”. A partnership with a major department store is under discussion that would see semi-permanent installations (for three-month periods around key festive occasions like Christmas and Easter) in stores across London and in major UK cities such as Birmingham and Manchester. A three- store pilot operation is expected to be agreed by the end of 2018.


Also at the planning stage is a self-contained branded fridge offering pre-packed chocolate for placement in independent retail outlets. “We’re aiming to establish relationships with greeting cards retailers and florists and develop the brand as a gifting proposition,” Manchev adds.


This strategy will bring Leonidas head to head with other premium chocolate brands already well-established in the


UK, though the duo is confident that dual USPs of price and freshness will give its products the edge. Punjwani points out that chocolates at its nearest competitors retail for £65-95 per kilo and those from super premium brands cost more than £100 per kilo. Leonidas, by contrast, sells for £49 per kilo. “That’s why the time is right to explore areas where it’s too expensive for our competitors to go to – that’s where our market is. As a customer you don’t have to pay a lot to get the best,” he says.


The issue of pricing highlights a cultural divide that Leonidas is hoping to bridge. While consumers in mainland Europe are used to buying chocolate in the same way as fresh cheese, paying per 100 grams, British consumers are more accustomed to purchasing on a per-chocolate basis. “What we’re looking to do is combine the two concepts,” explains Punjwani.


“The idea is that our offer is an everyday treat – so when you stop by for a few chocolates you pay a fixed price for each one calculated from a single, transparent base cost per kilo – currently equivalent to £4.90 per 100g. Plus, we don’t charge extra for gift packaging.”


Competitive pricing should keep stock turnover high. Unlike other brands, Leonidas doesn’t freeze its chocolates for storage and transit. Instead, all are still produced at the original factory site in Brussels and delivered fresh to each store (see stats box on the right). Most will, therefore, have a shelf-life of less than two months, but the majority are expected to have been consumed long before that!


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