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Best dark chocolate brand in India

Best dark chocolate brand in India

Rather than being biased towards or select a specific brand, we empower you with some facts via this blog post to choose the best dark chocolate brand in india by yourself! Chocolates in India are consumed to boost ones mood, rewards oneself or to boost energy levels. Most of these above needs are met by the consumption of milk chocolates. Over the last few years, consumers have become more concious, involved and discerning in their food and drink choices and favour healthy indulgences. Dark chocolate seems to fit that bill and is made out to be incredibly healthy and nutritious superfood. We look beyond the obvious in this thought piece.

Market size of chocolates in India

The total estimated chocolate market size is expected to be Rs 17200 crore in 2019 and growing at 16% compounded annually. Real chocolates made with cocoa butter (and not hydrogenated vegetable oils) form a smaller part of the market. An even smaller but really fast growing sub-segment is the bean-to bar chocolate. The bean to bar chocolate market is estimated to be Rs 8 crore as of 2019. It is expected to grow at 200-250% annually over the next two-three years. Most of the bean to bar chocolate products are vegan and dark and hence relevant to this discussion.

History of Cocoa

Cocoa beans is the seed of the fruit of Theobroma Cacao tree. The use of cocoa beans has changed over the last 1000’s of years from when it was discovered. Maya and Aztecs drank it as a bitter spicy and fermented beverage during ceremonies and considered it healthy and spiritual. The drink was considered a source of wisdom and energy and also an aphrodisiac which had a soothing effect. Click to see video of how you can make a similar drink.

Dark Chocolate in the shape of a Cocoa Pod.
Dark Chocolate moulded in the shape of Cocoa Pod

About 160 years ago, milk and sugar were added to cocoa. This created what we today know as chocolate. Milk, Sugar and Cocoa were ground together to form a smooth sweet paste and then moulded. Today, we consume cocoa in this delicious sweet form. To understand the process of chocolate making from farm to bar, please click video link here.

“With grapes, you can choose to make grape juice or fine wine. Cacao is no different.”

– L Nitin Chordia, India’s 1st Certified Chocolate & Cocoa Taster

Flavours of cocoa

Cocoa and hence chocolate flavour is an extremely complex mixture of more than 500 naturally occurring flavour compounds. When the cacao is fine and treated with care, the resulting chocolate offers an endless rainbow of flavour possibilities. The art of tasting fine chocolate or appreciating is much like Tea, Coffee, Wine, Whisk(e)y or Single Malt tasting. Chocolates made with Fine flavour cocoa beans can boast of Fruity, Floral, Herbal, Dairy, Toasted, Spicy, Earthy, Cocoa, Nutty and Caramel/Dark sweet flavour notes. These flavour notes are not ingredients added to the chocolate, but the inherent flavours that fine cacao carries as a mixed result of genetics, terroir, origin, weather and post-harvesting processes like Fermentation and Roasting. Each step of harvesting of Cocoa (Fermentation & Drying), Transportation, Storage and chocolate making (Roasting, Refining, Conching) and packaging has a potential impact on flavour and can be detected by tastings.

Facts about Cacao, Cocoa & Chocolate

The existence of several hundred aroma compounds in cocoa as seen above are scientifically proven. However, you should be surprised that, most of the scientific research done to back the health claims of dark chocolate are biased because they are industry funded. Every research aims at convincing consumers that dark chocolate is the super food they have been waiting for. Hence, we need to consider a few additional and important facts.

Health Benefits

Difference between Cacao & Cocoa

Chocolate is usually made by processing cocoa beans and adding ingredients. Cocoa beans are got from the cocoa fruit which is grown on the tree which is botanically called Theobroma cacao. The farmer harvests the fruit, ferments the cocoa beans and sun-dries it. Untill this stage, since no artificial process is carried out, the cocoa beans is referred to as Cacao. Products sold untill this stage are referred to as Cacao beans, Cacao nibs, cacao powder etc. Once it reaches the chocolate maker, roasting the cacao beans is usually the 1st process. Once the cacao beans are roasted (heat treated), the industry starts referring to them and all products made from them with the term Cocoa (Cocoa nibs, cocoa powder etc).

Dark chocolate do have some impressive proven health benefits as it is naturally high in Iron, Copper, Magnesium, Zinc, Phosphorus, Flavonoids (Antioxidants). However, the amount of chocolate one would have to consume to derive those benefits seem to shock most people! The most talked about ingredient is antioxidants.

Antioxidants in Chocolate

Oxidative stress or oxidation is an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in the body, which can lead to cell and tissue damage. Oxidative stress occurs naturally and plays a role in the aging process and causing various illness. Antioxidants are substances that help stop or limit damage caused by the free radicals. Cocoa beans contain approximately 6–8% polyphenols by dry weight which act as antioxidants which is more than is found in most foods.

Polyphenols can further be classified into 4 main groups namely Flavonoids, Phenolic acids, Polyphenolic amides and other polyphenols. Flavonoids are a diverse group of phytonutrients (plant chemicals) found in almost all fruits and vegetables. Flavonoids acting as antioxidants helps protects cells against damage from free-radicals and hence against diseases associated with oxidative stress such as heart disease and cancer.

Roasted Cocoa Beans
Roasted Cocoa Beans

It is safe to assume that most chocolate bars don’t deliver all the antioxidants because they can get destroyed during chocolate processing. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Database of Flavonoid Content provides us valuable data. In each gram of a typical 70% dark chocolate, there is about 1 milligram of flavonoid. In the case of milk chocolate there is only .15 milligram of Flavonoid Content in each gram of chocolate! Source

How much chocolate should one consume?

A person needs to get an average of 670mg of Flavonoids which can potentially help maintain stable blood pressure by maintaining blood vessel elasticity. One would need to consume about 600 gms of dark chocolates per day or about 2 and a half kgs of milk chocolate per day to get that amount of Flavonoids!

Composition of the Fat in chocolate

Cocoa butter consists of palmitic, stearic and oleic acids in equal parts. Palmitic acid, a solid, saturated fat, are linked to increases in LDL cholesterol and increases risk of cardiovascular disease. Stearic acid, which is also a solid, saturated fat, appears to have a neutral effect, which is surprising and uncommon among saturated fats. Oleic acid, meanwhile, a heart-healthy liquid monounsaturated fat also found in olive oil, decreases the risk of heart disease. It is believed that these effect of these 3 types of acids neutralises making cocoa butter a “not so bad” fat.

Amount of fat and sugar in dark chocolate

The nutritional profile of chocolate will depend on the different levels of cocoa butter and sugar added in chocolate. A 20g serving of 70% dark chocolate contains about 8g of fat, of which 5g is saturated fat, 6g sugar and 2g of fibre and protein. To compare, an 85% dark chocolate is higher in fat with almost 10g per 20g, of which 6g is saturated fat, but it is lower in sugar with just 3g per 20g. Hence it is important to keep an eye on the fat intake. Please remember that a 55% dark chocolate contains upto 45% sugar apart from added fat. A 50% dark cocoa chocolate should not even exist!

Calories in chocolate

A 70% dark chocolate is calorie rich and delivers about 520 calories per 100 Gms. A 80%, 100% or even a sugar free chocolate is not any lesser! The calories saved from sugars are compensated by the calories from cocoa butter. Milk chocolates have similar calories as dark chocolate. In short, a low calorie chocolate almost does not exist! For the calorie concious, this means balancing the amount of chocolate you should consume as part of your over all calorie intake per day.

Chocolates in baking

A chocolate cake is the most prepared and sold baked product in the cakes category. Only in a RAW chocolate cake can one expect to receive the benefits of the cocoa used. Baking involves high temperatures and additional ingredients which typically reduces the overall health quotient. However research suggests that Chocolate cakes made with baking powder resulted in complete retention of antioxidant activity and flavanol content, but with reduced cake heights and lighter cake color. Use of baking soda as a leavening agent was associated with losses of antioxidant activity and darkening color of cakes. Source

Caffeine in dark chocolate

Up to 400 milligrams (mg) of caffeine a day appears to be safe for most healthy adults. A shot (30 ml) of espresso contains about 63 Milligram of caffeine. 100 grams of 70% dark chocolate would supply about 80 Milligrams of Caffeine. 1 cup (225 gms) of green tea contains 25-29 mg of caffeine. However, some people are more sensitive to caffeine than are others.

Center filled chocolates

Center Filled Chocolate
Center filled chocolate

Popularly called as Bon Bons or Pralines, these chocolates that have delicious center fruit/nut/cream filling. The filling is usually fat/sugar based and is a calorie bomb! The chocolate is used only as a coating. At best indulgent, center filled chocolates have to be carefully avoided if the purpose of intake is improving ones health.

Is chocolate an aphrodisiac?

It is alluring to hypothesize that chocolate can have either a psychological or a biological positive impact on women’s sexuality. A study conducted in Italy found no significant differences between reported rates of sexual arousal when women were subjected to chocolates. BUSTED.

CocoaTRAIT of the best dark chocolate brands in India

Best dark chocolate brand in India
100% Dark chocolate slab

Cacao Content

Higher cocoa %, means higher amount of flavonoids (antioxidants) in the chocolate. Most non industry funded research suggests 73% cocoa content chocolate is the minimum recommended percentage for us to start looking to chocolate as healthy. A 50% or a 60% dark chocolate simply means there is way too little cocoa in your chocolate resulting in lesser flavonoids resulting in a lot of sugar.

Sugar Content

100 minus the % of chocolate (For Eg: 100-70% = 30%) usually results in the amount of sugar in a dark chocolate. Reliable research warns that too much added sugar can be one of the greatest reasons for cardiovascular disease. There is no direct connection but several indirect connections. The American Heart Association suggests that men consume no more than 150 calories (about 9 teaspoons or 36 grams) of added sugar per day. A 70% Dark chocolate bar of 45 Grams each contains 13.5 Grams of sugar. In our previous research, we found that an average Indian sweet only has 36% sugar whereas a 50% dark chocolate has 50% sugar and a 60% dark chocolate has 40% sugar!

Type of Sugar

A lot has been said about the type of sugar to be consumed. Sugar derived from cane is most popular with chocolate makers in India. There are many studies about how cane sugar is all about “Empty Calories” without much nutrition. The difference between Refined and Unrefined (Muscavado / Khandsari) cane sugar are also too little to be concerned about. Except that unrefined sugar undergoes one less process A.k.a refining using sulphur. Alternate sweeteners like Coconut Sugar, Palm Jaggery, Stevia etc have certain other benefits like Lower Glycemic index and being locally produced. However, we must remember that any added sugar must be carefully examined and the calorie value should be considered. Sugar free chocolate does not even warrant a discussion since most of them are chemical based sweeteners.

Type of Fat

In the Indian context, it is important to note that not every dark chocolate is a dark chocolate! Many so called dark chocolates contain cheaper Hydrogenated Vegetable oil (Palm/Dalda/Vanaspathi) in addition to being sugar treats! These are called compound chocolates (A.k.a Fake chocolates in the west). You will find a lot of this in tourist places like Kodaikanal, Ooty and Munnar. Trans fat is the reason why Hydrogenated Vegetable oil is considered as a non essential ingredient in chocolate. Cocoa contains 50% naturally occurring cocoa butter. A chocolate is considered pure if it contains cocoa butter as the only source of fat. This could be added or naturally occurring cocoa butter.

Use of Dairy

Chocolate in the moulded bar form got popular when processed milk powder along with sugar was added to it. This was in 1875. The milk in chocolates makes the delicious creamy Swiss confections popular across the world. Today, a milk chocolate is synonyms with chocolates and a sweet treat. Several mass produced and economical chocolate brands also use Butter fat (Ghee) to add creaminess to the chocolate, soft texture and to extend the shelf life by resisting bloom. In addition to this, a new indulgence category called Dark Milk chocolates have started to get a lot of attention. Studies have observed that addition of milk or milk products reduces the Antioxidant Capacity of cocoa products by about 30%. The addition of dairy in chocolate interferes/reduces the body’s ability to absorb the nutrients of cacao. Popular 50% Dark chocolates have milk in them! Read the back of pack carefully.

Use of Emulsifiers/Preservatives

Emulsifiers and preservatives are used in chocolate to help to increase viscosity (make it thinner) to aid easier processing of chocolate in the production line. They also extend the shelf life of chocolate and help in storage by preventing bloom. The most commonly used emulsifiers in chocolate in india are Soy or Sunflower Lecithin (E322) an ingredient widely used by industrial chocolate manufacturers and which are plant based. Polyglycerol Polyricinoleate – PGPR, (E476) and Glycerol or Glycerine (E422) are also widely used chemical based emulsifiers in India. With Soy Allergies becoming a concern these days, the addition of Soy Lecithin need to be noted.

Use of Organic Ingredients

In the world we live in today, It considered hygiene and baseline by consumers to use organic ingredients while making chocolate (whether or not you claim it on the pack). The fact is organic beans do not guarantee fine flavour. Various factors like Fermentation, Drying and Roasting determine the flavour of chocolate. Hence, using organic ingredients does not always translate to “good for you” chocolate. The term organic on the pack makes it easy to add to the illusion of a chocolate being perceived as healthy. With high sugar and fat content used, an organic chocolate can also be a replacement to a candy!!

Use of Vanilla/Vanillin

Fine flavour cocoa beans cost a lot more than commercial cocoa beans. Industrial chocolates tend to use Pure Vanilla, Nature Identical Vanilla or artificial Vanillin to mask the off flavours in chocolate and use cheaper cocoa beans. To enjoy the pure taste of chocolate, one must choose a chocolate that has no vanilla or vanillin added.

Artificial Flavours or Essence

The lesser stressed in this the better. It is easy to find chocolate brands add artificial essences, flavours and nature identical flavours to their chocolate bars making it appealing. The popular flavours like Orange and Mint are the ones to look out for! The flavours are usually extracted using an alcohol process and are chemical based. This is a big one to watch out for!

Number of Ingredients

“Less is More”. This aptly applies to chocolate. If you are reading 6+ ingredients on your chocolate ingredient list, there is enough reason to be worried. 3 ingredients in a plain dark chocolate and 4-5 ingredients in a flavour variant is the norm.

Alkalisation or Dutch Process

Cocoa beans are acidic in nature. Industrial chocolate makers reduce the acidity, improve the flavour (make it more chocolatey) and appearance greatly (make it darker) by means of a chemical process called alkalisation. Alkalisation of cocoa results in darker colour and higher chocolate flavour. Evidence from the literature indicates that natural (non alkalised) cocoas are high in flavonoids, but when the cocoa is processed with alkali, also known as Dutch processing or Dutching, the flavonoids are substantially reduced. Your search for best dark chocolate brand in India just got narrower!

Processing Temperature

Cocoa is usually roasted to unlock flavour precursors that have developed during fermentation of cocoa. Fermentation causes temperatures to rise to 55°C. Roasting happens anywhere between 100-160 Degrees Celsius. Chocolatiers roast to bring out the best flavour. Some research points to roasting at lower temperatures (110°C) helps in preserving the bioactivity of roasted cocoa beans. Processing it as raw chocolate helps keeping the live enzymes intact and staying abundant in minerals like zinc, magnesium & calcium.

Most chocolate makers prefer to roast cocoa as an assurance that they would be killing any unnecessary bacteria or pathogens that might exist in cocoa.  According to the National Confectioners Association (based in the U.S.), raw/un-roasted cacao beans are susceptible to bacteria & other forms of contamination; the heating/roasting process is actually what destroys that bacteria.

Single Origin Dark Chocolate

A single origin chocolate bar indicates that all the cocoa beans used in the process of making the chocolate originates from the same country. Origin of the beans do have an influence on the flavour profile of the chocolate to an extent. This gets complex because cocoa from the same country can have multiple varietals, Hybrids and Terroir. However, this allows a chocolate maker to offer variations of chocolate with differing flavour profiles. There are indications that beans from some origins have more antioxidant capabilities than others. However, the Genetic Varietal, Terroir and Post harvest processing at the farm do contribute to the differences.

Awards Won

Most artisanal chocolate bars win awards in several small or big competitions held across the world. It is thus important to note of the awards are specific to chocolate or have a reputation to go by. Winning an award for chocolates organised by a food body in another country might not necessarily mean much. Please do note the reputation of such awards.

Marketing Labels

Marketing terms such as Artisanal, Hand made, Hand Processed should make you defensive. Artisanal is defined as: Any product made in a traditional way by someone who is skilled with their hands. There is absolutely no chance of bean to bar chocolates being made by hand! It is a highly mechanised process and any claims to this effect should be questioned with disbelief. If a product reads organic or fairtrade certified, it is important to verify the authenticity of the claim.

So, which is the Best dark chocolate brand in India?

It might now be clear that you have to WTF – Weigh The Flavonoids before you decide the Best dark chocolate brand in India and consume chocolate to derive health benefits from it. On the face of it, it seems that it is best to go back in time and drink chocolate like the Maya and Aztecs did rather than eat it! In your quest to derive health benefits from the Best dark chocolate brand in India, we recommend that you:

  1. Consume cacao as much as possible in its minimally processed form. You could add Cocoa Nibs in Vegan Smoothies, Pan Cakes, add as toppings on Fruit Salad/Salads/breakfast cereals/brownies/pastries, spreads and condiments like a Cocoa Nib Hummus/Pesto etc
  2. Attempt to drink more than eat cocoa. Make interesting Vegan beverages from cocoa to avoid the fat as much as possible and get the best out of cocoa!. A Traditional Vegan Mexican Style Hot chocolate or Ceremonial Cacao is your best bet!
  3. Consume 70% cocoa or more Vegan Non Alkalised Bean to Bar Dark Chocolate in moderation (say 10-15 gms a few times a week).
  4. Pair Vegan dark chocolate with other flavonoid rich beverages and fruits like red wine, tea, coffee, circus fruits and apples. A sip of warm green tea followed by a bite of dark chocolate can be an immersive flavour experience.
  5. Combine cacao or Vegan dark chocolate innovatively with other (non flavonoid) antioxidant rich fruits, vegetables, nuts wholegrain and meats listed in this link.

More chocolate usually means more sugar, calories and fat. You can consume chocolate to boost your mood, reward yourself, boost energy levels, for its health benefits or for no reason at all. You now know why moderation is the key. Best of luck while choosing the best dark chocolate brand in India!

– L Nitin Chordia, India’s 1st Certified Chocolate Taster

About the Author of Best dark chocolate brand in India: L Nitin Chordia is a Sparing Partner and a Business Consultant with over 15 years of experience in Indian FMCG and Retail Domain. Nitin has worked with large brands and FMCG companies both in india and overseas with growing focus in Vegan Bean to Bar chocolate. Nitin is India’s 1st Certified Chocolate Taster, Cocoa post harvest professional and Judge at the International Chocolate Awards, London. Cocoatrait is an initiative to promote knowledge, production and consumption of fine chocolates in India. Nitin is the 1st external faculty at the Institute of fine chocolate tasting, UK. Cocoatrait operates the only one of its kind virtual chocolate tasting club in India with an aim to connect Chocolate Lovers with Chocolatiers. Nitin along with his wife Poonam (a trained chocolatier) has initiated Cocoashala, a chocolate school which helps you discover Bean to Bar chocolate making and beyond. Nitin also offers Cocoashala as an CIAAS (Chocolate Infrastructure As A Service) facility. We also operate the world’s 1st Zero Waste, Sustainable and Eco Friendly Bean to Bar chocolate contributing to the Circular Economy called Kocoatrait.

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Expectations from restaurants during the pandemic and beyond

It would be safe to assume that consumers expect safety and hygiene to be a basic need from restaurants going forward. Untill now, it was taken for granted. Let me start with an example. I recollect that clearly demonstrated better hygiene and open kitchen was one of the main reasons for Saravana Bhavan in Chennai becoming an iconic and hugely profitable brand back in the day. Whether it was keeping the spoon sanitised in warm water or dressing all the staff well, they did it out of the need to differentiate and not because the customers demanded it at that point in time. One may argue it still did not help them survive the vicious restaurant life cycle. My argument is that they certainly and very successfully extended it for quite long! We shall not go into the reasons for their decline as this is not the intention of this communication. The intention is to learn from the best always and evaluate if it suits you today. Herewith, I am trying to bring out of the cloud a few things that we might not be considering during these stressful times. Of course this is not the laundry list of things we must do as businesses to keep alive post the lockdown but a priority list at the least. Certainly there are multiple more efforts that need to be taken as the situation evolves.

“Vision without execution… is just hallucination”

– A Visionary
  1. Demonstrate what is expected from you: I would like to start with hygiene. The includes environmental hygiene both outside and inside your restaurant. No more we can give an excuse that I cant help it if the outside is not clean.
    • Change location, work with the corporation to do what it takes
    • On the inside, be minimalistic with your décor and furniture and space them out. Use Stainless steel furniture to ensure easy moving, cleanliness and hygiene. Avoid wodden furniture and fabric/leather seating. Keep the floor visible and cleanable. Spacing the tables means lesser PAX per sqft but this is expected out of you.
    • Seeing is believing. People want to see that hygiene is being maintained. Maintain a log clearly visible to the customers about when the facility was cleaned. No more hiding it behind a door!
    • Have the employee temperature checks done everyday recorded and displayed at the entrance and on social media (hiding the names on Social Media).
    • Improve lighting (natural if possible) and make sure there are no dim lightning or corners.
  2. Manage your menu: Most people complicate the menu and end up giving enough reasons to customers to complain about the consistency. Given the labour churn, It is not possible to maintain consistency in delivery. Customers will now need Healthy, Tasty and Soulful food. An elaborate menu also leads to high ingredient storage space, costs and management.
    • Trim and simplify the menu. Aim at keeping only close to 50% of your existing menu.
    • Look up previous sales data about what has sold the most.
    • Start with understanding what your customers have missed most during lockdown and try and include as much of it as possible in the menu. It is a huge learning that will serve us well going forward.
    • List down the ingredients that are used the most among the top sellers and optimise your ingredient inventory based on that. Do not over stock inventory.
    • Remember, people will be scared to try out restaurant style food for a while but are forced to eat outside for unavoidable reasons.
    • Add healthier and more simple home style food options in your menu.
    • Do not overdo it but include sufficient number of menu items that are usually made at home.
    • Turn yourself into a home style kitchen.
  3. Overemphasis on ingredients: Local, Sustainable and Natural ingredients will be the minimum that would be required to please a customer.
    • “I can’t afford it” is not an excuse that sounds acceptable anymore by an hotelier. The idea is to service the customer to ensure that he feels he has had a nourishing, safe and delicious meal at the right price.
    • This is the only way to ensure his return or even his visit!  
  4. Authentic Food anyone? Improve the authenticity of the taste of your food. I have dined at so many restaurants who have not made any effort on the menu. It is simply about copy paste and excessive usage of frozen and convenient foods. There is no authenticity to this.
    • Try to specialise in the menu items that you offer. Trust us, they will need a lot of pursuing to eat out and choose your restaurant! Give them stuff that you have prepared yourself.
    • With a simpler menu, it is going to be easier.
  5. Transparency needs to be redefined: Customers will need to be convinced about the hygiene of your location if you want them to dine in your restaurant. Remember, the decision to choose the restaurant for dine in is almost always taken before the travel commences.
    • Try to showcase your storage area and kitchen area as much as possible in your communication.
    • Open up your store CCTV camera views to outsiders during working hours. Have a request based solution. Of course do not show it out at night.
    • Highlight the type/brand of oil that you use. Mention the sourcing points of your ingredients. Increase traceability for the customer. Be an open book.
    • Highlight the local element of your product
    • Highlight the nutrition of the food that you are serving. Try to highlight the calories most importantly.
    • Do not compare your menu/food with others. Customers shall see through this and perceive it negatively during these times.
    • Days of using colour/ artificial flavours are numbered.
    • Calculate the cost of the item and display the final cost on the menu.
    • Let the customer have access to your recipes. This is the time to be bold and opportunist. Please the customer no matter what it takes.
    • Make him feel that he is eating at the safety of home and paying the right price. This does not mean lower prices.
    • Follow the FSSAI labelling regulations (generally used for packaged foods) for each item on the menu. Ensure that you do not use foods that were stored in the open or which might have a risk of being damaged or spoilt. The world order has changed. Please change accordingly. What have you got to lose?
    • This is perhaps the best time to invest in a community fridge which shall feed the poor and needy outside your restaurant. The restaurant can keep unsold food and even guests can request the extra food ordered to be kept in the fridge. Thus also reducing unnecessary packaging.
  6. Customer Engagement: This cannot be over emphasised during this period.
    • Continuously engage and communicate with your community/customers with simple and planned messages. Use Social Media, SMS, Email, FB, Instagram, Phone calls, Whats app, Telegram or anything you can do to reach out to them.
    • Start with recording your own videos immediately. It can be done with your own “smart” mobile phone. This is the most reassuring media.
    • Directly ask your customers how they think you can improve and what they would like you to offer. It could mean changing your cuisine offering completely if that’s what all your customers want! Ensure that you make those changes and go back to them. They will certainly be obliged to give you a try!
    • Ask them how you can improve your hygiene. Please do not be ashamed. There is nothing worse than not being able to cater to your customers requirement.
    • As soon as you have made changes, record a video/pictures and circulate to your customers. Seeing is believing and if they see that you have taken steps, they are immediately more confident about dining at your location. They will see your work style and become your ambassador.
    • Keep your social media active with latest content and communication from you to your customers directly.
    • In the restaurant, no conflicts should be encouraged. Empathy towards the customer must be increased. Under normal circumstances, a customer complaint is looked at as an opportunity, but now we need to look at it empathy also.
    • Elderly and very young customers should be given specific additional care and treatment.
  7. Up-skill your staff: Train them to take on additional tasks and multitask. This is going to be the new common.
    • Please lay off anyone who is a habitual offender of non compliance. Do it before anything else. The last thing you need is a guy who takes your business for granted in this phase.
    • Use their language to help them understand what it takes.
    • Make groups for hygiene and nominate a leader accountable for each group. Mention the expectations clearly to the leaders and the teams. Huddle up each evening without fail. This is a typical corporate style approach and it must work for you. They cannot go back to their old ways of working.
  8. Outsourcing during the pandemic: My Favourite! The smartest of them all will outsource the most critical job to their most important stakeholders. In this case your customers.
    • Call your customers to help you redesign your menu. Ask them to select their menu.
    • Ask them if they can share a recipe and that you will implement it if there is a demand.
    • Execute it to their satisfaction. They are the reason you exist (has never been any other way!)
  9. Reduce costs at any cost! This is obvious but cannot be over emphasised. You cannot loose money to inefficiencies during this time.
    • Stop printing menu cards. They are dirty and seen as unhygenic most of the times. A simple menu can be printed and pasted or published on a screen.
    • Ordering at the table can be stopped. The customer can be requested to either order via a device placed on the table or at the cash desk.
    • Simplifying a menu, reducing menu items and having only fast moving products will certainly help reduce inventory and hence investment costs.
    • No discounts to be given or advertised.
    • Decrease working hours of restaurants during which customers can walk-in. This way your staff can double up for multiple roles.
    • Stop paying fancy PR and Social Media monthly retainers. You are doing enough PR.
    • The media and customers will find you if you are doing good work. You need customers to walk in now and nothing else.
  10. Innovative sales models to ensure cash flow: This is the right time to innovate.
    • Start a subscription services for meals and foods. Follow and demonstrate all the required safety norms during contactless delivery. This gives you some money upfront and helps you keep aware of targets.
    • Start “order to pick” models and ensure payment is made in advance.
    • Do not engage with delivery partners as far as possible.
    • Allow customers to choose, in advance, a slot when they want to come to dine.
  11. Partner with your employees: Considering we are today talking about survival and meeting basic needs, make your employees partners and a transparent share in your business without having to increase salaries.
    • Work out a way that you move to a 100% success based payoff where an employee surely takes away more than he used to with a low minimum wage guarantee.
    • Turn them into weekly pay and not monthly pay during this period without effecting their legal status.
    • Communicate with them frequently and ask them their ideas. They will implement them more happily if it originated from them.
  12. Increase credibility with stakeholders: Reach out to your financial partners and stakeholders to convince them that you are doing your best everyday.
    • Send them over the list of your efforts and even better a meal! You need supporters and not influencers right now.
    • Make the payment cycle weekly for all. Make part payments. This way your stakeholders are all satisfied and they will feel the pinch lesser. Turn the tide your way! (This is a contribution from my dad.)
  13. Why profit? Forget profits for now. Think operational breakeven. It is a matter of our survival. As our PM Modi ji rightly said, “Jaan hai to Jahaan hai”. Please note that I am not using this to demonstrate my support for Modi ji. He is India’s Prime Minister and hence he deserves this mention. My dad says “Maa nahi hai aur tum mausi ki chinta kar rahe ho!”
  14. It is about the fast and not the big: Contrary to popular belief, I think it is about the businesses who respond fast and win customers.
    • This is a golden opportunity to do whatever it takes within your scope.
    • Larger chains are not as agile as the small/medium ones and cannot response as easily as you can. You are not called small and medium businesses for no reason!
    • There is no excuse not to act fast without your own limitations. Start now!

Please remember these initiatives cost you noting more than human effort. If any of you feel that you do not have records of your customers, please remember that it was your decision to give it away to online aggregators and that this database could have been worth its weight in gold as of now. As people famously say, data is the new oil (gold!). If you feel that you cannot make these and more changes, please ask yourself this question: What choice do you now have? What did you bring with you? Get your creative juices flowing and demonstrate entrepreneurship which is the sole reason you are in this business. Start looking as other restaurateurs as your friends and not competition. Have a large heart and behave humanly. They have no choice either! One question that we all should be asking ourselves is whether we shall see the same pre corona environment ever? The answer is quite certainly a NO. The conditions were tough earlier on and is going to get even tougher. These tactical moves can help you to an extent but shall not be sufficient if your basic model does not change.

Last but not the least, once the lockdown is over, let us show our respects, love and appreciation to all the women in the house whose work load has doubled during the lockdown and who have as always not complained about it at all. They deserve the 1st vacation and as soon as safely possible. Also a more prominent role in your restaurant business perhaps?

About the Author: L Nitin Chordia is a Sparing Partner and a Retail Business Consultant with over 15 years of experience in Indian FMCG and Retail Domain working with large brands and FMCG companies both in india and overseas. Nitin is India’s 1st Certified Chocolate Taster and Judge at the International Chocolate Awards, London. Cocoatrait is an initiative to promote knowledge, production and consumption of fine chocolates in India. Nitin is the 1st external faculty at the Institute of fine chocolate tasting, UK. Cocoatrait operates the only one of its kind virtual chocolate tasting club in India with an aim to connect Chocolate Lovers with Chocolatiers. Nitin along with his wife Poonam (a trained chocolatier) has initiated Cocoashala, a chocolate school which helps you discover the basics of chocolate and beyond. We also operate the world’s 1st Zero Waste, Sustainable and Eco Friendly Bean to Bar chocolate called Kocoatrait.

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Vegan Sustainable Ecofriendly Recyclable Bean to Bar Chocolate

Kocoatrait Vegan, Sustainable, Recyclable chocolate

Saving the planet one chocolate bar at a time!

Poonam Chordia & L Nitin Chordia

The launch of Kocoatrait Chocolates marked the birth of the world’s 1st Vegan, Sustainable, Ecofriendly, Recyclable and Planet Friendly Bean to Bar Chocolate. We proudly showcased India’s plastic free and paper free effort to the developed world and had a dream launch in early 2019 in Amsterdam. On display was how Kocoatrait operated in and contributed to the circular economy model. In the past year in India, our efforts have met with both disbelief and acceptance in the same breath. Kocoatrait is proudly a cockroach startup. (Read How It Is Different From Unicorn Startups). Given the current pandemic scenario our efforts to be a sustainable and planet friendly chocolate brand might NOT sound completely alien. We expect to find relevance with a much larger audience across the globe and in our home market India.

Kocoatrait Launch Chocoa Amsterdam Feb 2019
The Indian Ambassador to the Netherlands, Mr Venu Rajamony at Kocoatrait Launch @ Chocoa 2019 in Amsterdam

The Past

A bit of digging deep into our chocolate consumption behaviour would help us put things in perspective. Let us start with, when in 2019 Mariana Trench, an american explorer found candy wrappers on the seafloor. She was attempting to break the record for the deepest human dive ever. This did ring alarm bells and demonstrated how far the implications of human carelessness can be felt and the irreparable impact it is bound to create if we continue our current consumption behaviour. The amount of landfills chocolate wrappers produce adds to chocolates being among one of the most polluting FMCG products in the world. Chips and confectionery packets account for the largest share (19%) of plastic waste in India according to FICCI.

Forcing all of us to think hard

John Gary of the New Statesman in his article titled “Why this crisis is a turning point in history” dated 1st April 2020 claims, “The era of peak globalisation is over. For those of us not on the front line, clearing the mind and thinking how to live in an altered world is the task at hand”. He adds, “Of course economic expansion is not indefinitely sustainable. For one thing, it can only worsen climate change and turn the planet into a garbage dump”. It is perhaps fair to assume that consumers will start to expect brands and products to be more planet friendly. It will also lead to localisation as per KPMG’s forecast of how business landscape is likely to evolve in the days to come. As i write this on 14th April 2020, what comes as a breath of fresh air is Amsterdam’s decision to consider adopting the Doughnut model of sustainable development where decreasing the dependence on depleting resources shall be in focus. Fast economic growth is not considered necessary in this model of sustenance. Click to read.

Worth Pondering About

Anand Mahindra recently wrote an email addressing his employees, where he noted how neglectful we have been and how we were putting an unnecessary burden on the environment. He pondered with a touch of distress.

“Do we need this kind of crisis to learn all this? Can we not live like this even after the crisis is over, not use the environment in a better way and reduce carbon emissions by traveling less?”

– Anand Mahindra, Mahindra & Mahindra

“For too long, the human race has taken the planet for granted, exploiting resources and depleting its biodiversity to feed our unsustainable ways”

Pankaj M Munjal Chairman & Managing Director, HMC, a Hero Motors Company

Vegan, Sustainable, Ecofriendly and Recyclable chocolate

Kocoatrait had the luxury of time over the last 2-3 years to think and act beyond the obvious and immediately visible customer demands. We added differentiation as a key element of our product strategy and we decided that our chocolate packaging would help us balance the impact of the environmental/water burden cocoa farming puts on the planet. In hindsight, we are now happy that we took this execution task very seriously. We are convinced that we right when we decided to execute our product, packaging & positioning strategy in peace before having been forced to!

Strategy without execution is hallucination!

Mike Roach, CEO, CGI


Before justifying our efforts to create a futuristic Vegan Sustainable Ecofriendly Recyclable and concious chocolate brand, we would like to be transparent and look at some relevant declarations. a) It takes an astonishing 1700 liters of water to make a typical 100 gram chocolate bar as quoted by BBC. Most of that water is consumed by the cocoa plants in the field. We are not sure if we can reduce the farms dependence on water currently or in the future and b) We currently use non-renewable water/electricity supply sources. Move to greener and self sustainable sources of these resources in the future is on the cards.

It is quite clear, that we do not operate in an industry that is completely sustainable from an input standpoint. Hence, our endeavour has been to do our bit and ensure chocolate lovers do get their daily dose of chocolates with as less guilt as possible. Apart from being Vegan Sustainable Ecofriendly and Recyclable, we have decide to invest in workarounds to make the final chocolate packaging planet friendly. There is little doubt in our minds that our efforts will align with consumer priorities going forward.

Kocoatrait Vegan, Sustainable, Recyclable chocolate
Kocoatrait Vegan, Sustainable, Recyclable chocolate

As of March 2020, Kocoatrait has helped prevent 50 Kgs of single use chocolate wrappers from polluting landfills. This is our chosen parameter to measure the impact of our Startup!

– Poonam & L Nitin Chordia, Kocoatrait

Going by rough calculations, 500 sheets of A4 size non-recycled paper uses 6 percent of an average size tree, we have saved 1/3rd a tree. To put things in perspective, each tree will remove 3 Kgs of Carbon Dioxide emissions per year from the air! As of March 2020, we have helped remove 1 kg of carbon dioxide from the air! Hence helping us reduce our carbon footprint. While this might seem like a pretty small contribution to the planet, we derive pleasure in comparing our current situation to one where we would have contributed to landfill if we were using single use plastic lined chocolate wrappers. This keeps us motivated, strong & going.

The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.

– Steve Jobs
Insight into the Journey of Cocoa Pods to Kocoatrait Chocolates!

Our concerns and the opportunity

We have noted that our average consumer is well travelled and that the sustainability voices were growing over the last few years. Given the above, our concern is that post Covid19, travels will reduce or get minimised to “when necessary” due to justified fears. Travel related exposure to other cultures play a significant role in changing consumer mindsets. We are questioned about how our customer would get inspired to adopt sustainable and zero waste living lifestyles? How will consumers navigate the path of sustainability in this unsustainable world? Will they adopt effortlessly? Will they understand the need and benefits of doing so? Well, we will find the answers sooner than later upon our return to the “New Normal”. We shall be paying specific attention to the changes our consumers are going to make to their lifestyle to reduce the greenhouse gases that are generated by their actions. In the meanwhile, if interested, you can check your own Carbon Footprint by using this Carbon Footprint Calculator.

Heres how Kocoatrait, Vegan Sustainable Ecofriendly Recyclable chocolate brand is contributing to India’s circular Economy!

  1. Circularity in Packaging

    We UPCYCLE our packaging material by reclaiming cotton from Textile units & our own cocoa husk waste and help in REDUCING LANDFILL. Our packaging is RECYCLABLE, BIO DEGRADABLE & COMPOSTABLE and also PLASTIC & PAPER FREE.

  2. Eco Friendly

    70% of the Upcycled material gets utilised into making our chocolate wrapper with an aim to reduce WASTAGE of valuable resources. The balance 30% gets REUSED as a business card or gets RECYCLED.

  3. Planet Friendly

    We do not want to be a small bar inside a larger sized wrapper. Our Packaging helps us OPTIMIZE our transport volume, reduce CARBON FOOTPRINT & occupy LESSER RETAIL SHELF SPACE!

  4. Extending Product Lifestyle

    The inner side of the packaging has mandala art templates, greetings, emergency contacts, habit tracker, bookmarks etc, making it REUSABLE thus EXTENDING THE LIFECYCLE of the product and making the wrapper ZERO WASTE!

  5. Social Inclusiveness

    The wrapper design is entirely printed at V-Excel Educational Trust aiming to support & foster inclusion & independence of individuals with SPECIAL NEEDS.

  6. Use of Technology

    QR Codes have been used to educate consumers by providing information about REUSE & RECYCLING of packaging material.

  7. Sustainable Ingredients

    Uses ORGANIC cocoa beans of SOUTH INDIAN ORIGIN. Uses traditional NON REFINED organic khandsari (moscovado) sugar. Kocoatrait is Palm oil free! We do not buy cocoa where the cocoa was planted as a result of deforestation.

  8. Fair Prices to farmer

    As a business decision we only source Fine flavoured cocoa and pay 55% higher than market prices on an average for our cocoa purchases. We try to maximise the benefit to the farmers.

  9. Unique Natural Flavours

    10 UNIQUE DARK CHOCOLATE FLAVOURS – Sukku Coffee, Masala Chai, Lavender, Banana, Pink Rose, Red Rose, Lemongrass, Banana, Coconut Milk & Cinnamon, Irish Coffee. FLAVOUR OILS have NOT been used.

  10. Transparency

    We print the (RDA) Recommended Daily Dietary Allowances clearly on the FRONT of the pack, allowing us to be transparent & CONSUMER CENTRIC. We also clearly give credits to our printing partners on the packaging.

  11. Healthier Product

    REDUCED SUGAR & HIGH COCOA ensures a much healthier Dark chocolate experience. In line with these principles, we do not offer White & Milk chocolates. Most of our chocolates are Vegan.

The Press release is available at: We also curated a Zero waste chocolate gift box! Below is a video on the Making of Kocoatrait. You have an opportunity to enroll for a Bean to Bar chocolate making course at our Institute Cocoashala too! Click for details.

The making of Kocoatrait Vegan, Sustainable, Recyclable chocolate

Press Contact: L Nitin Chordia; +919600064846;

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Making of India’s 1st Zero Waste Chocolate Gift Box!

Kocoatrait, the world’s 1st planet/eco friendly, socially concious and sustainable luxury bean to bar chocolate, was launched at Chocoa in Amsterdam in 2019. Whats unique about Kocoatrait is that we operate in the Circular Economy (link). By November 2019, Kocoatrait launched in chennai and had started to think about expanding beyond current retail and online platforms. Zero waste gift was one idea that did occur to us early on. The attempt was to reach the more exposed, evolved and travelled audiences. Just then, we received a call from one of chennai’s oldest technology centric advertisement solution providers. The client had received communication from us as part of our outreach program. They were evaluating innovative gifting options their business partners and reached out to us. We were excited to present the Kocoatrait story to them.

We visited their team in the next few days. They patiently heard us narrate the Kocoatrait story! It was a memorable short meeting taking precisely 4 minutes to almost close the deal. I can talk hours about our story at one go usually! Half way through the conversation, I felt very confident while speaking to the audience. They saw us as a right fit into their requirements. It felt that I was presenting the right solution to the right audience. This is ever marketers dream and we somehow got there!). I already started feeling we had marketed our product well and did not have to sell it. Anyone interested to read more on the difference between marketing and sales can click here!

It was the 5th minute of the conversation and we were already tasting the chocolates! I went on to explain how this whole gift Box would be Zero Waste. At the end of 10th minute we were discussing how many boxes can be shipped out to their select business partners across India! This was one of the rare meetings where we were asked what we could do for a specific price/budget, we worked backwards and the deal closed on my 1st offer. For anyone who does not know about Kocoatrait chocolates yet, here is the link to the Presser for your perusal: Click on this Link.

Kocoatrait Zero Waste Gift Box
Kocoatrait Zero Waste Gift Box

The box contained 6 Kocoatrait chocolate bars of various exotic flavours. While the chocolate was Zero waste, we had to also ensure that the outer packaging was Zero waste too! We used a TIN box, on which we got the clients branding screen printed using water based inks. The printing was done on our own up-cycled chocolate wrapping material. Vexcel Educational Trust, are our printing partners. Vexcel was super efficient and delivered in no time! In the inner side the lid of the TIN box, we had a Professional chocolate tasing guide pasted. We also had a QR code to access the webpage of our other chocolate flavours. Another QR code helps users understand how to reuse the aluminium foil which is used to wrap our chocolates.

Kocoatrait Zero Waste Gift Box
Kocoatrait Zero Waste Gift Box
Kocoatrait Zero Waste Gift Box
Kocoatrait Zero Waste Gift Box

The client was impressed and convinced by the Zero waste gift box concept. I realised it when I saw an entire and most important side of the insert being used to narrate our story! They could impress their business partners by demonstrating their support to local businesses who are planet friendly and sustainable. What better way to say “Thank You”! I realised this when i read the content to be printed on the other side of the insert. They were kind enough to share our story along with our contact details.

Kocoatrait Zero Waste Gift Box
Kocoatrait Zero Waste Gift Box
Kocoatrait Zero Waste Gift Box

The TIN box with the chocolates was fit into a reusable cardboard box which accommodated 2 reusable ice gel packs. This box was then taped and we used a sheet of paper to print the bluedart shipping label. We have been working with bluedart since to see how we can eliminate paper but that does not seem as an option as of now. The only regret we had that it had to be taped using plastic tapes. We have since then, found a solution to the tapes. We will start using bio degradable cling wraps from our next orders to make the box tamper proof during transit.

Kocoatrait Zero Waste Gift Box
Kocoatrait Zero Waste Gift Box

In the next 2 weeks, we collaborated out IT effort with our shipping partners Bluedart to generate shipping labels. The shipments were all out for overnight delivery within the next few days! The learning while integrating with Bluedart IT was about our inability to be agile rather than theirs! While the despatches had some delays (keeping shipping to the 1st half of the week), we tracked the packages closely.

Upon delivery we started receiving feedback calls from both the client and their recipients. They were pleased with the in-depth thought that had gone into making the gift box a Zero waste affair. We felt that our conviction of offering a Zero waste chocolate gift box was not early in time and was validated. A market opportunity exists and clients can quite easily be converted into gifting a Zero Waste experience. As Winston S. Churchill once said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”. Kocoatrait – Indulge. Discover.

PS: My dad is my daily dose of inspiration. He asks me everyday, “What new have you done today?” (almost expecting me to come up with an actionable idea everyday! – Parents know how to push when needed). Forcing me to constantly think out of the box for solutions to everyday problems. He firmly believes what goes around comes around. He has a single minded & undivided attention and focus towards innovation and new ideas even in his field of work.

I am writing this during the lockdown and am forced to think that this pandemic must have a positive impact on humankind. It is heartening to see pictures of animals enjoying their time in nature while humans stay inside the concrete jungle. I hope that, going forward, humans are more compassionate towards the planet and mother earth. We are happy that we have willingly and proactively put in our efforts towards becoming planet friendly rather than being reactive to a situation. Connect with us now!; +919600064846

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Cocoa Bean Varieties in India

Cocoa Bean Varieties in india is a very interesting topic for discussion. In all my travels across cocoa farms in India, most farmers nervously and curiously point out to a slender long cocoa pod or a purple colour pod and ask if this is criollo cacao beans. For starters, criollo is considered a variety of cacao which commands a premium due to better flavour and limited availability. We like the hope with which they expect a positive reply. However, we disappoint him on most occasions. There is a lot more to this than what meets the eye. A bit of history, trade, lack of research, knowledge, colonialism and convenience has lead people to believe the myth that there are 3 cocoa varieties namely Criollo, Trinitario and Forestero. The truth is that these are just mere historical groupings based upon geographies that they were attributed too. These are not genetic varieties. Each of these groups historically created for the convenience of trade have multiple specific genetic varieties which offer specific flavour profiles and physical characteristics. They have not been researched in great detail yet across the globe. Studies are ongoing and have been initiated but we are far from near the end. It is assumed that there would be more than 10 families into which each of the several distinguishable varieties can be slotted into. Each country has several hybrids they have developed which has a fairly large development cycle comprising many years. This makes global mapping a bit of a challenge.

Cocoa Pods in an Indian Farm

On a typical cocoa farm in India (and most places globally) you would see 3-4 different genetic varieties of cocoa (attached picture). In India, most of the varieties will be from the assumed forestero group, which is considered to be a variety best suited to make industrial chocolate (we dont believe 100% of that!). So when some one says “We have traces of South American cacao in my farm”, you can respond by saying “Of course cacao is not native to India and they came in from South America!” Post that, you could check if the cacao farmer is aware that these three names were trade names and they do not indicate cacao varieties. The fact is that even if there is 2-3 % of criollo group of cocoa in a farm, it is not enough to make a difference in the entire lot. And, before you might ask, there is never enough of the coveted groups in a single farm to process a full batch of fermentation. This is one reason why micro batch fermentation is bound to become a popular trend going forward.

The rightful question however is how much of that meaningful trace (of criollo) have they got in their Indian cacao farm? The answer is very clear that not much! It’s best to start referring to Indian cacao beans as “Indian” rather than any of these not so useful and relevant names! Be proud of what the Indian varietals are capable of reaching, be original and play to our strengths rather than say that our cocoa has some of the other traits ! Our Kocoatrait chocolates are made using a blend of various farms! Click: Evaluate our signature 4 day Bean to Bar certification program at:

For further details please write to or call on +919600064846.

Cocoa Varieties available in a Indian Cocoa Farm