UK – Mars, one of the world’s biggest food companies and the US’s fourth-largest private firm has acquired British upmarket chocolates maker Hotel Chocolat for £534 million. 

The offer by the American firm is a big premium for the UK firm had been valued by stock market investors at only £191m on Wednesday evening but was well short of the peak valuation of more than £700m in late 2021.  

Thirlwell and Harris founded the business in 1993, but switched to the Hotel Chocolat brand in 2003 before opening their first store in north London a year later.  

The business has since expanded to 131 stores in the UK and 21 in Japan under a licensing agreement, plus a luxury hotel on its cacao farm in the Caribbean island of St Lucia. 

Thirlwell however notes that despite the brand’s considerable popularity overseas, the business has struggled to meet demand due to operational supply challenges. 

“By partnering with Mars, we can grow our international presence much more quickly using their skills, expertise and capabilities,” he added.  

Mars Snacking global president, Andrew Clarke, assured industry stakeholders that there are no plans to alter the iconic recipes that define the Hotel Chocolat brand. 

 “We’ve got a real track record here of nurturing, protecting and accelerating brands and actually keeping that entrepreneurial nature at what that brand stands for,” he said.  

Thirlwell and Harris will each receive £144 million from the acquisition. Thirlwell, continuing as CEO, pledged an 80% reinvestment of his windfall back into the company, but Harris will cash out most of his stake as he retires. 

 Mars already has an extensive presence in the UK employing over 10,000 people at its offices and factories across the country. 

It owns some of the most iconic food and beverage brands ranging from Snickers confectionery to Pedigree dog food and Dolmio pasta sauces. 

The company which is still owned by the Mars family, said it would use its international might to expand Hotel Chocolat’s brand in the UK and abroad. However, it said it would keep Hotel Chocolat’s UK manufacturing. 

In a statement, Mars said: “[We] believe that Hotel Chocolat and Mars are culturally aligned, with shared values of quality, sustainability and purpose among their guiding principles.  

Mars’ stated purpose is “the world we want tomorrow starts with how we do business today” and it shares the passion and conviction in Hotel Chocolat’s mission, “to make people and nature happy through reinventing chocolate”.  

In October, Hotel Chocolat launched two new chocolate bars and said that it would donate 100% of the bar sales to support sustainable cacao farming practices.