The Interview delves into his venture Cocoatrait and various aspects of Chocolate & Chocolate Market in India

Food Marketing & Technology Magazine had an Intraction with Mr. L Nitin Chordia, founder of “Cocoatrait”

1 Cocoatrait and India in the global flavour map.

Cocoatrait is an initiative to promote awareness, production, and consumption of fine chocolates. With the backing of international experts, Cocoatrait has actively promoted India in the international scenario. From participating in international events and introducing Indian farmers and bean-to-bar makers to the world, to educating the Indian audiences about craft chocolate, Cocoatrait aims to bridge the gap. We believe that cacao from every country has unique characteristics and flavour profile. Interestingly, the flavour evolution starts at the cocoa farm itself.

However, till date we have not explored our own cacao enough. India has only taken baby steps towards the aim of establishing itself as a peer, and not a follower, to the western world and we still have a long way to go! Through Cocoatrait’s efforts, Indian cacao and chocolates have gained an international reputation and we shall continue to play an integral part in making India’s presence felt in the global ‘Bean-to-Bar’ marketplace as a fine flavoured chocolate and cacao producer.

2 What is specialty/craft chocolate? How is the Indian market for such chocolates?

Specialty or craft chocolates, as they are referred to, area mix of chocolates that are made from scratch with either cocoa beans or cocoa liquor (produced by large industrial companies). The chocolates made with cocoa beans as the core ingredient are called ‘bean-to-bar’ chocolates. We can expects mall chocolatiers and bakers to use preprocessed cocoa liquor to make chocolate bars and chocolate based confectioneries in near future. There will be some visionaries as well who would want to backward integrate, take control of the raw materials and make the base chocolate themselves. In both the cases, the market for craft chocolate in India is increasing exponentially. The current market size of bean-to-bar chocolates is Rs. 3 Crores; with the global interest, ease of entry along with attractive ROI and high profitability, it is expected to grow at more than 100 percent annually for the next 7-8 years.

3 How do you promote the fine chocolates across India and globe? Who are your major buyers?

Cocoatrait promotes the awareness, production, and consumption of fine chocolates in India via tasting sessions, technical transfer sessions (via Cocoashala), and hosting chocolate tasting certification courses. We have hosted Indian bean-to-bar makers and cacao farmers at global exhibitions and shows. We hosted the world’s largest chocolate tasting table in Chennai in 2016. We host tasting and consumer engagement sessions across India in collaboration with retailers and various chocolate brands throughout the year.

Our customers include hotels, cafes, chocolatiers, bean-to-bar chocolate makers, confectioners, retailers, FMCG companies and startups. We also provide consulting services for turnkey bean-to-bar chocolate setup.

4 Why is there a need to understand cacao & chocolate, not only as a product but even as an ingredient?

In the name of chocolate, more than 99 percent of the Indian consumers consume compound chocolates which substitute cocoa butter with vegetable oil, along with added synthetic and artificial ingredients. This is a trend specific to India. In our understanding of Indian consumers, chocolate is consumed to satiate sugar craving. Hence, the flavour of chocolate is incidental. Who does not like a sweet with a chocolate flavour? Given this scenario, where the entire country is consuming artificially flavoured chocolates, price is the driving factor for marketers. To produce a naturally flavoured palatable chocolate bar is more difficult and challenging than producing a standardised product with artificial ingredients. In an industrially produced chocolate, there are ways to normalise and camouflage the defects of low priced cacao beans by adding artificial ingredients. However, there is a global drive to consume products with fewer artificial ingredients which is shaping the Indian consumer market as well. This trend instinctively demands for base raw materials and puts them in focus. If you want to produce a good high quality product using only natural ingredients, the ingredients must be handpicked. The same is the case with chocolate. Hence, the need for in-depth knowledge and understanding about cacao and chocolate making process becomes important.

5 You recently hosted Asia’s 1st Level 1 & 2 Foundation Award in chocolate tasting. Share with us your success story.

We consider this event a historic and defining moment in the bean-to-bar revolution in India. We need to address the salient concerns and put India on the right path to ensure that we get the long due global recognition. While we are ensuring supply of know-how via our educational initiative Cocoashala, the demand needs sophisticated grooming as well. The certification course was afull-house and was attended by current and prospective bean-to-bar makers, large compound chocolate makers, leading academicians, and students. Change is a process and requires a larger contribution. The bean-to-bar chocolate movement needs direction and the award was a successful start in setting a firm tone for what lies in store at the India market. This was to elucidate the bean-to-bar makers that the average Indian consumer is not oblivious to chocolate.

6 What was the whole agenda of this event? Throw some light on chocolate tasting and the art involved?

It is important to ensure that the Indian bean-to-bar/craft chocolate industry is given the right nudge. Our initial observations have revealed that early entrants have taken the Indian consumers for granted. The Indian consumers don’t know what they don’t know and thus, there is a misconception about bean-to-bar chocolates. The situation is rather fragile and to ensure that the first impressions are not always considered as the best impressions, it is important to educate the trade farmers and consumers about what defines a good chocolate and how to tell the good from the bad. Moreover, it is important to ensure that there is a watchdog fiercely guarding the Indian consumer at all times, and ensuring that Indian market for bean-to-bar chocolates rewards the rightful hard working farmers and chocolate makers. Appreciating fine chocolate is akin to appreciating wine or coffee; it requires patience and a bit of practice. What makes chocolate interesting is that it cuts across age groups, gender, religion, geography and other such boundaries; thus, catering to a much larger interest group. As the saying goes, “The world is your playground”. The art of chocolate tasting begins with analysing the aroma and the color of the chocolate. The next step is to place the chocolate on your palate and understand the melt while observing the evolution of flavours over the next minute; evaluating the acidity, bitterness, astringency and off notes. Finally, the after taste is analysed to determine the overall experience. It is also imperative to catch the off notes, if any, and notify the maker at which stage of chocolate making process were mistakes made.

7  Tell us about new innovations and product development in chocolates that favour the process food industries.

The latest trends and best of innovations have all been focused on small scale production of fine flavoured chocolates. We are witnessing a revolution in the making with coming of age small capacity chocolate making units mushrooming across the country, providing entrepreneurial opportunities to SMEs. The four basic requirements to get started are:physical infrastructure (300-500 sq.ft), technical know-how, access to fine flavoured beans, and small scale chocolate making equipment. Cocoatrait is working hard towards providing technical know-how with the three day bean-to-bar making workshop at Cocoashala. We have innovated ourselves at curating and developing small scale equipment for bean-to-bar and micro batch production. We are also working hand in hand with farmers to develop the flavour profile of Indian cocoa beans. The economics of bean-to-bar business is very different compared to the industrial scale production. The investment required to set up a 10 kg per week unit can be as little as 1 lakh rupees which means an attractive ROI. This is an opportunity not only for startups but also for established chocolate makers and confectioners who would like to backward integrate and take control of their ingredients.

8 Consuming minimally processed foods ? your views onadding flavours and sweeteners to the products to enhance their taste.

Minimally processed chocolates help retain nutrition and natural flavours. Adding flavours is a trend in mass produced industrially processed chocolates and they negate the health benefits that naturally accrue from cacao. At an early stage in the evolution of the industry, we have strictly defined what qualifies as a bean-to-bar chocolate for the Indian market. It was done keeping in mind the global trends, the prospective future of India market, and the interest of average consumer in mind. There are certain misconceptions about minimally processed food products. In our definition and vision for bean-to-bar chocolates in India, we encourage chocolate makers to think of processing chocolate as your grandmother’s signature recipe. There are no short cuts, and only the best of ingredients should be used for a wholesome consumption experience. With regard to sweeteners, our analysis about the Indian consumer reveals that the average Indian consumer consumes chocolate in lieu of Indian sweets. In bean-to-bar chocolate, natural sweeteners are allowed and they play an important role in enriching the character and the taste of cacao. In fact, natural sweeteners add to the health quotient and complexity of flavours in the chocolate. Hence, addition of natural flavours is viable character. However, most bean-to-bar makers at present add flavoured oils to make the chocolate more palatable. This is a rather timid step and shows a lack of faith in our indigenous cacao beans among these makers. We’re sorry to say that they have lost the opportunity to lead by example.

9 You talk about the Indian preferences and dark chocolates is there any art involved in the selection and consumption process?

We have observed over the years that the first experience of dark chocolate for Indian consumers has been a bad one. This leads people to mistake dark chocolates as bitter chocolates. As we stand today, dark chocolates are a small but rapidly growing segment in the chocolate industry. Due to lack of awareness, chocolates with even 50 percent cacao are referred to as dark chocolates. One must remember that the other 50 percent of that chocolate bar is potentially sugar! That’s perhaps more sugar than one can ever imagine. We also note in India that the imported chocolates available in the market are mediocre and do not get recognition even in their own country. Taking advantage of the Indian consumer’s ignorance, ordinary chocolates are being sold as good chocolates. It makes the task easier for fine chocolate makers who advocate the use of only natural ingredients in their products. While selecting dark chocolates, please be careful and do not get carried away by marketing gimmicks. The word ‘artisanal’ is the most used and abused word in the world of chocolates. The technical definition for Artisanal is, “A product, (especially food or drink) made in a traditional or non-mechanized way”. Most brands melt industrially produced bulk chocolates and simply finish it into a shape/form and call it ‘artisanal’. Even bean-to-bar makers use large machines, reduce dependence on labour and label their products as artisanal. This is blatant non-ethical breach of consumer trust and exploitation of the Indian consumer, exposing the lack of legal regulations/framework in this area. One should try and look out for the term ‘cocoa solids’ as it may mean that the chocolate is made from cocoa powder. Also, except for cocoa butter, one should watch out for any other fat. In the case of fine chocolates, vanilla is seldom used as an added flavour; it is only used to hide off flavours and flavour defects in the low quality beans. It is essential to start experiencing chocolates which have a minimum of 60 percent cocoa content. The use of oils, whether natural or artificial, should be checked. It is easy to add oils and blindside the consumer into thinking the flavour is natural. When one pays Rs. 300 for a bar of chocolate, it is important to reward the deserving genuine chocolate makers only.

10 Tell us about your partnership with IICCT. Any future goals together that you would like to share with us.

In partnership and collaboration with IICCT, we are committed to ensuring that the Indian bean-to-bar makers and consumers are apprised with the best understanding of fine chocolates and have access to up-to-date world class chocolate education in India. Moving forward, we shall make this an annual event in the month of August. Next year, we intend to go further and offer additional courses on product development and experimental flavours. IICCT’s international exposure helps us access the latest trends and make it available to the Indian audiences. The goal is to ensure that the Indian consumers get their money’s worth when they pay about Rs. 300 for a 70 gm chocolate bar, and the bean-to-bar makers do not take Indian consumers for granted. Overall, we aim to ensure that India emerges as a frontrunner in the bean-to-bar game instead of playing catch up!