Innovative Retailer – Paul A Young Fine Chocolates

Brought to you by Retail Insider and PCMS Group

Name: Paul A Young Fine Chocolates

The Place: There are a grand total of three shops all in the smoke: one in the City, the original in Camden Passage and another in Soho, all catering to the chocolate cognoscenti.

Paul A Young, founder, Paul A Young Fine Chocolates

But I expect you can buy them in supermarkets too, right? Get out, go on! Wash your mouth out and get your coat…

OK, OK. I only mentioned supermarkets: Don’t make me come over there!

Calm down. I won’t mention large retail spaces again: Thank-you. We will come on to the subject again later but for now let us get on with The Story.

Fine. The Story: If I said to you – find a way to get Dame Barbara Cartland into a box of chocolates – what would you say?

I’d say leave me and let us not speak of this thing again: Yes, but Paul A Young wouldn’t. And that is why a beautifully sweet symphony in pink made with pink champagne and diamond decoration featured in his Valentine’s collection.

Stop it: Also featuring in the box was the Casablanca from California Prune and Ras el Hanout.

Ras el what? Or perhaps sir would favour the Taj Mahal crafted with rose and golden milk.

Spot the Dame Barbara Cartland

Are you sure these are actually for proper eating? Yes they are. Chocolates hewn from romantic images with a healthy dollop of playfulness thrown in. But his stupendously imaginative creations are not even what Paul A Young is most famous for.

I’m not sure I’m ready for any more: This is the man who, wait for it, turned salted caramel into a thing. And won Gold at the International Chocolate Awards finals with it. Twice.

Stop! He invented salted caramel: Well, he certainly popularised it in the UK after adding Maldon sea salt to a caramel as it was too sweet. And you can do a master class in creating it yourself at the shops now which shows you just what a game changer it has been for the business. And for the country’s palate.

I know one thing – it’s blooming everywhere: Truly one can pretty much get salted caramel popcorn these days but back in the day – and I’m talking a decade plus here – it was little short of revolutionary to suggest that the British public would ever want to eat a sweet thing that was also salty.

We laughed: Yes, we did. But I think we should go back to the beginning to see how someone who saw a gap in the market in 2006 for an innovation involving proper artisan chocolate making in London, now in 2018 finds himself as, err, still the only business making proper artisan chocolates in London.

Take it away: Well, he is obviously chef-trained and started out in pastry with Marco Pierre White at restaurants like Quo Vadis and The Criterion. Then he made a sideways move into chocolates with a stint developing for Marks & Spencer.

They should have hung on to him: Before moving onto the very upmarket Rococo and Charbonnel et Walker.

Do they like Barbara Cartland there? Not sure but it is a very traditional outfit with a loyal and old school following so I’m thinking Babs might scare the horses and therefore it wasn’t for Paul A Young Esquire. Anyway cut to 2006 and a week before Easter the first shop in Camden Passage opens with the help of his business partner and tech entrepreneur James Cronin.

Cut to later: Eighteen months on the City branch opens in the Royal Exchange – not part of a great business plan according to Young – just fuelled by insane demand for fresh chocs. This was followed by Soho in 2011. Camden Passage makes the products both for itself and Royal Exchange while Soho makes its own.

So I am thinking – so innovative in its production and ingredients – can we assume this cutting edge continues into its delivery options across multi-channel and digital: Ummm.

Voice recognition advance payment, robotic fulfilment and virtual reality headsets to visualise the Cartland boudoir before consuming:  Ummm.

Aha, so you have to go into one of their shops to buy them: Look, the chocolates can be obtained through delivery companies like Amazon Fresh, Uber Eats and so on but technically, yes I suppose you’re right.

But why, in heaven’s name! Think of the money to be made from an online shop: Listen up, they are making small batches, all by hand and they couldn’t begin to fulfil orders for website as well as stocking the shops, which is where most of the sales take place. They make them, the public buys them, they make some more.  And of course, there is the issue of the ingredients, stupid.

How so? When it says ‘contains cream’ it means ‘fresh cream’, there are no preservatives, concentrates, additives in these things. You can’t stockpile them and sell them on when the orders come in three weeks later.

What’s a supermarket shelf life for your average box of chocolates then? Months and months!

And for Paul A Young? Depends on the ingredients. With some it’s within five days or you have wasted your money, sucker. Others last a bit longer.

Well, I must admit to a penchant for a good old Mars bar sometimes, additives and all: Ahem, you will never find Young dissing the KitKats and Snickers of this world – you pay 70p for your Mars and you definitely get your 70p worth of enjoyment. In fact what he objects to most is the mid-tier quality but very over-priced brands in a fancy box that grace almost every shelf.

Let’s stop talking about other people’s chocolate – tell me about the Paul A Young range immediately: So, a core selection of 12 chocolates remains constant but everything else is up for grabs. And the loyal customers are the key – they tell the staff which ones are a hit and which ones are more of a ‘meh’. The products change constantly which is something else that big brands just cannot do.

The words ‘rod’ and ‘back’ come to mind: The customer expects! And Paul A Young has too many ideas knocking around in his head to be making the same old thing day in day out. Work on the Christmas collection starts in March, Easter begins in New Year. It’s been 13 years of a new selection box every month. At any one time 130 different products are out. So thank god for Instagram I say.

Wait, what? Social media. The business is very hot on it. Chocolates look lovely photographed and a new range can be exposed to public view before launching. People go mad for pictures of food, dude, and chocolate is 100% an emotional purchase. Give punters a story to go with it and it is chocks away!

We need to go but before we do can I just ask about the possibility of white label for a supermarket? You’re not too old to go over my knee. Remember that.

PCMS is a global provider of IT software and services for the retail industry. PCMS offers a full-range of integrated commerce solutions across selling touch points and also provides turnkey managed services and cloud hosting. Its client list includes John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Whole Foods, as well as Walgreens in the US and fashion brands including Prada and Ferragamo across Europe