Willy Wonka 2.0 and the craft of artisanal chocolate
Brittles, bars, bon bons... name the cocoa cheat treat and India has it all bobbing on the shelves in jaw- dropping formats
There is a growing appetite for premium chocolate on home turf. We no longer have to wait for our cousins abroad to lug in the Godivas and Guylains, with easy availability of gourmet bars in India. The desi consumption of chocolates is on a high now, with a dizzying rush of hand-painted bonbons, cocoa nibs, toasted coconut truffles, mosaic bars, peanut butter cups, rose caramels, pecan nibbles, mocha almond dipped in milk chocolate with caramelised macadamia, noir biscuits, tiny cocoa kisses gilded in metallic dust for that extra sparkle… jostling for attention. Chocolate sellers are raking it in.
Karan Ahuja, Co-founder, Coco Cart & Coco Café, says the force behind the sweet stocks of chocolates and super deals on economy packs at those glitzy DutyFree shops, introduced Coco Cart during the pandemic as negligible travel meant lesser footfalls at the airports. Storage posed a challenge and the logical way out was setting up choc marts across the country.
Hence, was born Coco Cart, the ‘child of the quarantine’. “There’s over 35 stores, seven cafes, more than 400 employees and more than 40 brands, all under one roof, as of now,” says Ahuja, on a tigerish mission to satisfy the country’s chocolate craving. “For us, our growth rate is over a mere metric. With many new avenues launching in the near future, we expect to triple in size over the next two years. It shows us the hard work our team puts behind delivering melt-free to every Pincode in India.
We have positively grown by 10x this financial year—the multiple is across our omnichannel markets.” With cleverly arranged sections for the rush of chocolates from New Zealand, Switzerland... the groves are studded with Whittaker’s, Godiva, Neuhaus, Loacker, Kinder, Lindt, Mars, Hershey’s, Milka, Chocodates, Wedel, Valrhona…with even FitSpo whey protein bars and flapjacks netting the goal watchers.
The choc mart in India grew throughout the pandemic, ushering an upward trend. With palm oil infusions being fobbed off by consumers, the demand for pure chocolate has grown further. The definition of premium chocolate has changed. From an aspirational treat to an everyday indulgence, the brown gold is now working as a luxe mood enhancer too. Hand-crafted or branded. “Chocolate reigned as a delectable symbol of wealth and luxury back in the day but has now become a part of casual snacking due to our evolved lifestyle patterns,” says Karan.
“The growing population of a younger generation is a major driving force, along with the slickly formatted digitised retail experience and advancing digital landscape in India: these factors have shaped the dynamics of the consumption pattern and market demands. On a macro-level, the Indian buyer today is very quality conscious, with a higher spending power on luxury products. Consumers are willing to pay top dollar for fresh, fine products available conveniently, and in a critical time frame. Our biggest spenders are the millennials, who value working smart over working hard. Baby boomers have picked up too,” he adds, with Cococart today located at prime airports, malls, and delivering to every zip-code in India.
The single-origin darks slide in next to salted caramel and handmade bon bons infused with the goodness of seasonal flowers, dance out in lipcurling colours from the hands of stellar chefs, each bite bringing in a decidedly feel-good zone. It’s a predicted 15 percent CAGR for 2021-26 for the chocmart in India. Says Chef Vidushi Sharma, the founder of Truffle & Co. born in 2019, “The average Indian palate is a lot more travel-savvy and familiar with distinctive flavours: luxury chocolate has a huge role to play in this as people have started moving away from mass produce to bean to bar chocolates.
Premium chocolates are like fine wine: single-origin chocolates have notes just like wine, they could be robust, fruity, acidic or smoky. We make our own blend from Belgian couverture chocolate. I feel the next five years are an exciting time for the chocolate industry, in the wake of the launch of Ruby, the fourth variety of chocolate. People will appreciate chocolates more for their decadence than for a random pick during a grocery run.” For non-choc devotees, the iconic Swiss cocoa manufacturer Barry Callebaut has launched the fourth type in chocolate (after dark, milk, white) called Ruby, a flush of berry fruitiness in a smooth complexion, rooted in the original colour and taste of the ruby berry. So much more to play with.
What about the local chocspace? Says Mumbai-based Rahul Bajaj, founder and conceptualiser, The Blue Gourmet, a recently launched B2B choc bar hinged on sound R&D through its organic offerings, “Dark chocolate, and variants are fast replacing traditional sweets on the table. The premium aspect lies in the craft of the artisanal chocolate. We use the S.L.O slogan (sustainable, local, organic) sourcing ingredients like rose, saffron, and khandsari sugar from Kashmir, Garhwal, Kerala… our Indian cacao, with its smoky, rusty, earthy flavour, is the fourth-best in the world and is exported to Belgium.
We have taken this in liquid form to infuse in ice creams, with berries and nuts from all around the world, shape barks and bars, bonbons, gourmet sticks and enrobes and everything. The older lot, and the vegans love our khandsari variant, the rawest form of organic produce. I feel working with different flavours, infusions and profile brings in the innovative streak into chocolate and creates a niche of consumers.”
With variants bouncing around from vegan and sugarfree versions to bars pumped with camel and yak milk infusions, branded and artisanal chocolates are leaping into the fray. Taste to discover your true knockouts in 2022.