Like the first daffodils of spring, Easter is a time when the creative skills of Slattery’s in Manchester really bloom. The chocolatier and his team are small and flexible enough to develop new products almost overnight and it’s this approach that has led to innovative takes on old favourites like the Ladies’ Egg pictured here.
This approach has led to the development of what is perhaps a unique business. It includes a retail shop that offers sumptuous chocolate cakes, fancies, figures and desserts, alongside a brisk breakfast, lunch and teatime trade. There is also a dining room seating 100, with space for 40 on the terrace outside. Not to mention a conference centre and a school.
But how does this chocolate aficionado approach the all-important Easter trade?
“We start planning six weeks prior, so this year we will be concentrating on Easter pretty much as soon as March starts,” he says. “But everyone is encouraged to come up with ideas so the development process is more or less constant.”
Because the business is self-contained and staff can react quickly to new ideas, products can literally emerge overnight to appear in the shop the following day. The Easter display is therefore something of a moveable feast, as customer reactions dictate the successes and failures of fledgling products.
“We use large tables inside the shop for displays,” says John. “Chocolate is sensitive to light and heat so we don’t use the windows so much.”
Customers also enjoy watching an uninterrupted view of products being hand-finished
in the workroom beyond the counter.
One of the first things that John considers for his displays is colour. “I like to keep packaging quite plain,” he says, “so the quality and often simplicity of the product comes through. We use a lot of boxes, rather than bags, for packing chocolates to protect them. But we often use a clear acetate box and add interest with boldly coloured ribbon.
“There is also a packing material called Razzle, which comes in a range of colours, and can smarten up an otherwise plain box. Once you’ve decided on a good, strong colour theme, I think you should stick with it and let the products speak for themselves.”
And the products themselves sound wonderful. From the traditional Easter eggs, individual cakes and fancies, to one of John’s favourites – chocolate lollipops. “They’re so easy,” he comments, “very simple to make and decorate and they go like hot cakes!
“We also make chocolate bars, which can be piped straight into presentation boxes and which, with the addition of simple sugar decorations, look really special. People often think a solid block of chocolate is better value than a hollow Easter egg.” John adds that expensive equipment is not necessary to make these items, all that’s required is a little practice and a steady hand.
Although people like to see traditional products at Easter, John likes to give a little extra. “Our Ladies’ Eggs last year used different coloured sugarwork to decorate the eggs with high heeled shoes and handbags and they proved really popular.”
I ask John if the bakery is flat out, scratch baking everything to his high standards. “I’m no purist,” he laughs. “I’m happy to look at other people’s products. We use pre-mixes for some of our cakes – Dawn Foods’ Devil’s Food Cake is one of the best around. Why make extra work for yourself?