Sweet offers: Meet India's women chocolatiers
Enterprising Indian women are turning people's fascination for chocolates into thriving business ventures. Baishali Mukherjee reports.
One is the queen of the sweet tooth, the other is the queen of your heart. Chocolates and women are the two most celebrated symbols of love.
What can be a more romantic wedding gift than a bride and a bridegroom figure made of chocolate? Or a bride showing her love to the groom with a pure chocolate Taj Mahal ?
All these and much more are on offer at Chocolate Hut, Hyderabad, an enterprise by K Lakshmi, wife of a businessman who is into supplying cocoa ingredients. Lakshmi has been associated with chocolates since the day she married.
"I started to take an interest in chocolate after my marriage and read articles related to the product whenever I came across one."
Once an article in the local newspaper regarding consumption of outdated imported chocolates by children, which made them sick, caught my attention. It eventually motivated me to get into the chocolate industry to make good and premium chocolates," she says.
From a homemade suppy to 12 stores across the city!
Lakshmi's first trainer was her husband.
Later, she pursued her passion for chocolate and gradually developed different and individual flavours for fillings like caramels, truffles, nuts, nut paste, liquor, sugar-free etc.
What started as a humble effort by supplying homemade chocolates to near and dear ones has expanded to a business enterprise with 12 stores across the city!
"After the initial positive response from my friends and family, I decided to have my own chocolate store. Today we cater to over 65 corporate clients including Microsoft, UBS, Oracle, CA, Ascends, Delliote, Mahendra, among others," she confides.
In the field since 1998, Lakshmi says she has never compromised on the health factor looking for profit.
"We make our own chocolates from cocoa beans. Our chocolates are 100 per cent vegetarian and contain only cocoa butter. These are pure chocolates, unlike other compound chocolates in the market," she claims.
The IT professional who quit her job for chocolate
Delhi-based Subhatra Priyadarshini, 25, the brain behind Choc of the Town is a software graduate.
The inherent desire to do something on her own nudged her to leave her IT job and join a six-month entrepreneurial course specially designed for women.
Her choice was a premium range of hand-made and customised chocolates.
"The idea was to provide an online gift service for people staying away from family and friends due to jobs, higher studies and other reasons," Priyadarshini says, adding, "We also have corporate clients as we believe corporate gifting has a high demand compared to personal, but personal gifts have a high potential market, which is our main focus."
The wide range of chocolates includes a Choco Textbox, which can be personalised to express any message the customer wants. The venture also customises the taste according to the customer's preferences.
"We have more than 15 flavours to choose from. We constantly innovate to create new chocolates for every occasion. What's more, the chocolates are handmade, with no preservatives."
'We don't cut deep holes in customers' pockets'
Reshma Sengupta of Kolkata took up making chocolates when she had to give up her profession as an interior designer, due to a physical constraints.
"After I gave up my interior designing profession, my father and brother who are into the food industry pushed me to do something on my own and advised me to use my skills at chocolate making in a professional way. That, together with my husband's support, initiated me into this business," she says.
Sengupta is self-taught, though she did attend workshops with chefs. With two outlets named 'Open Oven' and a centrally located factory, Sengupta has been catering to corporate big wigs like ITC, Microsoft, Assam Company, Times of India etc as well as private clients for the last seven years.
"Our products don't cut deep holes in customers' pockets. That's one reason we have people coming back to us. Also, we keep improvising them by bringing in variations catering to Indian taste buds," explains Sengupta.
During special occasions like Valentine's Day, Raksha Bandhan, and weddings, Open Oven is buzzing with activity.
"Depending upon the occasion, we bring out different products with different packaging and accessories. For Valentine's Day we have teddy bears and heart-shaped chocolates with vibrant packaging that range between Rs 30-35."
"We also offer small cakes, which two lovebirds can enjoy. For those with a higher budget we have accessories like earrings, heart-shaped pendants, bracelets etc along with the chocolates," Sengupta informs.
For weddings, they provide chocolates that match the colour of the wedding card. The packing is mainly done in a traditional manner with handmade paper boxes and dry or crystal flowers or other conventional Indian motifs.
Long live chocolate!
What started as a hobby for Pooja Goyal of Bangalore has become her vocation now. Chocolates always attracted Pooja and when her cousin offered to train her in the secrets of making the brown bite, she simply plunged in.
After her training she tried her hands at making the item for some of her close friends. Getting unexpected appreciation from them prodded her to make hampers for that upcoming Raksha Bandhan.
"After that, people kept coming back for my chocolates. Next year I had my own stall at our society carnival and it was a big success. After that, things kind of took off," she says.
Creative as she is, Goyal sold her idea of gifting newborns with a small souvenir of handmade chocolates in upmarket city hospitals.
"I made different packages for boys and girls. Both the hospitals and the new parents appreciated the idea. I have also made chocolate souvenirs for car dealers who gift them to the new buyers as a token of good wishes," Goyal informs.
Remember protagonist Vianne Rocher in Lasse Hallstrom's hit film Chocolat, whose tempting handmade chocolates created a storm in a conservative French village?
Indian women may be taking a leaf out of her example combining it with sound business sense. Vive chocolat -- or 'long live chocolate' seems to be their mantra.