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2023 – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

(note – inspired by the Royal Institute’s Christmas lecture, the images are AI generated “cowboys eating chocolate”. Clever stuff isn’t it!)

It sounds terribly pretentious to suggest that a tiny business like mine has “values” (and let’s face it most companies who claim to have values do so to cover up their total lack of them). But one of the guiding principles for me has always been transparency. I may expand on how this impacts Coastal Cocoa in a future post, if I can get over how totally “up myself” it will sound. For now though, here are my open and honest thoughts on how 2023 was for Coastal Cocoa.

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The Good

Shop Sales: Once you account for the different timing of Easter, we had 47 weeks in 2023 where sales were better than the equivalent week in 2022. This was mainly down to more and more people discovering us, the amount people spent was down a little, but the number of customers was up significantly.

Wholesale Hot Chocolate: I had no plans to sell our hot chocolate mixes to other cafes at the start of the year. But in the summer I was approached by Kim and Adam from Dark Circles Cafe on the Marina, and they now sell more of our hot chocolates than I do! If you haven’t been there yet, do check out their lovely cafe/record shop, and enjoy the best hot chocolate in town (well, best equal with us of course!).

Ice Cream: Our ice cream sales weren’t huge, but the feedback was soooo good. I’ve even had several people asking for ice creams in December and had to disappoint them. Our ice creams will be back when the weather warms up (he says while watching snow fall on Hastings), and I’m looking forward to experimenting with some new flavours.

Market Sales: Market sales were actually down slightly this year, but I avoided the larger, more expensive events, which never seem to work out well for us. So while turnover was down, I’m pretty sure profit was up (if I get some time I may try to calculate whether this is actually the case, which means I probably won’t!). I also concentrated more on shorter, local events, in the towns and villages around Hastings. This helped promote the shop more, and also meant I could run parties and workshops after the markets had finished.

The Bad

Online Sales: Online sales were down this year. Talking to other chocolatiers a lot of them had a challenging year online. So I don’t think we are doing anything particularly wrong, it is a general trend. Still, the increase in shop sales more than compensated for the decline in other areas, so we are still growing 🙂

Advent Calendars: I’m not saying our Advents are bad, they most definitely are not, and the feedback from those who bought them has been overwhelmingly positive. But we didn’t sell as many as I hoped, and getting a custom design produced was expensive. I guess launching a more expensive product in a cost of living crisis was always going to be a challenge. Still, the design is not “year specific”, so we have plenty of calendars left for the future.

Empty Arcade: In the last 12 months we have seen Sales From The Crypt sadly close, and the welcome addition of Sugar Plum Bakery. Since The Crypt was a double unit, and Sugar Plum have a single unit, the Arcade is emptier than it was 12 months ago. This is not the direction of travel I was expecting and not the trend we need. Hopefully 2024 will see an improved situation.

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The Ugly

Southern Water: There was only ever going to be one contender for the “ugly” of 2023, wasn’t there…. We were lucky compared to many other businesses affected by the two (!!) occasions on which Southern Water’s negligence led to the town centre flooding last year. We had some flooding in the basement and had to close for half a day as the power was shut off. It is the longer term impact on the town centre that worries me though. It is hard to see who will take empty units now, and the cost of insurance is sure to rise significantly. If only Southern Water knew how to read a weather forecast and a tide table 🙁