Where speciality chocolates are concerned, there is nothing like having too much of it. The newly minted retail concept Boutique Le Chocolat plans to add 60 more super-niche brands to the 28 it currently showcases and with another eight on the way. And for Meraas, the name behind the concept, it all adds up to its vision of what a “department store for chocolates” ought to be at its City Walk location.
“If we add the complete plan together, we’re talking about 33,000 square feet — right now this is 13,000 square feet in the front, and at the back we have the chocolate making and sculpting area as well as the Cocoa Kitchen restaurant attached to the store,” said Kareem Faisal, Chief Retail Officer at Meraas.
The aim is to have the new additions in-store in the first quarter of next year. “From inception until opening, this has taken us about 16 months to get to where we are,” said Faisal. “Most of the time was spent in talking to the chocolatiers; there are heritage brands and some that are new.
“What makes it artisanal is that you have a person behind it, and he is actually manufacturing the product himself. It is not your typical factory or mass market chocolate maker. With them, if you have a certain order where a customer says they want X kilos, it is not like the press of a button and they can have the order ready in two days. Some orders, especially big orders, have to be pre-planned.
“One of the biggest challenges that rose was that the brands we approached and brought on board had never done this sort of partnership before. They usually are present in their own artisanal shops or have their brands located in certain VIP areas at exhibitions and events. They haven’t come into a department store.”
For Meraas, the dip into chocolate retailing is virgin territory. So far, it’s retail focus has been to create trendy destinations such as the City Walk and the adjacent Boxpark as well as The Beach opposite JBR. More recently, it unveiled the Outlet Village in Jebel Ali, which is also the location for a theme park venture undertaken by its subsidiary.
“Boutique Le Chocolat falls in the (category of) opportunistic projects rather than looking internally and trying to fit it into a particular department,” said Faisal. “It functions separately within Meraas. The concept and the brands are exclusive to Meraas in the Middle East.
“We have had some enquiries (for franchising), but being a fresh brand, we haven’t taken them further. We could possibly look at franchising, or a JV (joint venture) or even opening directly.
“We are associated with the renowned Salon Du Chocolat, a France-based trade exhibition. Meraas also has the worldwide exclusivity to do the Salon Du Chocolat concept.”
Apart from sales to individuals, the busy shopping period for corporate clients will start soon, and Boutique La Chocolat wants to be right in the centre of the demand spike. Further down the line, would it be the chocolate or the associated cafe that will prove to be the biggest revenue creator? “We’ve just been open for two months now, so too early to say. But I believe the chocolates will generate more revenue. You don’t need to convince one to buy a chocolate.”