We talk to the co-founders of the new Birmingham-based brand to find out how they are delivering fresh restaurant quality chocolates at supermarket prices
Who doesn’t like chocolate in their life? But there’s chocolate, and there’s chocolate – as Steve Russell and Giles Atwell are quick to point out. The duo with more than 30 years collective experience in chocolate started their new Birmingham-based business, Russell & Atwell, with a simple question: “Why are we still eating long-life chocolate if everything tastes better fresh?”
Of course, fresh chocolates can be bought at specialist boutiques, but you’re likely to pay a small fortune for one tiny piece made with Himalayan Goji Berries and other exotic flavours. Steve said: “We set ourselves the ambitious challenge of making restaurant quality chocolates for supermarket prices.” Restaurant quality means chocolate made with fresh, high quality and sustainable ingredients. Supermarket prices have been achieved by selling direct to customers – so, no spending on fancy boutiques or advertising campaigns. Last month saw the launch of three new lines from Russell & Atwell, with more promised on the way.
Both men have backgrounds covered in chocolate! Steve was the global head of chocolate recipe design for Cadbury/Mondelez and Godiva (basically the Willy Wonka). Giles was on the commercial side, as marketing director of chocolate in Brazil, global head of candy at Mondelez.
“We knew of each other at Mondelez but met working on Godiva together where Giles was leading taking Godiva from boutiques into supermarkets around the world and I was leading the development of the chocolate recipes,” said Steve. “We hit it off immediately and the rest is history!” Founding Russell & Atwell has allowed both men to realise their life-long dream of creating the ultimate chocolate experience.
They set out by making hundreds of prototypes in search of their perfect chocolate recipe. Steve said: “We discovered unsurprisingly that the fresh products always tasted a whole lot better. It sounds simple but the chocolate bar was invented at the start of the 20th century and fridges didn’t appear in most people’s homes until the 1950s. So, for years chocolates have been ‘long life’.
“We went back to basics, building our recipes from scratch around five key ingredients. Shedloads of sustainable cocoa, a dollop of fresh organic cream and butter from the Cotswolds, just enough sugar, a drizzle of British wildflower honey and a pinch of Dorset sea salt.”
Russell and Atwell chose an artisan small-batch UK manufacturer to produce their chocolate. Steve said: “We picked them because of their expertise in making high quality chocolate and also a family connection – they were Giles’s grandfather’s very first customer when he started a chocolate company in 1921.”
Giles added: “Starting a business is never easy, especially it in the middle of a pandemic! We’ve strived to keep all our costs, beyond the chocolates, as low as possible. We’ve got this far by entirely self-funding. Moving forward we are selling direct to consumers, longer-term we’d like to appear in cafes, delis and quality food retailers. Our ambition is to create a new ‘fresh chilled chocolate’ category, but we know that this will take a while!”
The guys know only too well what a competitive market they are in. “We’ll never out-spend the big guys,” said Giles. “We prefer to let our product do the talking, so we will try to get as many samples into people’s homes as possible (challenging during Covid)! We are also relying on ‘word of mouth’ – this has really helped us with our Kickstarter campaign where we were fully-funded in 48 hours and the world’s No1 Food Project”
Crowd funding on Kickstarter provided the support to scale-up to the first 10,000 chocolate batch. Russell & Atwell is now developing a new salted caramel flavour in time for Christmas. Better watch those waistlines guys! “I think Steve and I both carry a bit of timber, from trying a lot of chocolate over the years,” says Giles, “but we equally also try to stay in-shape!”