Paul & Mike’s Vikas Temani on tackling the provenance paradox

Paul and Mike is the first Indian company to bag a silver at the International Chocolate Awards 2021.

Chocolate is the ultimate luxury. The Aztecs used it as currency. The Mayans called it the drink of gods. The royalty cherished it for sheer decadence. 

Thanks to sophisticated marketing gimmicks, many of us to this day believe that the world’s finest chocolates hail from Switzerland and Belgium. The reason: Consumers have fallen prey to what Rohit Deshpande, a Harvard Business School professor, calls the ‘provenance paradox.’ In this phenomenon, consumers associate certain geographies with certain products. For instance, Swiss watches, German cars, and French wine. Competing products from emerging markets are perceived as less authentic even when their quality is on par with those from a developed market.

Jaipur-born Vikas Temani is breaking these mindset barriers with his homegrown chocolate brand, Paul & Mike. Although the brand is named after two Latin American farmers, the chocolates are proudly made in India.

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Vikas Temani, Business Head, Paul and Mike Fine Flavour Chocolates

The birth of a brand

Temani is an intrapreneur — an innovative entrepreneur who works within the ecosystem of a larger, more traditional organization. Prior to the launch of Paul and Mike, Temani worked for the parent company Synthite, which is the world’s largest manufacturer of spice oleoresins and essential oils. While evaluating its entry into the cocoa market, the team from Synthite went to explore cocoa bean farms in Latin America. That’s when inspiration struck. Temani realised the potential of fine flavour chocolates in the Indian market. His muse was the wine and craft beer industry.  

“We wanted to do what Sula did for wine in India. That thought process made us venture into the business of artisanal chocolate,” says Temani. 

In April 2019, brand Paul & Mike was born. 

Temani, an alumnus of IIM-Kozhikode, made sure he weighed the pros and cons of the new business. He had but one goal: To win and to win big. 

Temani accomplished the feat in less than three years. Paul and Mike became the first Indian company to bag a silver at the International Chocolate Awards 2021. Today, the artisanal brand has presence in 28 cities and 300 upmarket stores across India.

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By introducing local flavours, brand Paul and Mike is catering to discerning consumers.

Factory, farms, and fanbase

Temani, who has now made Kerala his home, has set up a chocolate factory in Kochi. The company also owns two cocoa farms: one close to the factory in Kochi and the other in Marudur, a village in the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu. 

“Our cocoa farms are a proof of concept. These have become model farms and are often frequented by farmer groups, farmer cooperatives, and local universities. We intend to start a local sourcing program and enrol farmers near our factory. We will train these farmers and have buy-back arrangements with them. Our team of agronomists will also support them,” says Temani.

By consistently executing strategic, creative, and operational decisions, Temani has put brand Paul and Mike on the path to cultural relevance and consumer love.

“Chocolate is moving towards wine trends. Consumers are discerning and demanding. They don’t want sugar-laden confectionaries. They want to taste beans from different origin. They look for cocoa beans that have been processed differently. Every chocolate maker brings his or her interpretation into it. The industry is becoming more artisanal and fragmented,” says Temani.

Conversations with consumers

Paul and Mike is a brand that focuses on customer centricity. It believes in creating authentic relationships and striking interesting conversations. Be it online or offline, the messaging has been fun, interactive, and responsible.

Message on the package: Paul & Mike has a unique packaging strategy. Each chocolate pack educates and entertains. “On the package, we bust several myths around chocolates. For instance, the purest chocolate doesn’t have to be bitter. We talk about our farm-to-bar difference which sheds light on the careful selection of cocoa genetics and the process of harvesting, roasting and drying. We talk about the ‘honest ingredients’ we use. We talk about our carbon-negative promise. When our consumers read it, they get to understand that we are a conscious company,” says Temani.

A witty website: Paul and Mike’s website is a lot of fun. Not only does the portal give consumers a chance to share their ideas, but it also rewards them in choco currency. For instance, a member celebrating his or her birthday can earn 100 choco points, or a member following Paul and Mike on Instagram can earn 50 choco points.

Being real on social media: Paul and Mike has a small but strong fan following on social media. Besides giveaways and special offers, the brand engages in honest conversations with its consumers. For instance, by sharing photos of cocoa farms and displaying the fermentation and drying process of cocoa beans, consumers get an idea of where their Paul and Mike chocolate bar comes from.

The big barriers

Paul and Mike may have reached great heights in a short span of time, but, like every other organization, it is confronting big challenges.

“From a production perspective, our biggest challenge is the dearth of fine, high-quality beans. To resolve this, we spend a lot of time and effort in educating and engaging with farmers. The other big problem we have is the cold chain. We are not a big chocolate conglomerate. We don’t have our own vehicles to ferry chocolates. As we don’t have that kind of volume, moving around chocolates, especially in summers to tier-2 cities, becomes a daunting task,” says Temani.

Finding success in simplicity

Paul and Mike is a brand that likes to keep things simple. Although the brand operates with a small team, it has grown tenfold in the past two years.

“We don’t want to enter too many new stores or new cities. We want to increase our presence in our existing stores. Our focus is to increase same-store sales and to convert people from imported chocolates to homegrown chocolates. Our growth has come from word of mouth— of people trying our chocolates, loving them, and gifting them to others,” says Temani. 

Fast and frequent innovation

Paul and Mike is not the kind of brand that resigns itself to the belief that innovation is a slow process. The company innovates frequently. “We are all the time doing roasting trials and fermentation trials to improve our quality,” says Temani.

New variants and flavours are launched every quarter.  This season, the brand unveiled the local Masala Chai flavour made with 57% vegan milk chocolate, rice milk powder and authentic Indian spices. Other new arrivals include Biscoff & Gingerbread Spice Mix, Honeycomb Toffee or Hokey Pokey, Peppermint Gelato, and Thandai.

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Paul and Mike’s new Masala Chai flavour is stealing the show this season.

Farm-to-bar roadmap

The Paul and Mike chocolate factory is in full swing to cater to the needs of discerning consumers. The brand is looking at the launch of bigger chocolate bars. Over the next six months, the brand will unveil other cocoa-based products like drinking chocolate, spreads, and bonbons.

In June, Paul and Mike will launch organized farm and factory tours. “We keep getting requests from several groups. Next year, we will open to public,” says Temani.

The brand, which primarily caters to B2C, is also looking at the B2B segment. “Even now, we supply to some chefs who are quality conscious,” he says.

Temani is now eyeing the next big award—possibly a gold.

“Paul and Mike has been taking part in international competitions since inception. The first year, we won a bronze in Asia Pacific. This year, we won silver. This triumph goes to show that we are progressing,” he says.

By participating in these international contests, the brand not only gained exposure to other chocolate brands around the world but it has also been receiving enquiries from importers from the USA, Europe, and Southeast Asia.

“The feedback we receive from judges also help us in constantly tweaking and improving our product. For me personally, it feels good to win as an Indian,” says Temani.

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