Knoops: Sweet Success in East Sussex
Locate East Sussex talks with founder Jens Knoop on how he has expanded his artisan drinking chocolate bars from Rye in East Sussex, with support from the community and Locate East Sussex.
“Adam was really supportive in helping us with the process of funding, and I’m really pleased that the support we have received has meant we can remain completely produced in East Sussex”Jens KnoopFounderKnoops
In April 2013 Jens Knoop made a decision to share his passion for chocolate with the community of Rye, by opening up the first drinking chocolate bar in the area. Operating such an unique shop in a quiet historic town rather than a big city could be seen as a huge risk, but for Jens it was the start of a journey that would see him discovering the formula to achieving success all across the country. Now about to open its 7th store in the UK, Knoops has grown tremendously, and with the help of East Sussex Invest funding, has been able to expand production of its range to enjoy at home.
Founder Jens has always had a strong emotional relationship with chocolate ever since he was a young child growing up in Hamburg, Germany, but his career in the subject didn’t start until much later. After completing a photography degree at Bournemouth Arts College he started working for an American Technology business out of Tunbridge Wells which took him all over the world, carrying out market research and focus groups for large corporations. It was during these sessions that he discovered a lot of people were saying the same thing.
“Small, affordable, luxury. They want to treat themselves, a lipstick, a small watch, a nice suit or, more often than not, something food related. I thought this was interesting, and drinking chocolate could be something that would work, and it was something I’d always been passionate about” Jens told us
Having moved out of London, Jens was living in Camber, East Sussex, after falling in love with the area. He had noticed the evolution of the bean to bar chocolate market, with customers becoming more aware and interested in the origins of chocolate, the farmers, the producers, and how this might affect its taste. Finer eating chocolate was appearing in London but nobody was offering a high quality drinking chocolate.
“It was almost an overnight decision” Jens told us, “I thought, why don’t I open a hot chocolate bar?”
Following an introduction from a friend, Jens was able to acquire Tower Forge, a cosy yet characterful building right by the Landgate in Rye. He got to work, creating his unique offering, and a menu of 21 varieties of chocolate drink. His first order may have been for a Double Espresso, but since that moment he has received a huge amount of support from the local community, who are really behind him in adding something new to the town rather than just being ‘another coffee shop’.
A shop serving artisan drinking chocolate, with a concept around offering chocolate varieties and percentages to appeal to every taste and mood, might seem more suited to a large city, whose inhabitants are perhaps more engaged with luxury and artisan products, which begs the question, why Rye?
“Rye is unique. It may be small, but it has a lot to offer”
“I admit, I don’t think I could have afforded the same type of space in London that I have here, but actually being here (Rye) was the best thing I could have asked for. The customer base here is so diverse, from young families visiting the beach to the older generation wanting a treat on a cold day, after all, who doesn’t love chocolate? And the thing I love about Rye, is it’s un spoilt. It maintains its medieval feel and has a community who are proud of their heritage and still want to preserve it.”
Since it’s birth just over 6 years ago, Knoops (pronounced Kuh-noops) has been setting the standard for chocolate drinks, and in 2015 was even referred to as “The best hot chocolate in the world” by the Daily Telegraph. Fondly named ‘Knoopology’ and performed by ‘Knoopologists’, the process of crafting your perfect chocolate drink from a library of chocolate flakes, milks and flavours such as sea salt, orange zest, or chilli, provides endless opportunities to experiment with different combinations. It also isn’t limited to hot drinks, you can choose from Hot Chocolate, Milkshakes or Iced Chocolate, making this a treat you can enjoy whatever the weather.
Despite the many varieties to indulge in, it seems the 34% Milk Chocolate remains the favourite order, which Jens puts down to childhood memories of enjoying a classic bar of chocolate. We asked him what his favourite combination was, and his answer truly represented the passion he has for his product.
“My favourite changes every day, depending on what I crave and how I’m feeling. For me chocolate acts as my stimulant, my fuel and my comfort. Telling people my favourite could impact their decision, and each person will have their own individual needs, and they need to discover the right chocolate that fulfils those”
From Sussex to the City
2 years ago, Knoops evolved following what started as interest from international investors and then continued via a global pandemic. The success at Rye had proved the concept worked, and so following external investment in February 2020 Knoops opened its first London store in Clapham Junction. At this point things took an unexpected turn. Countrywide lockdowns throughout the COVID-19 pandemic caused Knoops to take a look at its operations and bring plans forward to open an online store to sell its prepackaged chocolate flakes to a wider audience. This took off, and as a result meant their small production/packaging facility in Rye was no longer large enough to fulfil its needs.
Jens was connected up with Graeme Wolford, Managing Director at Judge Sampson Ltd in Hastings who not only made an agreement to rent him a floor in a disused part of their factory but also introduced him to Locate East Sussex, who support growing East Sussex businesses with advice and access to funding.
Adam Berger, Business Manager at Locate East Sussex supported Knoops to apply for East Sussex Invest funding (ESI) which offers matched funded loans and grants to businesses needing finance for growth. With Adams support Jens was able to secure a £25,000 ESI loan of which £10,000 will convert to a grant following the creation of jobs. This funding will support the expansion of the Hastings based factory, purchasing machinery for creating and packaging the tubes of chocolate flakes for home consumption.
Jens commented “Adam was really supportive in helping us with the process of funding, and I’m really pleased that the support we have received has meant we can remain completely produced in East Sussex”
What comes next?
Now running 6 stores, (4 in London, 1 in Brighton and the flagship in Rye), being stocked in major retailers including Harrods, and employing 80 members of staff it is apparent the only way is up for Jens and his luxury chocolate drinks.
He told us
“Starting in Rye could have gone very differently, especially for a business offering something so unique, but everyone has been so supportive and I’m really pleased with everything we have achieved so far.”
Its 7th Store will be opening in Oxford in January 2022, and Jens is now in talks about further investment and potentially opening stores internationally.
He told us “Chocolate has an appeal everywhere and to everyone, it’s a reminder of childhood memories and comfort, it’s like a hug! I could have stores everywhere, but Rye will always be special and the birthplace of Knoops”