LIFESTYLE

Choc o bloc: Indian chocolatiers should up their game while overseas companies reap huge profits

every minute, 406 chocolates. Albinder Dhindsa, the CEO of Blinkit, posted these deliveries on his X account during Valentine’s Week, which broke records. These figures confirm the growing chocolate market in India. It is expected to increase at a rate of more than 6.6% over the next three years, now valued at $2.2 billion.

With slogans like “Kuchh meetha ho jaye,” Cadbury’s Dairy Milk was able to reach millions of people in India—which, incidentally, has the unpleasant distinction of being the world’s diabetes capital—by providing a healthier alternative to the traditional mithai. Mondelez India, the parent company of Cadbury, commands a comfortable 65% of the chocolate industry, well ahead of rivals like Nestle, Amul, ITC, and others.

The market for high-end, luxury imported chocolates has also been steadily expanding in recent years. High-end foreign chocolates are now found in supermarkets and retail shops in Tier II and III cities, after previously exclusively being accessible at upscale stores in metropolises. India imported chocolates worth $27.84 million in the 2022–2023 fiscal year, up 45% from the previous year, according to figures released by the Commerce Ministry.

The need for chocolate is undoubtedly increasing, according to Karan Ahuja, co-founder of CocoCart, India’s authorized distributor of foreign chocolates with more than 60 retail locations nationwide. Popular consumer brands such as Hershey’s, Whittaker’s, and Toblerone are still driving sales. The sales of premium chocolates, such as those from Venchi, Neuhaus, and Leonidas—the latter being the most recent addition to the group, having been imported directly from their Belgian ateliers—have, nonetheless, lately increased dramatically. We want to open 200–250 more retail locations in the next five years.

A large number of local and foreign firms have entered this industry as a result of the expanding cocoa crunch. While premium Swiss artisanal chocolate brand Laderach partnered with Indian FMCG conglomerate DS Group (known for products like Catch spices, Rajnigandha, Pass Pass, etc.) for an exclusive presence in the nation, Haldiram’s recently opened its premium chocolate store Cocobay at Hyderabad International Airport.

The brand’s launch is motivated by a clear realization of India’s growing hunger for luxury, notably inspired by western trends, according to Sanskriti Gupta, spokesman for Laderach India. The decision stems from our observations of changing customer behavior, including an increase in the market for Swiss chocolates. Additionally, we’ve seen an increase in interest from Indian clients who first learned about the brand in Dubai and Switzerland.

For almost thirty years, award-winning Australian novelist Charmaine O’Brien has been researching Indian eating customs. From an outsider’s perspective, she saw that the selection of high-end chocolates had significantly increased during her recent trips to India. These included imported chocolates found in supermarkets and retail food stores, as well as an expanding assortment of quality chocolates created in India, in addition to specialty chocolate shops located in urban areas.

Charmaine notes in her book, “Eating the Present, Tasting the Future: Exploring India Through Her Changing Food,” that many interrelated causes have contributed to the situation. People are now aware of worldwide trends because to social media. In addition, a great deal of Indians have seen increased affluence. They can afford to buy expensive chocolates. This development has also been aided by health claims about dark chocolate’s antioxidant and weight-loss benefits, according to the expert.

Charmaine continues, “Many high-end, artisan bean-to-bar chocolates made in India are being released with a variety of intriguing regional flavors.” According to her, Indian cocoa, which has a unique origin flavor, is used to make dark chocolate by companies like Paul and Mike, Kocoatrait, and Manam Chocolate.

“Whenever I visit friends and relatives in Australia, I usually bring back handmade chocolates from India. Some of my favorite flavors include masala chai and naga chili. She continues, “I really like the creative fun that chocolatiers like L Nitin Chordia are having with the packaging.

The world is noticing that Indian chocolate is experiencing exciting times right now. Three Indian chocolate manufacturers, Manam Chocolate, Paul and Mike, and Bon Fiction, recently took home almost thirty trophies from the esteemed Academy of Chocolate trophies in the UK.

Cacao was first brought to the subcontinent by the British in 1798, but it wasn’t until Cadbury began construction in Kerala in the middle of the 1960s that its cultivation came to light. Like coffee, cocoa, also known as cacao, is an understory crop that grows in the shadow of large trees. In addition to assisting farmers in managing the cocoa’s acidity, astringency, and bitterness levels at the crucial post-harvest stage, many bean-to-bar chocolatiers collaborate closely with growers to enhance the cocoa’s flavor profile. Although cacao is mostly cultivated in Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu, it is also grown in Daragiri-Kacharipara, Assam, which is becoming known as the Northeast’s “chocolate village.”

More than 500 tasting sessions have been conducted to far by Chennai-based enthusiast L Nitin Chordia, who was the first certified chocolate taster in India ten years ago. His objective is to improve cocoa and teach people about high-quality chocolate. In collaboration with the UK’s IICCT (International Institute of Chocolate and Cacao Tasting), he conducts tasting certificates. India’s first zero-waste, sustainable, single-origin bean-to-bar chocolate is available under his own brand, Kocoatrait.

The majority of well-known foreign chocolates, such as those made by Godiva and Lindt, are mass-produced utilizing cacao in bulk. Many of these cost as little as 79 euro cents, or Rs 60, in their own nations. However, the fact that they are imported from Europe does not explain why they are selling for at least Rs 400. Our handcrafted chocolates aim to capture the market share of imported dark chocolate. We are able to effectively compete with well-known brands by providing our clients with chocolates prepared with exquisite flavor cocoa,” adds Nitin. Because it’s easier to regift and has more prestige, premium chocolate has already become the obvious replacement for mithai. Every mithaiwala in the nation will eventually become a chocolate producer, Nitin continues.

There are already some that are meeting this increasing need. One such businesswoman is Chaitanya Muppala, the CEO of Distinct Origins and the inventor of Manam Chocolate. When he developed his 10,000-square-foot chocolate retail experience shop, Karkhana, his “Almond House” was already a well-known brand in Hyderabad’s confectionery industry. In addition to a live chocolate-making experience, it provides 300 chocolate items in 50 categories. Ever since it opened for business in August of last year, the shop has been in the headlines. “Our business had to be shuttered for three days by the police in September because of the extreme traffic congestion it was creating. We park around a thousand automobiles on weekends, adds Chaitanya.

“Your bean is just as wonderful as your chocolate. Cacao of high quality requires maintenance. Over a hundred farmers on 1,500 acres in the West Godavari area are closely partnered with us. According to Chaitanya, whose cutting-edge fermentary is among the biggest in the world, the goal is to establish an environment in which farmers benefit equally.

In contrast to him, Akhil Grandhi’s family had previously planted cacao, but they had only recently decided to start producing chocolate. “For many years, our family has been growing coconuts. A portion of the land is used for plantations growing cocoa. We made the decision to dive into luxury chocolates during COVID-19,” explains Akhil, a mechanical engineering student. He founded Bon Fiction with his electrical engineer wife Prathina. Based in Rajahmundry, Andhra Pradesh, Akhil adds, “We hope to make it a go-to brand, but our volumes are very small compared to big brands.” The area is a cocoa producer’s paradise.

Based in Kochi Five years ago, Vikas Temani co-founded the artisan chocolate company Paul and Mike. In addition to being accessible in all major cities and having a well-established name in the South, the brand is aiming to achieve a pan-Indian presence in the next years. Even if more people are becoming aware of chocolates produced with Indian cacao, it will take at least a generation for consumers to get used to Indian brands. It matters where you are from. For many years, Swiss chocolate companies have cultivated a certain reputation. However, a lot of people are enjoying our chocolates,” adds Vikas.

According to Balpreet Singh Sehgal of Chandigarh, the home of Kreative Chocolates, chocolate producers in North India are at a disadvantage compared to those in the South, where they may collaborate with cocoa growers. “Chocolate demand has increased dramatically. Nonetheless, the majority of small-business owners continue to produce party packs and wedding boxes using chocolate-coated nuts. Small-scale chocolatiers find it difficult to compete with the easily accessible mass-produced chocolates like Cadbury, which can be purchased for as little as Rs 1.5 a gram. The enormous profit margin that retail businesses want is another drawback. However, given the pace at which this business is growing, we’re hopeful that things will improve soon,” adds Balpreet, whose “Mammoth” line of dark chocolate is becoming more popular.

Indian chocolatiers are joining this rapidly expanding industry with this ambition in mind.

THE SWEET TOOTH HAS A COST.

Venchi: An 800 gm bar costs Rs 7,295. The price of the 54-piece variety chocolate cigar box is Rs 64,500.

Neuhaus: 12 pralines cost Rs 3,749, while 24 various pralines cost Rs 5,990.

Leonidas: 12 chocolate pearls cost Rs 2,795, whereas 24 Gianduia chocolates cost Rs 4,495

Laderach: 1.6 kilogram Frischschoggi hardwood gift box costs Rs 27,550, while four pieces of praline cost Rs 1,000.

Bon Fiction: Rs 225 for 55 grams and Rs 1,095 for a four-bar assortment gift box

Kocoatrait: Rs 235 for a 45-gram bar and Rs 1,725 for a package focused on environment issues

Paul and Mike: INR 250 for 70 grams and INR 1,800 for a 324-gram assortment gift box

Manam Chocolate: 80 gm Signature Tablets cost Rs 350, while a Chocolatiers Selection gift bundle costs Rs 8,500.

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