An Interview With Savarins’ Sarah Newell

Sarah Newell - SavarinsIt’s been a mad couple of weeks and I’m not entirely sure how I got in contact with Sarah. But other than eating chocolate I’m interested in the business of it. How people decide to retail one type of chocolate over another and how they plan to compete in this crowded market place. Sarah’s gone ahead and set up business – Savarins and just by looking at the coverage she’s got already she must be doing a great job. So I wanted to find out more about her chocolate shop and what her future plans are.

Hi Sarah, just give a run-down of who you are and where you come from?
I hail originally from the South East but moved to the North East of England as a child. I have lived in various places in the North East from a small village in rural Northumberland, the beautiful city of Durham and now live the heart of the North East, Newcastle. I’m passionate about the North East and am very proud to come from such a beautiful part of the world.

How did you “get into” chocolate?
I’ve always been a big chocolate fan, but really it wasn’t until I spent a few months every summer in the South of France working for a sailing company that I truly got a taste for great chocolate. Every summer for 5 years I worked on the coast and spend my days off exploring the various villages and towns of the Languedoc-Roussillon region. What struck me was the fact that even in the smallest towns and villages there were the most amazing chocolatiers.

On returning to the UK I would long for the quality of chocolates that I was able to find in France but sadly soon realised that it was exceptionally difficult to get hold of great chocolate if you live outside of London. After a holiday to Ibiza with friends I made the decision to start my own business that gave people outside of London the opportunity to purchase the finest quality chocolate products from across the UK and Europe.

Lee: – I’m completely with you there. I’ve had great problems finding a wide enough variety of chocolate here in the UK.

And how did you take the next step?
I took a year to research and source the chocolatiers who I wanted to sell. As there were so many other businesses selling chocolate products I wanted to make sure that Savarin’s offered customers something different and special. After speaking to industry experts and respected chocolatiers I discovered that so many companies promote themselves as high quality and artisan, when in reality the only thing luxury was the packaging! So I decided to put quality before profit and only select chocolatiers who were making the finest artisan chocolates along with the finest chocolate bars from across Europe.

Lee: I think the problem is that there’s only a very small percenatage of the population that recognise brands that generally offer excellent chocolate. Most seem to fall for clever marketing and resist the temptation to try something new.

And what about the type of chocolate you sell?
I felt strongly that it was important to champion the skills of British chocolatiers as for many consumers fine chocolate is not associated with the UK, when in reality we have some of the world’s most talented and creative chocolate makers.

Lee: I’ve been lucky enought to review the chocolate of some great British chocolatiers and there are some truely imaginative ones out there. My problem though is that its a case of the “grass being greener on the other side”. I see some good stuff coming out of America and if you can somehow stock those brands then you could be on to a real winner.

How did you choose the name Savarins?
Choosing the name and branding for the business was a big challenge as I wanted to ensure that the name actually meant something. I finally settled on Savarin’s as a tribute to the French writer and gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, who famously spoke of the ‘Blasphemy’ of mass produced chocolate. Brillat-Savarin’s opinions mirrored those of my own and the name pays tribute to the fact that nearly 200 years after his book >The Physiology of Taste was published, there are chocolatiers who are working in line with his opinions and principles.

Lee: My views completely. We unfortunately live in a world obsessed with instant gratification, with too few interested in the poetic and artistic qualities of fine food. People mistake that mass-produced and mass-marketed food as delivering the feelings of bliss that they are told they should crave – without allowing themselves to appreciate the level of satisfaction that a well-crafted bar of choclate can offer.

So what does Savarin stand for?
The ethos of the business is one of ‘permissible indulgence’ we want to encourage people to treat themselves and others, the difference in quality from a £1 bar of chocolate to a £4 bar is so vast it is certainly worth spending the extra pennies!

With so much competion it must be tough to make your mark in such a sector?
The business has been trading for a year now and is doing well, every week we have enquiries and orders from all over the UK and also the world. All our customers have one thing in common, a true appreciation and love of fine chocolate products. As I have had to continue to work full time the business plan is to grow organically to enable us to build up a strong customer base and ensure that we are able to offer exceptional customer experience. We currently operate online and also through a concession at a delicatessen in Newcastle upon Tyne.

One thing that’s always caused me to have second thoughts is not knowing exactly what people would like and are willing to try. So how did you decide one which products to sell?
Good question! It was really difficult as there are so many amazing products out there. I decided to speak to the chocolatiers themselves to see which lines they sell the most of and which lines were new and exciting. I wanted to be able to offer a good selection but one that was not overwhelming to the customer. So I chose to sell around two dark bars and one milk bar from each brand and then two or three lines from the UK Chocolatiers. That allowed me to offer enough choice but not so much that it becomes impossible to chose between bars! I change the products on offer in line with demand, if I find that something doesn’t sell well I shall remove it and try something else, so the customer really is guiding the product selection.

Are you nervous about having stock going past their best before dates? Even some of the larger fine chocolate shops online don’t manage to sell everything. How do you manage that issue?
The issue of out of date stock was something I was really worried about when setting up the business and I’m still learning about what sort of quantities to order. Any stock that is due to go out of date I will use as freebies or samples for when we do talks or markets. It will hopefully be something that I will get the hang of in time, but I think accepting that in any food business there will be stock that goes out of date helps to prevent beating myself up about it! As long as it is eaten by someone who appreciates it and who may well go on to purchase chocolates from Savarin’s then I can live with it.

As you’ve been going a year, what have been the biggest lessons you’ve learned?
I think that the best lessons have been to accept that there will be mistakes and that it is ok to make them! Ordering too much or not enough stock has been a valuable lesson which i’m still getting to grips with. Not paying out huge sums of money for advertising and marketing has perhaps been the best lesson. I found that once word got out that a new business was on the scene I was inundated with offers of magazine advertising and from various agencies all seeking to promote the business, of course at some considerable cost!

I found quickly that the most lucrative ways of promoting the business came from my own ideas rather than traditional advertising and PR. I think that in any business it is essential to know your market and target them accordingly so I spent my own time and money doing promotions and giving out free samples to my target market, so rather than taking out an advert I have spent money on giving away samples at gallery openings and theatre performances.

Moving forward I would like to see the business continue to grow and flourish and eventually open a flagship store in Newcastle flowed by a number of shops across the UK. In ten years time I hope that Savarin’s will be ‘The’ place that chocolate enthusiasts go to for their own chocolate treats and also as gifts for their friends and family.

Lee: that’s great stuff – let’s hope that consumers catch on to fine chocolate and are willing to step out of the supermarkets to fine great chocolate experiences

What’s your most favourite bar of chocolate of all time?
My favourite bar of chocolate of all time has to be Domori Porcelena. I was just blown away when I tried the bar and have yet to sample another that comes close. I try new bars all the time but always go back to Domori, it is such a shame you can’t find them more easily across the UK. Definitely a bar for every chocolate lovers wish list!

// If you would like to get your brand across then simply drop me a line for an interview (there’s no cost).

Lee McCoy

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