Odile Patour, the business manager of Epicure, a backend supplier of imported frozen foods and premium chocolate, has just sent her car off to a five-star with a prayer. Her vans, set to 15-18 degree centigrade (the temperature for chocolate preservation), wait at Customs outside the airport a day before delivery but cannot pass through Connaught Place (no trucks can) so blocks of warm brown Cacao Barry — the cooking base of a French chocolate company — have gone riding in ice boxes in Marutis to buyers. The business of high-end chocolates in India, she says, can at times be hell, but what the heck, it’s getting sweeter.
Three years ago, Epicure had one order for less than 1,000 kg a year. This year, Patour will do a deal of within 15,000 kilograms. Many of the country’s chocolate makers who source from her confirm the upswing.
Sanjiv Obhrai of Chocolatiers, eight years in the business, who retails in Delhi and Mumbai confirms that business in the high-end range has gone up to 30-40 per cent every year. Prerna Batra, who runs up and down a spiral staircase to a little turret in her three-storied bungalow to melt the chocolate in vats for her brand Mesmerize, says “for the last two years, Indians have not been happy with mass brands. Every month, I have added five new customers.”
“Institutional sales have grown 116 per cent since the last financial year,” says Preeti Trehan, director, sales and marketing of Cosmic Kitchen, promoted by Vasudha Munjal, that retails through the brand Choko La. “The wedding business, a segment untouched by recession, is booming. We are doing orders between Re 1 and Rs 13 lakh.”
Mumbai-based Zeba Kohli, however, says 2008 was for her the horrible year. “It’s no benchmark for sales because of global recession but there has been a lot of movement in terms of discussion and people having fun with chocolates.” Her Fantasie range, which she pitches as “premium prêt”, comes for Rs 1,500 per kg. Delhi-based Choko La prices their ‘Four Precious Chocolate’ box, filled with bars from Java, Ecuador, Arriba (Dominican Republic), Sao Thome (Brazil), at Rs 2,500-4,000. A Mesmerize chocolate bouquet is for Rs 650. The high-end range of Chocolatiers’s is Rs 2,000 per kg. The mass range is for Rs 500 at Rs 6 a piece; a piece of premium chocolate costs Rs 17. And people are buying.
It’s called the Cinderella Effect — the ‘thousandification’ of a little mound of cocoa bean by piling it up with cocoa butter. The effect, the price shoots up. “Ella gets a fancy gown, carriage and a tiara and becomes Cinderella,” decodes Obhrai. “Cocoa butter is healthy for the body and customers are realising that. Chocolates sold from our counter have cocoa butter blends (20 per cent cocoa butter and rest vegetable fats). Higher end chocolates have 70-85 per cent cocoa content.” Wouldn’t that be too sweet? How’s this for an answer? Raseel Gujral who bought 50 boxes of premium chocolates for clients from Chocolatiers, told Obhrai that it is “okay to take a nibble. We have all grown up, chocolate is also about enjoying a bit.”
Technology is also personalising chocolate consumption and making it ‘exclusive’. Chocolate software and gold transfer stickers from Japan can transfer the image of your fiancé/daughter/flower/dog/logo to a chocolate. (Such ‘printed chocolates’ that Oscar winners get along with their statuettes employ the same technology.) Other top high-end sellers at Chocolatiers, Mesmerize and Choko La are fillings with wasabi, sea salt, red chillies, fruit fillings, organic Darjeeling tea, whisky, and red wine.
But must you buy them at Rs 40-60 upwards a piece when at the market it is available at Rs 7? Yes, says Patour. “Both may be chocolate. But there’s good chocolate and there are bad ones. Customers in India are just beginning to know the difference.”
Who wants to buy me one?