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Nitin Chordia: How Atmanirbhar is India in quality cacao?

Nitin Chordia is India’s  first Certified Chocolate Taster and Judge at the International Chocolate Awards, London. His initiative Cocoatrait was set up to promote knowledge, production and consumption of fine chocolates in India. He is the first 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. On World Chocolate Day, we asked Nitin to tell us whether India is self reliant in quality cacao

The Prime Minister’s push to first produce and support local products and then be vocal about it has perhaps come at the right time for the cocoa Industry. India produces less than 0.3 per cent of the world’s total cacao. To understand if the cocoa industry can benefit from PM’s push about Vocal about Local, let us understand how Atmanirbhar is India in quality cacao.

The term “quality” is quite an interesting topic in the cacao world. Let us straightaway dive into the details. Traditionally, there were certain “quality” parameters benchmarked which helped cacao traders negotiate their purchases from farmers and sales to chocolate companies who made commercially produced bulk (mass market) chocolates. The quality parameters were easily measurable like Bean Count, Bean Size etc. These traders did not make chocolate or process cacao and followed these set quality parameters for several decades. They did not consider flavour or genetic variety as a parameter and did not do any taste profiling while making their purchases. It was sufficient for the activity they were undertaking.

In the recent past, however, the cacao world has begun to differentiate between Bulk and Fine Flavour Cacao. Bulk Cacao is used to make mass chocolate products and usually lack any finesse or fine flavour in the bean. This is mostly attributed to poor genetic varietals being cultivated and/or poor post harvesting management being implemented. On the other hand, selected genetic varieties are fermented and dried as per required protocols to produce Fine Flavoured Cacao which has unique characteristics and flavour profiles capable of making fine flavoured chocolate. The parameters against which each are measured are different.

Most of what has been produced in India has been traditionally Bulk Cacao. This has served the purposes of producing mass market chocolates and/or pressing out the cocoa butter and cocoa powder chocolate making. Genetic varieties which can produce Fine Flavoured Cacao have also been sold as Bulk Cacao. This is mainly due to lack of post harvesting capabilities. The monopoly situation in purchase meant that no value addition was required by farmers.

As per the estimates of Ministry of Agriculture cooperation and Farmers Welfare, Government of India, India produced 26000 tons of cocoa beans in the year 2019-20. India’s growing consumption has meant that India cannot produce all that it needs. India imported close to 27000 tonnes of cocoa beans in 2019. This makes India a net importer of cacao.

The domestic chocolate market in India is pegged at Rs 17200 crore in 2019. The consumption in the domestic mass market industry is estimated to grow at 10-13 per cent annually. Premium chocolates are estimated to be 10 per cent of the total market. This share is debatable due to the definition of premium chocolates. However, with premiumisation driving growth, that segment is estimated to see a 30 per cent growth.

Bean to Bar chocolates are differentiated by process and usually the high quality of ingredients that are used. Most mass market chocolates use cocoa powder with added vegetable fats to keep costs low and produce at scale. The evolution of the Bean to Bar chocolate industry in India primarily due to low entry barriers and availability of required quantity of Fine Flavour Cacao, has started to change and is driving the equation forward. The domestic market for Fine Flavour Cacao is about 20 tonnes. In the last 3-4 years, investments have been made into 10 cacao post-harvest facilities by private entities, thus helping India produce about 80 tonnes of Fine Flavour Cacao. India exports the balance 60 tonnes of Fine Flavour Cacao beans produced. This amounts to less than 0.25 per cent of total production of cacao beans in India.

India does not have sufficient area under cacao cultivation to produce to meet our internal requirements for bulk cacao. Bulk varieties of cacao beans are easily substitutable with imported beans from countries like Ghana, Ivory Coast and Asian countries like Indonesia. Hence India shall continue to import bulk cacao. In respect of Fine Flavour Cacao, in-spite of an expected 100 per cent growth in the Bean to Bar chocolate industry, India can meet all its domestic requirements. India is not Atmanirbhar in low value bulk cacao beans. However, due to development and growth of post harvesting infrastructure the good news is that, India has kept pace and is certainly Atmanirbhar in high value Fine Flavour Cacao beans! This is a very good economic scenario to be in. India can outsource and import its low value requirements and continue to focus and increasing the production of its high value Fine Flavour Cacao. It is with pride we can say that India is Atmanirbhar for its Fine Flavour Cacao!

About the Author: L Nitin Chordia is a Sparring 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 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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