Luxury chocolatier Hotel Chocolat has been snapped up by confectionery giant Mars in a deal worth £534m.
The retailer said it had reached an agreement with the food firm which also owns the Celebrations, Dove, M&Ms and Snickers food brands.
The takeover will see Mars help Hotel Chocolat expand in the UK, where it currently has more than 130 shops, and potentially open in new countries.
But the news has been met with disappointment from customers of the chocolatier, with many raising fears that the takeover could lead to a decline in quality.
Responding to a Hotel Chocolat social media post on Thursday, one wrote: "Yet another British chocolate maker sells out [...] Won't be buying any more of your products as I expect it will have the same fall from grace as Thornton's after selling out."
Another added: "A great company about to lose the customers who continue to care about quality and ethics as it sells out to prioritise growth over all else."
Mars has since said that it has no plans to change recipes of Hotel Chocolat products, and would not be selling Mars products in Hotel Chocolat stores.
Hotel Chocolat company has its headquarters in Royston in Hertfordshire, a factory in Huntingdon and a distribution centre in St Neots, in Cambridgeshire.
Angus Thirlwell, co-founder and chief executive of Hotel Chocolat, said: “We know our brand resonates with consumers overseas, but operational supply chain challenges have held us back.
“By partnering with Mars, we can grow our international presence much more quickly using their skills, expertise and capabilities.”
The chain has been operating at a loss after major restructuring efforts last year which helped to bring down costs.
It agreed to a new tie-up in Japan in January after the costly collapse of a previous joint venture in the country.
The previous partnership led the group to write off around £22m and it was forced to restructure the deal.
The group’s share price has also suffered, trading almost a quarter lower for the past six months after two profit warnings earlier this year.
However, last month it said sales grew by more than a 10th in the three months to October and stores opened this year have been performing better than expected.
Mars, which employs about 10,000 people in the UK, said Hotel Chocolat’s luxury gifting and immersive brand experiences would boost its own presence in the region.
Andrew Clarke, global president of Mars Snacking, said: “The Mars and Hotel Chocolat businesses are highly complementary, and during the course of our discussions with Hotel Chocolat’s leadership it has also become clear that there is a very strong cultural fit – with purpose at the heart of both organisations, and a shared passion for quality and sustainability.”
Hotel Chocolat shareholders will receive £3.75 per share as part of the deal. Its shares were trading at about £1.39 when markets closed on Wednesday.
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