Hotel Chocolat and Waitrose curvy slab bars


Hotel Chocolat is urging customers to swap £2 “copycat” Waitrose bars for its £3.95 trademark slabs, in the latest twist to the retailer row.

The premium chocolatier is advertising the swap offer to customers on social media, email and its website under the hashtag #Slabgate in what it says is a bid to limit reputational damage.

“If you are one of the many who have been confused by the lookalike Waitrose bars but upon tasting them, have found they have not been made by us and lack the real Hotel Chocolat quality, there is a solution to avoid you falling into a sugar coma!” the site says.

Founder Angus Thirlwell said the swap was the “only course of action” to ensure shoppers were not fooled into thinking the “sugar-laden” Waitrose bars were made by Hotel Chocolat.

The chocolatier is pursuing legal action against Waitrose for mimicking the curvy shape of its slabs, a design registered with the EU Intellectual Property Office. But Thirlwell accused Waitrose of being “slow” to respond and feared reputational damage could occur in the meantime.

The founder was particularly concerned over the cocoa content of the Waitrose chocolate. The Waitrose caramel crunch product uses dark chocolate that contains only 56% cocoa, which Thirlwell said was a “throwback to 1970s UK chocolate”.

“We’ve been put in a position of our brand being ripped off by a sugar-laden imitation of chocolate that is potentially very damaging,” he told The Grocer.

“Our brand is being trashed in full view every hour that ticks by. The scary thing from our point of view is people might buy these slabs and think they’re being made by Hotel Chocolat, and they’re going to be really disappointed.”

Thirlwell conceded there was a risk consumers could buy the Waitrose bars with the intention of swapping them for a pricer, higher-quality Hotel Chocolat bar. “We did think about that but on balance, the only other option was sitting on our hands and waiting for Waitrose to get round to doing the right thing. We had to get moving to make customers happy again but really it should be Waitrose investing.”

When approached for comment last week, Waitrose said it was looking into the matter. “We take the intellectual property rights of other businesses extremely seriously, and so we are looking into the points made by Mr Thirlwell,” said a spokeswoman. “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.”