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Designer chocolates are here!

Maitreyee Handique | August 13, 2003

When it comes to chocolates, Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid al Maktoum of Dubai, reportedly serves only Patchi chocolates.

The Lebanese brand is said to be the royalty's official choice. Now it looks like that chocoholics from Mumbai to Delhi to Kolkata, wishing to convey season's greetings with a box of Patchi, can do so.

With the intention of cashing in on the Diwali, Christmas and New Year celebrations, Mumbai-based Brook Trading Co, the official importer of Patchi chocolates, has opened an outlet at Mumbai's Crossroads, two months ago.

Worldwide, Patchi has 87 exclusive chocolate stores in 24 countries. It is ready to open two shops in Delhi and one in Kolkata before Diwali. Stores in Bangalore, Hyderabad and Pune will follow next year.

"Traditionally, people exchange mithai, but now they're looking at alternatives," reasons Chetan Gokal, director, Brook Trading Co and country head, Patchi Chocolates.

Patchi isn't alone in tapping the emerging boutique or designer chocolate market in India.

Following Patchi's footsteps is Mumbai's Good Housekeeping Company. The 63-year-old company has interests in interior designing as well.

Its Fantasie brand of chocolates is retailed from seven outlets in Mumbai, Pune and Bangalore. In the next two months the company plans to expand to Delhi and Hyderabad.

"Although the market for boutique chocolates is small, it is already eating into the share of the mass-market brands," says Zeba Kohli, managing director at Good Housekeeping Company.

Homegrown designer brand, Choco Swiss, is also chalking out its strategies. It is setting up six outlets in Delhi and Gurgaon.

"We are looking for franchisees to set up six one-stop chocolate shops that will stock everything from loose chocolates to chocolate-making ingredients and chocolate milk shakes," says the owner Vinay Malhotra.

The company has factories in Delhi and Bangalore and retails in 45 cities. "There is a great demand even from places like Shillong and Mangalore," he adds.

Clearly, chocolate companies, big and small, are gearing up to do brisk business this season. While some are expanding their retail network, others are introducing new flavours as well.

The Chocolate Boutique that opened in the capital last October is launching flavours such as Wild Berry and Date & Honey Truffles in addition to its existing Bloody Chocolate, Pan Supari and Nalin Gur chocolates.

"With the rise in disposable incomes, people do not mind spending on designer chocolates," says Sanjiv Obhrai, owner of The Chocolate Boutique.

Delhi-based Trinity Terminal Ent, a 50:50 joint venture between fashion designer Raghuvendra Singh Rathore and the Rs 115 crore (Rs 1.15 billion) Mount Shivalik Industries is ready to take competition head on.

"We're increasing our capacity to 15,000 boxes this Diwali," says MSI's marketing director Monish Bali.

Besides, the company is also negotiating with airline companies and heritage hotels to hawk its products.

Trinity, which claims to use a 100-year-old recipe for its crown and medallion-shaped chocolate, plans to introduce a new range of truffles before the New Year.

Given the demand for chocolate, Faridabad-based Livvel Products Pvt Ltd, a health food company  also launched its brand of low-calorie, high-fibre chocolates this April.

With the import duties on ingredients like chocolate slabs, cocoa butter and hazelnuts -- down from nearly 120 per cent to 30 per cent -- the chocolate market has been on a growth path. So much so that it is helping home-made chocolate brands proliferate.

Says Sonia Gupta, a garment designer who sells her chocolate brand Soul Chocolate from home: "Increasingly, people prefer something that is prepared at home as opposed to a dressed-up version available in the market."

With imported chocolates and those manufactured by the organised sector available at every paanwallah's, boutique chocolates is clearly catering to a niche market.

Obhrai, however, begs to differ. He's promoting his product on radio, offering gift hampers and consciously keeping his prices low -- at Rs 6 a piece -- (that goes up to as high as Rs 500 for 17 pieces).

"It's a sure shot way to create a chocolate culture. Boutique chocolates," says Obhrai, "is not a mass-based product, but that's what I'm attempting to turn it into."

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