Smoor, a young, Bengaluru-based company, is making a mark with its unique couverture chocolate offerings. From health-focused options to pure indulgence, there’s something for everyone. And it’s looking to not just change chocolate culture in India but boost the entire sector.
In recent years, as the world has grown smaller, Indian audiences have had much greater exposure to international cultures. Consequently, this improved understanding of how things work in various places across the world, has led to us developing more interest in all things local too. Case in point, is the Indian chocolate industry. While even until a few years ago, chocolate imported from globally reputed processing sources such as Europe or the US were considered luxury products, the gaze has swiftly turned inwards. Homegrown brands have found wider acceptance and grown in popularity. This is the story of Smoor, a couverture chocolate brand that was born in Bengaluru.
Says Kanchan Achpal, Chief Marketing Officer, Smoor: “When we started out, in 2015, it was very difficult for people to understand the nuances behind chocolate. People were confused between couverture and compound, or say, how much cocoa butter should be in good chocolate. The general perception has always been that dark chocolate is healthy. But what is the kind of dark chocolate they’re consuming, there wasn’t really any understanding of that. Because we knew that understanding what they’re consuming is important in this day and age for the consumer, so we put in a lot of effort into educating them. We created lounges where customers could experience and understand chocolate in its entirety. We hosted these ‘chocolate evenings’ in our lounges, where we made people try different kinds of chocolate and spread awareness about certain things that not only helped them distinguish between good and bad quality chocolate but also helped them savour chocolate in the way it’s meant to be enjoyed. For instance, we have this test that is a sure-shot indicator of chocolate quality. Any chocolate that sticks to the palate, is compound, high in vegetable fat content. Then, when you’re eating it, you never eat chocolate straight from the fridge. You let it come to room temperature to best enjoy the flavours. We undertook such outreach programmes with corporates, banks, and various other entities, just so the customer learns to truly appreciate chocolate.”
Bengaluru was where the brand was founded and swiftly expanded to 20 outlets across the city, three outlets in Mumbai and two in the national capital. Now, given that Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru are the largest markets in the country which generate an enormous demand for higher-end products, this kind of expansion is a no-brainer for any brand looking to establish itself in the mind of the Indian consumer. Fascinatingly though, Kanchan says, that they’re also looking at eventually expanding to Tier II cities such as Pune, Hyderabad, Chandigarh and Goa, among others. “A lot of the orders we receive on our website is actually from Tier II cities. A large portion of our customer base is aspirational in nature. People want access to brands but it’s not really easily achieved in these cities,” she says.
Vimal Sharma, Founder-Director and CEO of Smoor, tells us: “The luxury and premium segment chocolate market is worth about Rs 3,000 crore. Before the pandemic, while the mass market was growing at 8 per cent, our category was growing at 22-25 per cent year-on-year. What we noticed as our outlets increased, and the pandemic stopped all travels abroad, demand increased. And a lot of this demand is coming from Tier II cities. It’s possibly a function of our online presence, easy availability as well as boosted marketing initiatives. We are already established in the primary markets of our presence. Bengaluru knows us well, and in Delhi and Mumbai, especially with our extensive gifting options, brand recognition has grown too. What’s been very encouraging is the fact that our repeat purchases are also fairly high in number.”
So, what exactly are Smoor’s products? Couverture chocolate is high-quality chocolate, with very high quantities of cocoa butter, has a lower temperature of melting and is highly process driven. It’s one of the hardest chocolates to manufacture, with specific levels of humidity and temperature required to be maintained through the entire production process, to achieve the perfect levels of shine, texture, flavour and bite. “At Smoor, what we’ve been able to do with couverture chocolate is attain several categories and have them as various different offerings. For instance, we have praline boxes for gifting, where we have used the chocolate and then blended them with various fillings. Some of the fillings might be internationally popular flavours while others are unique, Indian flavours such as chilli, badam milk and cardamom, among others. Then there are two other categories which have generated a lot of interest recently – snacking chocolates and drinking chocolates. With both categories, again, we’ve managed to use certain ingredients to enhance the entire experience from the traditional idea of what these chocolate products can be like. For instance, we can add nutritious and medicinal ingredients such as ashwagandha and giloy powders to turn out products that are not just an occasional indulgence but something that can become a part of your regular routine. And that’s the unique thing about Smoor. We’re taking couverture chocolate and applying it across categories, blending in ingredients, all to suit various customer tastes, from healthy snacking options to pure indulgence,” says Vimal.
As Vimal goes on to tell us about new R&D experiments they’re conducting, it becomes evident, not only is he passionate and takes pride in his products but also, he’s clearly having fun developing all these various offerings for consumers. “India’s chocolate culture is slowly picking up. Whereas earlier we’d see chocolate being associated with lifestyle in other countries, India, too has started a push in this direction.”
Smoor sources its raw materials from Barry Callebaut, one of the world’s largest manufacturer of high-quality chocolate and cocoa products. It receives the chocolate in the form of blocks and then begin the various processes of converting it into its wide gamut of products. By next year, the company will set up a state-of-the-art facility where it will receive the raw material in the form of cocoa liquor. “We’re literally two steps away from being bean to bar. With cocoa liquor, the possibilities of ingredient infusion, creating new blends becomes much greater and that will be a significant advantage for us.”
Of course, Smoor has special offerings for World Chocolate Day, as Kanchan explains: “We’ve got a box of 12 for World Chocolate Day, where we’ve created these pralines which are in the shape of cocoa pods, with fascinating colours and all single-origin estate beans. We’ve combined these with some unique flavours such as szechaun pepper, mango-wasabi, java, apricot-mascarpone cheese, jasmine tea, basil-pistachio and raspberry-cardamom, among others.”
These kind of fascinating flavours are created by not just master chocolatiers and master chefs from across the world but also Indian chocolatiers who have been integrated into the Smoor family. Says Kanchan, “Aside from reputed chefs such as Elaine Young from Australia and our own Avijit Ghosh creating collections, we also pick up a lot of inspiration from customer feedback. Buyers know what they want and it’s important to listen to what their tastes and preferences are.”
Smoor is clearly on an upward trajectory. Apart from setting up new manufacture and experience facilities, expanding retail presence across the Indian market, starting up exports, and broadening its offerings basket, the company is also looking at encouraging Indian cocoa growers by sourcing 30-40 per cent of its raw materials domestically. Of course, policy help in terms of a rationalised tax and duties structure, would go a long way to boost not just Smoor but the entire sector.
Smoor chocolates is available on its website with deliveries across India while it is also tied up with Amazon, Flipkart, BigBasket and Grofers.
With homegrown brands such as Smoor coming up at a rather encouraging pace and optimism clearly shining through, when it comes to the industry’s future prospects, it seems the Indian chocolate industry is indeed set for sweeter days ahead.