July 18, 2018 / 10:03 AM / a month ago

UPDATE 1-UK's Hotel Chocolat to accelerate overseas expansion

* Company plans to become a global brand

* Has tested in the Danish market for three years

* Initiatives to be announced “in coming months”

* Revenue up 12 pct in 2017-18 year

* Shares rise as much as 3.2 pct

* (Adds detail, CEO, analyst comment, shares)

By James Davey

LONDON, July 18 (Reuters) - British chocolatier Hotel Chocolat is close to pressing the button on further overseas expansion after three years of trials in the Danish market, it said on Wednesday.

The firm, which makes and sells upmarket chocolate, currently trades from 110 stores - 107 in its home market and three test stores in Copenhagen.

“We know that the brand has strong attractions for international markets,” Angus Thirlwell, Hotel Chocolat’s co-founder and CEO, told Reuters.

The Danish market had proved an ideal test bed, he said.

“In Denmark there’s a real reverence for good food, there’s a strong local competitive set of chocolate makers and labour rates are higher than they are in the UK,” he said.

“Our plan is that, we’ve learnt a raft of things, and now we’re going to apply them to a major market or major markets to become a global brand.”

Thirlwell said details would be announced “in the coming months”, adding that the firm’s investment plans were unaffected by Britain’s imminent exit from the European Union.

Hotel Chocolat reported revenue for the year to July 1 of 116 million pounds ($151 million), up 12 percent, bucking a tough economic backdrop for UK consumers.

The firm said it would meet analysts’ forecasts for 2017-18 pretax profit of 12.7 million pounds, up from 11.2 million pounds in 2016-17. Its shares rose as much as 3.2 percent.

“Whilst there has been considerable recent media coverage of retail generally, we are encouraged by the performance of both our new and existing locations,” said Thirlwell.

Hotel Chocolat opened 15 stores in the year and added 200,000 online customers.

Trading since the 2017-18 financial year-end had continued to be in line with management’s expectations, despite Britain’s prolonged heatwave which has deterred core chocolate sales.

“We don’t just hide in the shade until the summer’s over. We can be out there competing for business with our cocoa beer and Ice Cream of the Gods,” said the CEO.

Shares in the firm, which listed on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) at 148 pence in 2016, were up 1.6 percent at 351.5 pence at 0932 GMT, valuing the business at 400 million pounds. Two-thirds of the equity is owned by Thirlwell and co-founder Peter Harris.

“This trading update is very strong in the context of the retail sector and there is no doubt that the strength of the brand, its balance sheet and cash flow profile all point to what is a sustainable growth model,” said analysts at Liberum, who have a “buy” stance on the stock.

$1 = 0.7669 pounds Editing by Paul Sandle and Jan Harvey

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