East meets west in fast-rising Indian confectionery market
L Nitin Chordia, of Cocoatrain has built up expertise in India’s fast-growing confectionery sector. He explains to Confectionery Production about some of his inspirations and challenges within the industry
Q: How did you become interested in chocolate originally?
A: My interest in chocolate started with importing Amedei into India while I was working towards setting up the first premium gourmet food store chain in the country in 2005 as a retail business consultant. I did not have any knowledge on how to identify fine chocolates to start with. As part of my worldwide evaluation, and as soon as I engaged with the Amedei brand (Italian), I realised that chocolate needs to be looked at differently and there is a lot that needs to be learnt and understood and offered to consumers in India. Finally, when we have the product on the shelf the response from affluent consumers motivated me further to research chocolates and not stop at the periphery and to get to the roots of it and how they are made and how the world could move from very large scale production to small scale small batch and more specialised craft chocolate production.
Q: How challenging has it been to set up a confectionery business in India focused on principles of sustainability?
A: In India, consumers are not accustomed to coming across too many businesses that focusses on and strives on being sustainable. The mass chocolate market in India is only now in its growth phase and interestingly we see many bean to bar brands making a niche for themselves in parallel. This is perhaps unique to India which interestingly also grows cacao and is one of the largest consumers of chocolate in the world. However, there are challenges at every stage and every day for a sustainable and responsible chocolate business! Starting from finding packaging vendors who understand what we intend to do, conversing with trash companies to educate them about handling our waste responsibly, convincing transport companies that we need lesser carbon print, to finally consumers who need to be proven that being sustainable can drive down prices even in the medium term. However, the icing on the cake has been that retailers are taking up to this concept quite easily and are encouraging sustainable and responsible brands to list themselves!
Q: In your opinion, how is the Indian confectionery market developing?
The Indian confectionery market is currently in a very interesting position. Historically, Indians have always looked up to Belgian and Swiss chocolates and cocoa beans from the mass producers like Ghana and Ivory coast as the best in the world. Without much knowledge of the way appreciating fine chocolates, “imported” chocolates were always considered as a premium offering due to higher selling price. With most of the cost addition in the case of imported chocolates happening due to the transport costs and import duties levied at the destination port for both ingredients and final chocolate product, a chocolate which was imported into India was considered premium simply because of the costs it incurred until it reached the market of sale and the inappropriate high sale price. Post the FSSAI’s (Indian Food Safety Regulator) crackdown on the practices of leaders in the chocolate category in mid 2000’s, the fine chocolate category saw a vacuum since the Indian brands did not offer a premium range and the imported chocolates became difficult to import (due to restrictions on labelling for India). The 2-3 years that followed gave an opportunity for not so premium/popular chocolate brands being produced in western markets to enter India.
Q: What do you enjoy most about being in the industry, and how do you balance that with life outside of work?
A: Any business that operates in the growth phase of the industry is bound to be exciting because at this stage, your mistakes are not very expensive, and are more easily correctable without doing any damage. We are happy to be doing things in India that are “current” in the industry worldwide. Our interest with improving the quality of cocoa beans gets us to travel to farmers and help them improve post harvesting practices.