With L'inouï, Anusha Chowdaiah is trying to turn chocolate lovers into connoisseurs  

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Euromonitor pegs the Indian chocolate confectionery industry at Rs 11,260 crore, and Bengaluru-based chocolatier Anusha Chowdaiah is eyeing a bite of this huge pie with her premium chocolates.

Willy Wonka is in Bangalore and his factory is right here, in Indiranagar. About 300 kg of chocolate imported from Belgium are being melted and the delish mix is being poured into magical moulds with different ingredients. Soon, these chocolates will be savoured by the young and old alike.

In this little factory, Charlie and Willy Wonka are one person; a woman who’s bringing the brand Linouï to 10 million Bangaloreans.

Anusha Chowdaiah, Founder of L'inoui.

Meet chocolatier Anusha Chowdaiah, who’s going after a market that understands what real chocolate means. But first, she wants to educate chocolate lovers that only 95 percent cocoa butter (35 percent total cocoa solids) makes real chocolate; everything else is made out of either compounds or vegetable fat.

Anusha, Founder of L’inouï, says: “It has taken me a good three years to get a clientele that understands the art of chocolate making and consuming fine chocolate.”

Her brand’s name, L’inouï, is in line with her ideas — the French word means extraordinary. The company, which has three stores and works with corporates, has a turnover of Rs 1 crore.

But the slow revenues don’t bother Anusha, who says that while building a brand was important it was “equally important” to get the product mix right.

“I spent a lot of time in getting the quality product tag out in the market,” she says.

The company has invested Rs 2 crore so far, raising money from family and friends.

Now she is arming herself to expand not just in Bengaluru but in other tier-1 cities as well.

Building the brand wasn’t easy

The idea of building a luxury chocolate company was born during Anusha’s time in the US, while she was at university. The course she was studying was an MBA in entrepreneurship, which took to her to Leon, Europe, for an internship with an entrepreneurial network in 2013. While her friends went drinking after work, Anusha would explore bakeries and confectionery centres.

It was at those bakeries that she realised that chocolate making was an art and was very different from chocolates sold in retail stores. She spoke to her mother, telling her that she would want to bring this business to India.

“My mother told me she would seed the business with some cash,” Anusha says.

She then began to speak to suppliers, who said they would supply chocolate if she guaranteed to buy a minimum order quantity.

After her graduation, she began to meet bakers and created a business plan for the first store, which opened up in Whitefield, a suburb in Bengaluru, in 2014.

Anusha showcased fine designer chocolates and thought they would be a big hit. But it wasn’t so.

“In the first year sales were dismal and people would compare the price with branded chocolates,” she says.

She adds that she learnt her lessons the hard way but figured out that building a brand takes time and was a long-term play.

In the second year, she took sales to Rs 60 lakh purely by spending 16 hours a day in the store and she got people to experiment with fine chocolate.

Just when she thought the time was right to scale up, the mall evicted her in August 2016. “I had to leave because the mall increased the rentals and it was not going to keep my costs low,” she says.

Working harder, aiming higher

She ploughed all her money into the business and invested in three more stores in January 2017.

Today 95 percent of Anusha's business comes from her retail stores and the rest from corporate orders. The company has tie ups with PVR and Audi. She is also readying her online sales channel, which will be up by August.

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She intends to open several more stores in Bengaluru before expanding to Hyderabad and Chennai. Her overall costs include import costs of the dark chocolate, salaries and store rentals. Anusha is currently in talks with numerous funds and high-net worth investors to champion her business.

India sweet on chocolate

India's chocolate market continues to grow. Research by London-based global market firm Mintel showed that while the chocolate sales in other countries have stagnated, India consumed 228,000 tonnes of chocolate in 2016. The country's chocolate confectionery market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 20.6 percent from 2016 to 2020, the research said.

But Anusha’s competition is all the organised one-shop family businesses that also sell chocolate. This includes bakeries like Divina and high-end chocolate cafes like Smoor.

Anusha believes in retailing her brand across India through retail chains. Smoor tried to sell its chocolates under the brand name Bliss, but it had to revamp its strategy as sales did not take off in the organised retail format.

Other entrepreneurs believe the online format works well for new entrants on the market.

Manish Chowdhary, Co-founder of Wow, a lifestyle brand which sells exclusively on Amazon, says: “Brands should use the online channel to reach more customers.”

Abhishek Parihar, founder of SagarFab, which sells branded T-shirts online, says the “biggest challenge for new brands is discovery”.

But the problems of discoverability and high operational costs don’t seem to faze Anusha. She’s as passionate about chocolate as Willy Wonka was and is looking for the perfect taste in every bite.

Her high quality chocolates can’t be compared to the mass-produced varieties we all buy at the local kirana store, which is why she’s aiming for sweet success.

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