Russell & Atwell is Steve Russell and Giles Atwell, a Birmingham-based fresh chilled chocolatier chocolate business, headed up by entrepreneurs with over 30 years collective experience in the making and marketing of chocolate. Steve, our Willy Wonka figure, and Giles, a third-generation chocolate entrepreneur, started with a simple question: “Why are we still eating long-life chocolate, if everything tastes better fresh?” On Thursday, 10th March, we saw the experienced pair pitch their concept, business nous and bold plans for expansion to the formidable Dragons’ Den, in a fifteen-minute segment that sees the pair gain investment from Steven Bartlett and Peter Jones.
Giles says of the inspiration behind Russell & Atwell, “The ‘long life’ chocolate bar was invented at the start of the 20th century, but most homes have had fridges since the ‘50s, so whilst fresh milk, pasta and desserts have all migrated over into the fridge, chocolate has been left, quite literally, on the shelf. It’s high time fresh chocolate became the go-to standard for quality, simplicity of ingredients and indulgence.”
Launched as an e-commerce business in 2020, the team hand prepares five varieties of fresh chilled chocolates from their Birmingham kitchen, just around the corner from Cadbury, in Bournville. Their Creamy Milk, Scrumptious Salted Caramel, Cracking Creamy Hazelnut, Smooth Dark and Extra Rich Dark Chocolates are made with delicious, high quality and sustainable ingredients including responsibly sourced cocoa, fresh organic British cream, butter and wildflower honey. Chocolate lovers can opt for letterbox-friendly pouches (from £13.50), elegant refillable glass jars (from £30 for two; from £12 per 180g eco refill) or a regular Russell & Atwell subscription (from £50).
Filmed in June ’21, Steve and Giles were challenged with getting their fresh chilled chocolate ready to shoot on a hot summer’s day amongst blazing studio lights. The makeup team had fun with Steve’s shaved head, needing to pat down the shine (whether that was from the heat, or from the nerves remains to be seen!). Whilst Steve was a little nervous, Giles helped the duo keep their cool, he recalls “I wanted us to just enjoy the ride, we had nothing to lose and set about with an attitude that we could walk away if the deal wasn’t right – I think that helped ease the pressure.”
We see Giles state, “We see no reason why we can’t get to £50 or £100million in a few years…the last corporate job I did, I took the business from £50 to £100million, and we back ourselves to be able to hit those numbers, and more.”
Russell & Atwell offered the Dragons 9% of the business for £90,000 in investment, telling them, “30% of pasta is fresh and it’s a £6.5billion chocolate market, if half of that market could be fresh in twenty 20 years’ time, that’s an enormous opportunity.” With Giles’ 100 years family history in the business of chocolate and their shared experience in global chocolate corporations – the friends and business partners pitched their fresh chilled chocolate concept and detailed their extensive experience before opening their fridge to sample the chocolates. With Steve being Head Chocolatier, he passed out the chocolates to the Dragons, and the taste immediately went down a storm; Peter Jones and Steven Bartlett loved the chocolates, Sarah Davies makes her own truffles at home so had a keen eye for the details, Deborah Meaden was a little left out as she is vegan, opening the discussion of future dairy-free varieties.
Sara Davies commented, “I’m actually quite an expert in this field…I have always handmade all of my own chocolate and I have honed that over the course of ten years, and I have never tasted a chocolate as good as my own, until just then.”
On trying the chocolate, Steven Bartlett says, “All of my fitness goals are going to hell on a high horse, because these are absolutely delicious…I love the product and it tastes amazing, I think you’ve done a really good job with the brand as well, your background is incredibly impressive…and your passion for chocolate can’t be replicated or imitated.”
After an hour and a half of discussion around margins, manufacturing and costs, and whether the corporate veterans had what it takes to move into the entrepreneurial world, new Dragon and Happy Sexy Millionaire author, Steve Bartlett, made the first offer of £45,000 for 15% of the business, wanting to team up with other Dragons to further the business; this triggered an offer from each of the Dragons, with Peter Jones singling out Steven Bartlett as an ideal partner to share the investment to further the direct to consumer business. Steve and Giles went to the wall and announced, “we’re too far apart; we don’t want to work for you, we’ve had 30 years of corporate careers, we want to work for ourselves.”
Giles revealed that he was prepared to give away 15% of the business, and again each of the Dragons offered deals. Giles even cheekily offered tasters of their new Hazelnut and Orange chocolates to bargain the Dragons down a percent. Having read all their books and listened to numerous podcasts featuring each of the Dragons, Giles and Steve had an idea of who they wanted to work with. The Dragons went on to pitch their own experience, Sarah Davis could help with utilising the shopping channels and Touker Suleyman could help gaining a listing with Marks & Spencer.
It was a tough decision, but eventually Russell & Atwell set a deal with Steven Bartlett and Peter Jones, offering them each 10% of the business for the full £90,000 investment. With Steven on the board of Huel and co-Founder of social media and marketing agency, Social Chain, Steve and Giles were eager to learn from his social and digital expertise. Peter Jones’ experience was an attractive counterpart, with his more traditional high street knowledge, which will also be hugely valuable to Russell & Atwell in taking the business, who currently sell online and via luxury delis, and into supermarkets nationwide.
Giles comments, “We’re blown away by having five offers We came into the Den open-minded as to who we wanted, but the five offers blew us away, and gave us quite a dilemma. In the end, we chose the ‘dream team of on & off-line – Steven and Peter – and we haven’t looked back since!”
We see a gleeful Steve Russell comment, “I do feel very much like a real-life Willy Wonka”
Peter Jones says, “I’m a bit of a chocoholic and I’ve seen a lot of chocolate businesses come through the Den, but nothing tasted like Russell & Atwell – it seems so obvious that ‘fresh tastes best’, but to experience their chocolates fresh from the fridge was in a different league – I had to invest.”
Steven Bartlett adds, “Chocolate is my ultimate guilty pleasure and salted caramel is my all-time favourite flavour, so the Russell & Atwell Fresh Salted Caramel chocolates really sealed the deal for me. The product is already incredible and has a strong USP, so I knew with a little guidance and marketing we could really make it explode.”
ABOUT RUSSELL & ATWELL
Steve Russell and Giles Atwell LOVE chocolate, they have over 30 years of experience working on some of the world’s favourite chocolate brands. Steve is the chocolate wizard, an expert in all things cocoa. Giles is the ‘suit’ – dealing with sales and marketing. Between them over the years, they’ve created and launched hundreds of chocolate products all over the world.
In fact, Giles has chocolate in his blood – his grandfather began a chocolate company, Lesme Ltd, in 1921, launching the UK’s first choc ice in 1927, and his dad ran it for a number of years before being sold in the 1980s. They share the same dream – to create high quality chocolates in small batches with just a handful of delicious ingredients. Steve is a chocolate scientist with 20 years of chocolate development experience, creating chocolates for famous household brands like Mars, Cadbury Dark Milk, Green & Blacks Velvet Edition and lastly Godiva, where he and Giles met. You’ll be hard pressed to find two more enthusiastic chocolate lovers, who better to lead the fresh chilled chocolate revolution?
Appointment of Nick Bunker as Non-Executive Chairman
Coming at the same time as the Dragons’ Den announcement, Upside Down Chocolate Ltd (the parent group of Russell & Atwell) is also delighted to announce that Nick Bunker has been appointed Non-Executive Chairman of the business. Nick has 25 years’ board-level experience in chocolate and snacking, including as President of Kraft / Cadbury UK, CEO of KP Snacks and most recently MD of pladis.
“We are really excited to welcome Nick,” says Co-Founder of Russell & Atwell Giles Atwell, “We’ve known Nick for a few years, and he has kindly been unofficially mentoring us since inception – it’s great to now formally have his wealth of experience in snacking and thoughtful perspective in the business as we take this next step in our growth journey”. Nick said: “Nick said “From tasting their early batches, I knew Steve & Giles were onto something with ‘fresh’ chocolate, I’m excited to be working with the team, as well as Steven and Pete to accelerate Russell & Atwell growth.”
Read more of this article here: February 2022 Single Issue form – International Confectionery Magazine (in-confectionery.com)