Hotel Chocolat and Waitrose curvy slab bars

Hotel Chocolat worries shoppers may think it’s producing the new own-label bars for Waitrose, which isn’t the case

Hotel Chocolat has accused Waitrose of ripping off the design of one of its most popular chocolate bars and has written to the supermarket asking it to withdraw a new range.

The premium chocolate retailer said Waitrose’s recently launched ‘Luxury Chocolate Bar’ own-label range imitated the curvy shape of its slabs, a design registered with the EU Intellectual Property Office.

Founder Angus Thirlwell told The Grocer Hotel Chocolat had written to Waitrose “highlighting the similarity” and “asking them to do the right thing”, but had yet to hear back.

He had earlier taken to Twitter to lash out at Waitrose, after the retailer ran a full-page magazine ad for its new chocolate range, tweeting:

‘Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery apparently but hey @waitrose this crosses the line!! As well as breaching our Registered Design Mark, designed to protect innovation.’

A spokeswoman added the retailer’s legal team was now reviewing the situation and could potentially pursue legal action on two grounds: the curvy slabs are a registered design, and consumers could be confused because the bars look so similar. “Our legal team are on that,” she said.

Thirlwell added some Twitter users had concluded Hotel Chocolat was supplying the new own-label range to Waitrose. This was not the case and therefore a concern for the brand, not least because the Waitrose bars contained less chocolate, he said.

“Fifteen years ago, when we were building Hotel Chocolat up from zero, we wanted to create a solid chocolate product,” he said.

“When I looked at what everyone else was doing with chocolate bars they all seemed like they had a spreadsheet accountant’s grid imposed on them. I was more excited by what happens when you pour chocolate out on to a table top and let it set and you get the curvy outline. So I got a pen and drew a curvy outline on a piece of paper and we made a mould and that became our chocolate slab. It had very distinctive curvy outline and no grids.

“Customers really liked them so we decided to protect the design with the European design mark and it’s really shocking to see it ripped off like this. I’m a bit emotional about it. I designed it and it’s what built the Hotel Chocolat brand.”

“The big risk for us is that people think we’re making those bars. All over social media people are saying I didn’t think Hotel Chocolat made bars for anyone else but they’re making these. We want to shout from the roof tops we’re not.”

A Waitrose spokeswoman said: “We take the intellectual property rights of other businesses’ extremely seriously, and so we are looking into the points made by Mr Thirlwell. However, we were only approached about this matter yesterday afternoon and we will, of course, need to consider the issues raised, which we will urgently.”