MD Joe Keohane and director Nick Baker bought the assets of Browne’s, based in Okehampton, Devon, out of liquidation in March, giving it the new name of Browne’s the Chocolatier.
The two entrepreneurs had sold their former business, Sharp’s Brewery, to brewing giant Molson Coors in January, after boosting its turnover tenfold to £25m in eight years.
Keohane told FoodManufacture.co.uk that production was being scaled up at the 10,000 sq ft Browne’s plant, with 15 employees now on site.
“We like to think that we can grow brands very rapidly; there is a call for a high quality chocolate brand out there, if you look at the sort of thing Hotel Chocolate has done with a retail chain, but focused on product not shops,” he said.
The Browne’s brand was being updated to give it a more upmarket feel, he explained. He commented: “While the chocolates inside were very high quality, the packaging was weak.”
New premium gold and white packaging was set to launch, as well as innovative ranges such as individually wrapped decorated chocolate pops (lollipops), priced at £1 each, for sale in independent retail outlets.
Keohane said that the chocolate recipes used by the company had not been altered, as Browne’s had a fine reputation for its quality.
Keohane attributed Browne’s having gone into liquidation to the company “having too much debt," and the “age old problem of banks not being willing to work with them".
The site was reasonably well invested and had needed only routine maintenance.
Browne’s now had products listed with customers including Waitrose, and was supplying chocolate truffles to doughnut specialist Krispy Kreme’s standalone and Tesco-based outlets, Keohane added.
Talks were also taking place with major department stores including John Lewis and Harrods, a former Browne’s customer.
Browne’s would also be targeting the corporate gifting market in the run up to Christmas, with the message that theirs was a British-made product.
Keohane said that he and director Baker planned to make further niche purchases, probably in the food sector.
He said: “We will look out for further businesses that need a bit of work. It’s likely to be premium food businesses with local heritage.”
They were however committed to Browne’s for the long term, he added. “We don’t see any rationale in selling it on, it will be fun growing it and enjoying owning a local business.”