Shailesh Poddar calls it 'choco fever'. But he guarantees that anyone gripped by 'choco fever' will be cured by the time they leave his Belgique chocolate boutique -- at least for the time being.
"It's a complete chocoholic experience," he says with the air of someone who has discovered the true meaning of life.
That's the same promise held out by Sanjiv Obhrai of The Chocolate Boutique who looks happiest when he's surrounded on all sides by scrumptious chocolates wrapped neatly in colourful foil and paper.
Welcome to the world of chocolates where the flavour of Jamaican rum truffle melts in your mouth even as your hand reaches out greedily for a kiwi-flavoured concoction. Or where roasted almonds are a delight to eat while your mind flirts with hazelnut praline.
Once upon a time every giant corporation sent traditional Indian mithai for festivals like Diwali. Now they are likely to be giving out chocolates -- especially to top-level customers and others.
With chocolates gaining increasing popularity as gift options, chocolate boutiques are finding an increasing number of curious customers who're pampering their taste-buds to apricot and peach chocolate, strawberry chocolate or better still wild berry in cognac flavoured chocolate.
Of course, all this comes at a price. At Poddar's Belgique chocolate boutique slabs of chocolates, raw material and essences are imported from Canada, Belgium, Holland, Malaysia and France.
Nearly 350kg to 450kg of chocolates are produced every week at each of his outlets. Priced at Rs 100 for 100gm, these chocolates are tailored for customers who're looking at gifting chocolates with a personalised touch.
"We emboss names, logos of companies and can also print personalised message on the chocolates," assures Poddar. He adds, "Our clients can ask us for a specific taste in chocolates such as special cherry chocolates or grapefruit ones."
In Mumbai's busy Crossroads Mall, Patchi, a Lebanese chocolate company, has created a separate corporate division that specially undertakes orders for clients in the corporate world.
Each piece of Patchi chocolate is individually inspected and hand-wrapped with a special foil wrap to keep its taste and flavour intact.
All Patchi decorated chocolates are hand-crafted and trimmed and available in a wide variety of milk, dark or white chocolates with flavours like hazelnut, cashew nuts, almonds, pistachios, walnuts and rice crispy amongst several others.
For those who are health conscious there is also a special range of sugar-free and diet chocolates. The classic chocolates are available for Rs 1,700 per kg, while the deluxe range is for Rs 2,500 per kg. Similarly decorative chocolates come with a price-tag of Rs 3,500 per kg. These are usually bought by corporates or individuals who want to make a special statement.
At Obhrai's boutique chocolate prices vary. His range of chocolates starts at Rs 6 and goes up to Rs 35 or so. Here chocolates are wrapped in colourful foil and paper and even sea shells and arranged in neat, little baskets.
Obhrai imports ingredients like wild berries from Afghanistan, almonds and prunes from California and cashew-nuts and pistachios from Turkey. Moreover the truffles and chocolates are hand-crafted to create authentic tastes and interesting shapes and sizes.
Speaking of shapes and sizes no one can quite compete with old-timer Zeba Kohli who at the age of 18 took over the family business of Fantasie chocolates. At that time her chocolates were sold at a single store. Today she runs 12 stores including ones in Pune, Bangalore and Mumbai.
Kohli is marketing her range of chocolates through innovative promotional campaigns. She once held a "chocolate evening" where in her own words, "the entire decor, from curtains to invitation cards, was done in chocolate. Mannequins were dressed in chocolate mini-skirts, stoles, necklaces and hats. Guests were given bracelets in specially-crafted jewellery boxes."
While 150gm of assorted chocolates with nut centres covered in milk chocolates are available for Rs 115 (delivery charges extra), 480gm of rich, creamy centres of milk and dark pralines are available for Rs 365.
There are 1,000 varieties of designs to choose from -- ranging from good luck charms, X'mas figurines and animals -- and nearly 50 kinds of gift packaging available to suit any particular occasion.
The new love for chocolates is bringing some well-known names into the business. For instance, there's fashion designer Raghuvendra Rathore who along with Monish Bali, director, Mount Shivalik is selling Les Chocolats de Jodhpur.
He offers an exotic variety of flavours including imported dark chocolate with flavours like rum-raisin, cashew, butterscotch and cinnamon that are being supplied to corporates and individuals alike at Rs 475.
Most of the chocolate boutiques offer attractive discounts to their regular clients. This Diwali season, for instance, Poddar has decided to give a flat 20 per cent discount to his clients.
He's also planning to start his club where attractive offers and tie-ups will be made available for his regular clients.
Similarly, Obhrai too will give attractive discounts this festive season. Patchi houses prestigious international crystal, silver and porcelain brands, such as Versace, Christian Dior and Murano.
"There are silver art pieces, tableware and a wide variety of decorative items like stuffed teddy bears and elegant baskets that compliment Patchi chocolates," says Chetan Gokal, country head, Patchi Chocolates.