By Avant Shrestha
Imported chocolates have been a mainstay on the shelves of many corner stores and department stores for years. They are delicious and have placed their chocolaty stamp on the consumer taste palates. It is fair to claim that they are unchallenged in the market. However, local chocolatiers are on the rise with their own brand of artisanal and handmade delights.
The concept of handmade and artisanal chocolates is fairly new in the country. Artisanal chocolatiers under the French definition basically means small-batch producers who create confections using chocolate which they make themselves.
As the purchasing power of the locals are on steady rise so are their appetites for premium international chocolates and confectionary offered in the market. Many of these international chocolate brands are fondly consumed by buyers; they have massive RnD knowledge within the market and are able to freely flex their financial muscle when it comes to PR and advertisements. And as delightful as these mega chocolate brands are; artisanal and handmade chocolates are gradually introducing themselves in the market and they are not only aiming to change the consumption habits but in the long run change the chocolate culture in the city.
Not a Chocolate Factory
For many novel chocolatiers in the industry crafting handmade chocolates stems from their interest in chocolates or baking. However, positive response from friends, families and one-off buyers have encouraged these entrepreneurs to take artisanal or handmade chocolates into a legitimate business. As a result, most chocolatiers have been able to convert their passion into business. Smita Jhunjhunwala Goyal, Founder and CEO of The Chocolate Garden started her business five years ago. As Smita explains, “When I started, there was little talk about handmade chocolates in Nepal. But with time, people are much more aware about the differences between handmade chocolates and generic market chocolates.”
There’s common narrative between most upcoming chocolatiers. Like Smita, sisters Arunima and Urursha Shrestha, Founders of Tittofritto Chocolates, also started their brand of chocolates by applying their childhood passion for chocolates and baking. “Tittofritto is just a casual name which sounds more fun; this kind of helped us create a brand identity because people are always curious about the name,” illustrates Urusha.
Most consumers prefer international brands or domestic factory made chocolates. But for chocolate aficionados, the mass produced chocolates generally lack in flavour and consistency. However, the groves of chocolate startup and new business have offered something fresh to a formerly non-existent market. “Basically handmade chocolates add more value because they can be customised according to your preference in flavor and it is fresh. Market chocolates, on the other hand, have preservatives so that they can last for years,” claims Smita. “My chocolate shelf life is from 3-4 months but we try to sell our products as fresh as possible.”
Ishan Pandey, a business graduate from KUSOM, started his company Swiffles Chocolate in 2015. “I was a marketing major in my undergraduate and I was looking for an innovative way of marketing and branding for different companies. So I thought we can use food especially chocolates for branding. So I started Swiffles,” explains Ishan. It’s not just a regular chocolate company but we are specialised in creating whole new opportunities for different brands by blurring the line between food and technology.”
“When I started, there was little talk about handmade chocolates in Nepal. But with time, people are much more aware about the differences between handmade chocolates and generic market chocolates.”
Smita Jhunjhunwala Goyal
CEO of The Chocolate Garden
“Tittofritto is just a casual name which sounds more fun; this kind of helped us create a brand identity because people are always curious about the name,”
Arunima and Urursha Shrestha
Founders of Tittofritto Chocolates
It’s not just a regular chocolate company but we are specialised in creating whole new opportunities for different brands by blurring the line between food and technology.”
During the initial stages, the positive feedback and responses garnered by these chocolatiers gave them the initiative to continue in the industry. Arunima articulates, “As we tried and experimented with different recipes and distributed it to our friends and families, we got tremendous response; as a result, we decided to take this as a serious business.”
“The responses from our customers has always been positive. Everyone loves the taste of our chocolates since we have always used high quality raw materials,” claims Ishan. Additionally, consumers love the idea of customisation when it comes to handmade chocolates. “Chocolates are the perfect gift; so the option of customised chocolates or embossing personalised messages on chocolates is popular. We feel pleased that we can be part of someone’s special moments and treasured memories,” expresses Ishan.
Made with Care
There have been cases when major factories use unconventional methods to lower cost and maximise production. The confectionary industry is no different. In chocolates there are cases where copious amount of sugar and preservatives are added to enhance the taste and increase shelf life; additionally, natural ingredients are replaced by artificial ones.
On contrary, handmade chocolates are made in small batches and crafted with care to be delivered at the best quality possible. “All of our products are handmade. We care a lot about hygiene. So we make sure that our production team follows personal hygiene protocol. They use gloves and head cap during production and packaging,” clarifies Ishan.
As Urusha explains, “We are totally organic; we use no preservatives and do not compromise on quality.” Adds Arunima, “Our customers identify us for the quality and taste.” Tittofritto Chocolates and other artisanal chocolate brands do not use preservatives; as a result the chocolates have shorter shelf life. “Our treats expire within a month so it is best to consume within a week to get the optimum ‘Tittofritto’ taste,” explains Arunima.
Chocolate Culture in the City
Chocolates have always been a major commodity when it comes to giving gifts. However, the chocolatiers have started to experience a slight shift during festival season and special occasions. “Handmade chocolate market is growing since the gift giving culture is growing in Nepal,” states Ishan.
These novel chocolate brands experience the highest sales during Father’s Day, Mother’s day and Valentines.
Arunima states, “It would be wonderful if chocolates could replace traditional sweets and ‘mithai-boxes’ during festivals and celebratory occasions; it’s an enormous task but we would want to change the culture.” Shifting the consumption habits of the consumers from traditional sweets to chocolates is easier said than done but in the long run, this is not an impossible undertaking based on the huge size of the chocolate market.
In the near future it seems international brands of chocolates will continue to dominate the market, however, if chocolatiers continue to maintain quality and innovation, there is no reason that their business will not grow as well.
Production capacity is one of the major problems faced by chocolatiers. Big brands have huge production capacities and small-scaled handmade chocolate brands often get lost in the crowd. However, Ishan explains “We are not competing with imported chocolates. We can’t compete with them because of the economics of scale. But we are creating a different space in the chocolate market in Nepal”.
Additionally, due to the lack of raw materials that can’t be acquired within the country some of the ingredients have to be imported from foreign countries. Untimely delivery and arbitrary cost in imported materials attributes to increase in price of the chocolates as well. Urusha explains, “Since it is hard to get some of the ingredients and since we are making it in small batches and our chocolates are handmade, the labor cost is high as well.”Similarly, Smita states, “I’m aware, sometimes, the handmade chocolates are a bit expensive, but, there is a reason for it. We make it from scratch, plus the packaging is expensive. Therefore, they sometimes tend to be a bit more expensive. I have had customers request for cheaper products but I don’t compromise on quality nor the packaging.”
Tittofritto Chocolates, Swiffles Chocolates and The Chocolate Garden are among the few fresh local chocolate brands that have taken a step to change the chocolate culture and create a niche for themselves.