Gourmet chocolates may be a niche category but it’s a growing one with spike in sales during the festive season. Artisan chocolate makers and innovators work with high quality coverture chocolate (containing a higher percentage of the prized cocoa butter as opposed to vegetable fat that is usually present in mass market or compound chocolate) or else they source cocoa beans from specific estates or regions to make small batch single origin chocolate products. According to the India Chocolate Market Outlook 2023, by Bonafide Research, the premium chocolate market in India was worth 2,754 crore at the end of FY17.

The origin

Civil engineer-turned-chocolatier Ishan Pansuria fell in love with the art and science of chocolate-making during a visit to Barry Callebaut’s chocolate plant in Belgium during a family holiday about eight years ago. He decided not to join the family business—construction and chemical production—to set up one of the few bean-to-bar chocolate brands. The 26-year-old set up Toska this year, out of his hometown in Ahmedabad, after spending the past two years learning the trade. “Initially, I thought about setting up a mass scale chocolate production but I realised there is room for premium quality chocolate and decided to focus on small batch production that includes single origin chocolate bars," says Pansuria.

Single origin chocolate is made from cacao grown on a particular farm or region or country. “The single origin cocoa beans take on the characteristics of the region where it’s grown—it’s terroir. For instance, while cocoa beans from Madagascar have an intense bitter flavour, Java beans have a more caramel-like flavour," Pansuria explains.

Bengaluru-based Tarun Sareen, on the other hand, uses chocolate imported from Belgium for bonbons and truffles as well as single origin chocolate from São Tomé, Madagascar, Brazil and Ecuador for bars and squares. Sareen, who worked in the software industry for 12 years before launching his brand, Royal Beans, last year, says, “From food trucks to cafes, I toyed with different ideas but since I didn’t have an F&B background and had to rely on my own savings, I decided to take up chocolate making after attending a workshop in Delhi." The 35-year-old spent the first year building and training his team of four kitchen assistants, developing his product line and building his business. Royal Beans’ range of artfully-painted bonbons comes in a range of 16 flavours including some unusual ones such as masala chai.

Meanwhile, ex-BCG consultants, Sneha Motwani, 27, and Pratik Marfatia, 28, wanted to give a twist to the chocolate bar and came up with a spoonable chocolate fudge that one can eat straight out of the jar. “Chocolate as a category hasn’t seen much innovation in the past. We wanted to cater to the millennials with an evolved palate. We worked with food technologists over six months and came up with a chocolate fudge consisting of 50% dark chocolate combined with a dairy element," says Motwani. They launched Decadenz with four flavours one-and-a-half years ago.

Challenges

Since handmade and single origin chocolates command a higher price, the first hurdle was educating consumers about the differences between mass market and fine chocolates. While Toska’s 70 gram single origin bar costs 450, Royal Beans’ 48 gram bar costs 250. “Once consumers realise how unhealthy mass chocolates are and what they use to bring the cost price down, they switch to pure chocolates," Pansuria says.

Since these products don’t use artificial preservatives and have limited shelf life, reaching them to customers on time was another challenge. While Sareen struggled to find courier facilities that offered temperature-controlled packaging at affordable rates, Motwani too found distribution and logistics a challenge. “We’ve used a hybrid distribution model (food tech, e-commerce and offline touch points) to expand our reach in a micro-market led manner," she adds.

Festive talk

Both Sareen and Pansuria had limited products when they first launched but they have expanded their product range, introduced gift boxes and tied up with gifting portals and e-commerce websites to cater to the festive season. “We have introduced miniature chocolate bars and assorted boxes of bonbons and truffles with unusual flavours such as coffee and cardamom, chilli chocolate, etc. We have also tied up with gifting companies such as Style Salad who curate hampers and gift boxes," Pansuria adds. Meanwhile, Decadenz has introduced gift boxes with assorted flavours including a set of six miniature (30grams) jars with flavours such as peanut butter, hazelnut and Oreo cookie priced at 400.

Realising that people like variety and don’t mind spending big on Diwali, Sareen has put together Diwali combos—these range from 875 to 4,500. Both Motwani and Sareen’s products are available on online platforms such as Qtrove and Amazon apart from their own websites. “There’s a certain wow factor attached to artisan products because they aren’t readily available in retail outlets," Sareen adds.

The Gift Basket looks at unique gifting options for the festive season and the people behind them.

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