Two sisters start a handmade chocolate brand to empower underprivileged women
Prachi Shah and Sneh Bhansali launched Divinite Chocolates in association with an NGO, eight years ago, and are trying to grow it into one of the most established brands for gifting.
Nine out of 10 people like chocolate; the tenth always lies! Mumbai-based sisters Prachi Shah, 32, and Sneh Bhansali, 30, agree wholeheartedly.
Born into a Gujarati family, these chocolate connoisseurs have always been surrounded by entrepreneurs. About eight years back, they decided to bring business and chocolates together with Divinite Chocolates, a range of handmade chocolates in elegant and personalised packaging.
Not only are Divinite Chocolates delicious, they stand for a cause - empowering underprivileged women. The brand is associated with Sa’Ni’Sa, an NGO that works to empower underprivileged women. These women are then trained and set to work in packaging, logistics, and sales of Divinite Chocolates.
“Buying our chocolates isn’t just buying a treat or a great gifting item; it’s also supporting a cause that uplifts the society as a whole,” Prachi says.
The chocolates are a hit among several elite clubs, hotels, and organisations in Mumbai. Divinite is also a preferred gifting partner for many socially conscious clients.
Finding their way to chocolate
Prachi and Sneh were born and brought up in Mumbai, and studied at Villa Theresa High School. While Prachi did her bachelor in accounting and finance course at HR College, Sneh did her bachelor of commerce course at Jai Hind College, Churchgate. For post-graduation, Prachi went to Sydney, Australia, to do a patisserie course at Le Cordon Bleu; Sneh, meanwhile, opted to do an interior designing course at IITC, Mumbai.
After post-graduation, the sisters started working with private companies in their respective fields.
“I was doing an interior designing job while Prachi was working in the pastry kitchen at Taj Sats. But there came a point when we both realised, we weren’t content and wanted to pursue something we found true meaning in.”
In 2010, Prachi finally quit her job and launched the brand Divinite Chocolates under the NGO Shramik Naari Sangh also known as, Sa’Ni’Sa.
Speaking about her association with Sa’Ni’Sa, Prachi says: “The NGO is an offshoot of the Shrimad Rajchandra Aatma Tatva Research Centre, which is a centre that focuses on spiritual activities. We have been a part of the Shrimad Rajchandra Aatma Research Centre for a long time. Being a part of this spiritual centre, we always had been aware of Sa’Ni’Sa since its inception. That’s how we knew we wanted to get associated and become a part of it someday.”
“On the hand, there are so many girls and women who do not have the freedom we had — to study and choose a career of our choice. We wanted to make a conscious effort to reach out,” she adds.
Asha, who has been working with Divinite Chocolates for more than two years, was once a daily wage labourer. She says, “I used to get paid much less because I was a woman. I do feel that if I was educated, I would’ve earned more and had more respect in society. But things have changed as I earn better now and live a respectable life.”
The aim of the sisters to help engage lesser privileged women by training them to aspire and scale newer heights.
Sneh says, “Every woman has the potential to do better, irrespective of the social or economic background she comes from.” She points out that 100 percent of their profits go to SaNiSa to help support women empowerment.
“Not only do the women get a share in the profits, but we also engage in other areas. Parts of the proceeds go to the school at the research centre. The children of the women working at the HO at Khopoli are sent to the same very school,” she adds.
In 2013, Sneh got on board with her sister and quit her job. Sneh speaks about how they brought different skills to the table.
“We are two very different personalities, and bring our strengths to the table. Design and creativity is mine; Prachi is really strong in management skills. Of course, being sisters who work together, it does become challenging to separate the personal from the professional front. But now, four years later, I can confidently say we have almost mastered the art,” Sneh says.
Bitter chocolate, sweet chocolate
But the duo had to scale many hurdles along the way. Predicting how to move out of startup mode into scale-up mode and figuring out the talent and organisational changes presented the biggest challenges.
Prachi recalls, “As young women, I think one of our biggest challenges was to be taken seriously by clients and vendors alike. We had to get the point across - that we weren't just another brand of ‘homemade’ chocolates, but we're looking to turn this into one of the most established brands for gifting. At a point where every sixth home in Mumbai was producing chocolates, this was one of our biggest challenges.”
A large part of Divinity's business comes through corporate gifting. Prachi says,
“The festive second half of the year is always stronger. Since it’s a seasonal product, work comes in waves. But our aim is to convert our chocolates into a year-round gifting option.”
“Early on, we started closing orders with corporates such as Lodha Builders, Tata Capital, Standard Chartered Bank, and Cera Sanitaryware; some of them are our clients even today. That meant a lot and gave us confidence that we were on the right path,” Prachi says.
Love affair with chocolate
At peak capacity, Prachi and Sneh employ 10-12 full-time staff along with 10-15 part-time staff, mostly all women. Their work varies across different processes, from manufacturing to packaging. Most of the working women are based in Mumbai, coming from areas that range from Ghatkopar to Panvel. Their salaries span Rs 7,000 to Rs 12,000 per month, depending on their skill set.
Divinite’s chocolates are priced at Rs 1,250 per kg.
Speaking about the chocolates, Sneh says,
“While being purely vegetarian, we have a range of flavours that truly entice our customers. Be it Cookies n’ Cream to Chilli and Ginger, our flavours keep customers coming back for more. Also with an extensive range of packaging and customisation, we ensure they don’t need to go elsewhere for their gifting needs.”
The ingredients come from various places, being sourced in Chennai, Singapore, and Malaysia.
Divinite Chocolates are not available online yet, but the sisters are now considering the option.
“We love our work and what better reward than to get to be a part of our customers' lives and special occasions! We turned out to be the lucky ones who get to call their passion ‘work’, every single day,” the sisters end.
And the love for chocolates continues.