Nestlé-owned chocolate brand KitKat has opened a highly experiential retail concept at Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre. It’s the first permanent location of its kind for the brand in North America, and represents a brilliant example of a brand engaging with consumers in an effort to create loyalty and gain market share. It’s also the first in the world to feature a ‘chef’s table’, which in itself is another interactive component of the new ‘KitKat Chocolatory’ concept, giving visitors the opportunity to custom-design their own KitKat chocolate bar.
A branded KitKat facade welcomes guests into the bright retail space with an interior designed to be showcased on social media. The 1,200 square foot Chocolatory guides visitors along a personalization process where KitKat bars are custom-designed using a wide variety of ingredients. With more than 2,000 flavour combinations, customers may be compelled to return to try out different options.
The design of the space includes subtle references to KitKat itself. White floor tiles mimic the shape of a KitKat bar, and lighting fixtures on the ceiling appear to be pieces of a KitKat chocolate bar as well. Dark chocolate wood tones on millwork located under tables as well as on the ceiling again reference chocolate, contrasting with a red-and-white colour scheme that is also on-brand. Advertising and design company OneMethod (which was involved in the Sweet Jesus ice cream concept) and ModelCtzn designed the unique retail space. Vaughan-based Unique Store Fixtures was responsible for the production of millwork, stone countertops, metal and signage. Arlin Markowitz, Selina Tao and Teddy Taggart of CBRE Toronto negotiated the lease deal on behalf of Nestlé with Yorkdale’s landlord Oxford Properties Group.
Upon entering the Chocolatory, a variety of choices to customize KitKat bars are provided on menu boards located on a central island, and orders can be made on clipboards hanging on an adjacent wall. A variety of ingredients can be chosen, along with a preferred chocolate type that includes dark, milk, and white chocolate. Displays along a wall provide inspiration for a guest’s KitKat creation and when a decision is made, visitors order from a desk at the back of the retail space that doubles as a checkout point when the final product is ready.
Behind the order/cash desk is a split flap display similar to what one might see at an airport. Messaging on the board may include the name of an individual who has recently ordered a customized KitKat bar, adding an element of fun as well as a vibrancy as the board’s messaging constantly changes.
To the right of the order/cash desk is an open-concept customization kitchen where visitors can watch their customized KitKat bar being made by a team of trained chocolatiers. After the heated chocolate is infused with a variety of ingredients ranging from nuts to cookies to flowers, the chocolate bar is placed in a cooling unit for approximately 90 minutes (or less) until it has hardened. Guests are given a device to notify them of when their personalized KitKat bar is ready for pick-up, which also encourages shopping at other retailers in the mall.
Up to three ingredients can be chosen to customize a KitKat bar from a menu of 16 options. Those range from rainbow sprinkles to rippled potato chips, rose petals, organic gummy bears, mini marshmallows, peanut butter chips, pretzels, and others. More than 2,000 different flavour combinations are possible. Packaging can also be customized and personalized with a message, and gift boxes, gift cards, and personalized greeting cards are available. Some flavour toppings are limited-edition depending on the season — one option currently available is crushed candy canes ahead of the Christmas season, for example.
A customized ‘Create Your Break’ bar costs $15 — while it’s more costly than a chocolate bar at the corner store, the overall experience, quality, and flavour may arguably be worth the cost. Families may be tempted to bring their children to the KitKat Chocolatory, though its appeal spans to every age group.
One unique feature in the KitKat Chocolatory is a Chef’s Table, which is a first in the world for the concept. Four seats are available for guests to sit, learn from, and watch Head Chocolatier, Christopher Neamtu, discuss the history of chocolate while educating consumers through demonstrations. As part of the experience, Mr. Neamtu will create customized KitKat bars using some flavour ingredients that are only available at the Chef’s Table. The cost is $45 per person, and there are only 32 seatings at the KitKat Chef’s Table per week. Many of the sittings are on Saturdays and Sundays, with weekdays also having a selection of time-slots. The Chef’s Table can be booked in-store or online at http://chocolatory.kitkat.ca where an appointment can be booked on OpenTable.
Special edition KitKat chocolate bars can also be purchased in the new Yorkdale Chocolatory. That includes a range of handmade, limited-edition KitKat chocolate bars featuring ‘unconventional Canadian and seasonal flavours’, including the first edition KitKat Gold which is described as “a rich, caramelized, white chocolatey take on the classic KitKat bar”. Only 15,000 of the KitKat Gold chocolate bars have been created.
Social media is expected to play a big part in getting the word out about the new KitKat Chocolatory. A seating area near the front of the store welcomes visitors to sit and take a photo, and marble tabletops throughout the retail space encourage guests to take photos of their creations. To create awareness for the Chocolatory within Yorkdale, an art installation featuring large painted chocolate bars will be displayed in a central area in the mall near Sephora and Zara stores.
The Yorkdale KitKat Chocolatory is one of only a handful in the world, and a first in North America. Other global locations include several in Japan as well as in Sao Paulo Brazil, Kuala Lumpur Malaysia, and in Melbourne Australia. The Japanese are particularly fond of KitKat and have the option of buying flavours not available elsewhere. Ryan Saunders, Vice President Marketing, Nestlé Canada, explained that the company will gauge the success of the Yorkdale Kit Kat Chocolatory prior to seeking out retail spaces for more Canadian locations. During the first couple of minutes of a media tour on Tuesday November 12, at least a dozen people wanting to come in had to be turned away as the Chocolatory was not yet open to the public. Given the apparent interest, not to mention the engaging retail concept, the Yorkdale location is likely to be highly successful and more Canadian locations are likely.
The KitKat Chocolatory concept is a unique exercise in brand building. The highly engaging space will enhance KitKat’s brand awareness while also providing an emotional connection through the personalization process as well as social media posting potential. Chocolate is also said to release dopamine in the brain. KitKat is one of many chocolate bar brands available at stores across the country. The Chocolatory concept will put KitKat on the top of mind for many consumers, which could result in a boost in sales of KitKat’s chocolate bars in other retailers as well.
In some respects, KitKat’s Chocolatory represents the future of brick-and-mortar retail. The space is bright, fun, and at times, loud, creating a heightened level of excitement. For those customizing chocolate bars, the wait and subsequent eating (or gifting) of the product will again be memorable. The immersive experience makes the consumer feel part of the overall innovation process. Personalization is something that has come to be expected particularly with younger demographics, who are also now spending more on experiences, as well as food and beverage. The social media potential in the space is also significant, all of which makes for a winning concept that other brands should examine.
The Yorkdale KitKat Chocolatory is located in the mall’s newest expansion wing, anchored by a four-level RH flagship as well as a Sporting Life store. While the wing’s pedestrian flow has been somewhat less than more established sections of Yorkdale, KitKat is likely to become an attraction that will increase footfall into the new wing. Several other food and beverage options are available in the RH-anchored wing at Yorkdale. That includes Canada’s first by CHLOE. vegan restaurant, iQ Foods, Village Juicery, and a unique Japanese restaurant concept called TORA featuring a food delivery conveyor belt system. The RH store itself features a stunning restaurant space flanking its mall entrance, and visitors to the Miele concept store can also eat various food offerings free of charge using Miele kitchen technology. As well, construction hoarding recently went up for an upscale Chinese restaurant concept called Yu Seafood, which will occupy nearly 10,000 square feet over two levels. The wing is also currently home to a space housing a “Santa’s Chalet” where visitors can have photos taken with Santa Claus himself.
Neslé’s Ryan Saunders explained that Yorkdale was chosen for Kit Kat’s first Chocolatory for several reasons. The shopping centre is home to many first-to-Canada retailers, as well as unique concept stores such as Dyson and Fumé Lounge. Yorkdale pulls in locals and tourists with its compelling retail mix that includes flagship locations for major retail chains, as well as the densest clustering of luxury brands of any place in Canada. Yorkdale is also Canada’s most productive shopping centre in terms of annual sales per square foot, and could surpass the $2,000 benchmark in 2020 with recent year-over-year growth.
Editor’s Note: Want to learn more about Yorkdale and the future of shopping centre retail? There’s still time to register for next week’s Retail Council of Canada’s Brick-and-Mortar Forum, being held in the downtown Toronto Reference Library (789 Yonge Street, north of Bloor) on the morning of Tuesday, November 19th. Speakers will include:
Claire Santamaria, VP Yorkdale Shopping Centre, Oxford Properties,
Nick Iozzo, Sr. Director Retail Innovation and Lead Generation, Oxford Properties Group,
Craig Patterson, Editor-in-Chief, Retail Insider (Author of the Retail Council of Canada Shopping Centre Study),
Marcelle Rademeyer, President & CEO of Beauleigh, and Jean-Francois Nault, Partner and COO of Beauleigh. (including a discussion of their role in assisting with Eataly coming to Toronto),
Mark Palazzo, Senior Director, Leasing, Cadillac Fairview Corp.,
John Crombie, Executive Managing Director, Retail Services, Canada, Cushman & Wakefield,
Chris Chan, Head of Retail Industry, Google Canada, and
Tracy Smith, Senior Vice-President, Marketing & Innovation Retail, Ivanhoé Cambridge.