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Food and Drink

Simon Pattinson

Simon Pattinson co-founded Montezuma’s Chocolates with his wife Helen over 20 years ago, having jumped ship from life as lawyers. Starting up with only a kitchen sink-sized machine and one shop in Brighton, the business has now developed a multi-channel model through the UK and International distribution, online and retail; always retaining the essential focus of ‘business done properly’. 

One business success

  • Retaining our founding principles as we stumbled through the early years is one of the more esoteric markers we both doggedly fought to retain. While we consider this a success, the struggle is constant and real while the business continues to grow rapidly. Professionalising the business is probably necessary, but this can bring with it an internal tension between a socially compassionate entrepreneurial spirit and a perceived need to become corporate. We relish this challenge.

Two challenges for the sector

  • Covid-19 has presented one or two issues over the last year or so!  We were fortunate to have a multi-channel business where some sectors continued strongly whilst others stopped. Living in a country where support in various forms for both businesses and individuals was made available in the short term was also beneficial. The Montezuma team were phenomenal in their attitude and approach to coping with the ever-changing situation. This means we are looking to exit the pandemic as a growing business with an optimistic outlook.
  • Greed is always a challenge in business, and in our experience dealing with such minded businesses is draining and marginally depressing. While many genuinely strive to transact in a sensible and realistic way, many do not. If everyone was realistic about terms, margins, costs and other transactional elements, I am sure the business landscape in the UK would be healthier and more prosperous. I am hopeful that a post-COVID Britain brings about a more compassionate and cooperative approach, and that some of the movements gaining momentum (e.g. BCorp) expand their view of business done properly and this trickles down through some organisations who have historically abused their power.

Three forecasts for the sector

  • I think one’s outlook significantly depends on interpretation and being a cynical optimist. Chocolate per se does face some challenges, but enjoyment in chocolate is here to stay, as is the growth and interest in quality food and ingredients. Fortunately, we offer both and remain hugely excited by our product development and expansion across all of our sectors. Cynical not mad!
  • Retail has not yet hit rock bottom and more closures are only a matter of time. In my view, COVID has mostly catalysed an already changing sector. The most important element will be the re-alignment of rents as demand freefalls, while a downward adjustment in rates paired with an upward introduction of an online sales tax will help prepare a re-shaped high street for the next 10 years. These changes present huge opportunities for specialist retailers offering incredible service.
  • The environmental impact must be of the highest concern to all businesses and consumer pressure cannot be relied on to force that move. We are currently seeing some change, but many operate what could be called “convenient environmental policies”, partly driven by PR and marketing while always looking at the bottom line and shareholder returns. In my view, this will not bring about sufficient change, which may only come from new legislation.

June 2021