This bean-to-bar chocolate brand wants to redefine chocolates for Indian consumers, clocks Rs 1.25Cr turnover
The Indian confectionery, specifically the chocolate market, is dominated by brands like Amul, Cadbury, and Nestle, among others.
And, most Indians relate chocolate to having a sweet taste, says Shahzad Anklesaria. Shahzad is the founder of Ambriona Chocolates — a Mumbai-based craft chocolate brand.
Craft chocolates, also known as bean-to-bar chocolates, refer to a premium category of chocolates. These chocolates are produced in a single factory — from when they are still cacao beans to the final bar.
According to a report by Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute, there are about 481 bean-to-bar chocolate manufacturers in the world, of which the US has the highest manufacturers at 192, followed by Mexico, South America, and the Caribbean. Asia and Australia have a total of 57 such producers.
In India, brands, including Ambriona, Cocoatrait, Naviluna Artisan Chocolate (formerly called Earth Loaf), Mason & Co., etc., make craft chocolates.
How did it start
Shahzad returned to India in 2013 after completing his BBA from Kingston University, the UK. An avid traveller and chocolate enthusiast, Shahzad felt a gap in the chocolate market.
“The definition of chocolate was very vague. People just thought something sweet was chocolate. There was no awareness around real chocolates,” he highlights.
This gap intrigued Shahzad, and he decided to introduce craft chocolates to Indians and founded Ambriona Chocolates in 2015. He started the company with an initial investment of Rs 1 crore, amassed from personal savings and debt from his parents.
The basic pillar of Ambriona Chocolates was to help customers get the actual taste of chocolate without the addition of any artificial ingredients.
His wife Rukshin Anklesaria and childhood friend Shubham Joshi also joined him on his quest. His team started sourcing cacao beans from different parts of the world including Uganda, Ecuador, and Maracaibo, and identified the right vendors who would help the brand achieve the same.
The next step was sampling. The team started identifying the varying notes of the cacao beans and created a database of different flavours. The brand came up with seven stock-keeping units (SKUs) and dived into the Indian market.
Ambriona Chocolates are manufactured at its unit in Ratlam, Madhya Pradesh.
Hits and misses
When the company was able to develop a general product, it decided to test it in the market, and reactions were myriad.
Once, while getting people to taste Ambriona’s chocolates, Shahzad shares that one woman spat it, saying, “This is not a chocolate!”
“We understood that Indians like something sweet or fruity (in their chocolates). They are not appreciative of the dark chocolates that are from Ghana or have high cacao content. Indians like the Ecuadorian notes,” he explains.
This problem was tackled with the Daarzel Roasted Hazelnut chocolate range, which has 45 percent of cacao in it. Later, it introduced various other flavours, including Intense Dark Chocolate, Intense Dark Chocolate with Muesli, Caramelised Almonds and Sea Salt, etc.
Explaining why this particular range is a good option for Indian consumers who don’t want to dive into dark chocolates, Shahzad says, “This range is targeted at milk chocolate eaters. It will help them smoothly transition to the dark chocolate category.”
The business started its retail journey in Bengaluru, Mumbai, and Delhi. However, it met with another challenge, the prevalent corruption and fraud in the retail space.
Shahzad says, “The whole retail market works on credit, which brought us to our knees. Being a new player, we were compelled to adapt to the market norms of giving credit.”
While the brand was able to sell easily, the cash flow either didn’t come or took too long. Finding itself in a hard spot, the company decided to shut operations in Bengaluru and Mumbai.
At present, Ambriona Chocolates operates mainly through ecommerce platforms, including Amazon, 1MG, Qtrove, and its website, followed by retail stores.
Despite challenges, Ambriona has carved a niche for itself. It made Rs 30 lakh in the first six months of its launch.
With over 70 SKUs today, the company has clocked Rs 1.25 crore turnover this fiscal year. It is expecting to close the year with Rs 1.65 crore turnover.
A normal bar of chocolate in the Indian market starts from Rs 5 and goes up to Rs 100, Rs 160, etc. However, craft chocolates come in a premium segment and are priced slightly higher.
Ambriona chocolates start somewhere between Rs 165 and go up to Rs 300. About 50 percent of the MRP goes into the pockets of middlemen, who are part of the selling and distribution process, including the CNF agent, super stockists, etc., Shahzad claims.
He says the brand’s chocolates are priced higher to “help the business scale up.”
Whether higher pricing will affect the brand getting traction, he says, “My priority right now is to create a good product. We want to source the best ingredients to give our customers a good experience.”
Future of the chocolate industry
The future seems bright for the Indian chocolate industry. According to a report by Mintel, the Indian chocolate industry is pegged to grow at a CAGR of 10 percent between 2019 and 2023.
In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic boosted the sales of the company by 3X. The company gained 10,000 new customers during the pandemic.
A survey by IIM-Lucknow revealed about 42 percent of the respondents living in Tier I and II cities stocked up chocolates during the lockdown period.
Going forward, Ambriona Chocolates plans to spend at least 35-45 percent of its marketing spend on acquiring new customers. It plans to make more video content for its website and social media handles to aware people of craft chocolates.
Ambriona Chocolates also plans to enter the export market, especially in the US and Canada, by June 2022.
Edited by Suman Singh