Launched by L Nitin Chordia and Poonam Chordia, India’s first certified chocolate tasters, the brand has set a benchmark on how a sustainable and responsible product should be. A vegan and gluten-free food product incubated at Cocoashala, Kocoatrait is more than just your regular chocolate!
There is always a different magic that surrounds the word ‘chocolate’ – a sense of comfort. No matter how old you are or how stressed you are in your lives, just a bar of chocolate is enough to make you get back on your toes and feel elevated. While we all love to binge eat our favourite sweets to keep ourselves happy, have you ever thought if your chocolate could give back to Mother Nature and make her happy? So, how about a fine bar of chocolate that is zero-waste, promotes sustainability, and vegan?
Launched in Amsterdam at the beginning of 2019, Kocoatrait is on a path-breaking mission. Being the world’s first zero-waste, bean to bar craft chocolate brand, it has set an extraordinary example. The conscious brand features 12 variants like Red Rose, Masala Chai, Lavender and Lemongrass all handcrafted in Chennai. It also follows natural and basic ingredients like cocoa beans, non- refined organic khandsari (muscovado) sugar, cocoa butter and eliminates usage of short cuts like essences and nature-identical flavours. For instance, the inner side of the packaging has mandala art templates, greetings, emergency contacts, along with QR and barcodes to educate consumers and make the wrapper usable again. Be it preventing 50 Kgs of single-use chocolate wrappers from polluting landfills or using 100% up-cycled, plastic and paper-free outer packaging from reclaimed cotton and cocoa husks, the brand has pushed itself in all aspects to define the true aesthetics of planet-friendly products.
Mr Chordia guides us more about Cocoshala and Kocoatrait’s – ‘Saving the planet, one chocolate bar at a time’ ideology and future plans
How did your journey of being a chocolate taster begin? I was a retail business consultant at the start of my career. While working as a consultant for setting up India’s first Gourmet food chain – Godrej Nature’s Basket, chocolates were an important category. As part of the research to import chocolate brands into India, I interacted with an Italian bean to bar brand called Amedei. It was 2007 and no one spoke Bean to bar yet in India. When I was sent a sample of plain chocolate bars for evaluation, I could taste red berries and other fruits with delicious chocolate notes. This caught my attention. This is when I started investigating this fascinating world of fine chocolates. Both my work and travels have taken me to several countries over the last decade or so and I have always followed fine chocolates very closely. One thing led to another and I got certified as a chocolate taster from IICCT, UK after I had embarked on a 15-day backpacking trip to Belgium. I got certified as India’s 1st certified chocolate taster in 2015 when most people did not look at this career as a serious option. Today, I taste chocolates for a living!
We have heard of wine, food tasters. But, chocolate tasting seems a very unique concept. How does being a chocolate taster work? A chocolate taster is much like a wine sommelier who gets paid to understand and differentiate between good and bad chocolate, express his/her knowledge and recommend the best fit in each context. As a chocolate taster, one must be critical of all aspects of chocolate. One can provide valuable inputs at the conceptualization and product development stage. They can put forward an opinion on how various ingredients can be paired with after the final chocolate has been designed. Unlike what most people think, a chocolate taster ends up tasting bad, defective or wrong combinations of chocolate more than tasting the right and delicious ones! This is an integral part of the job. However, our job is to eliminate the bad and ensure that we only allow the good to be enjoyed by consumers.
Kocoatrait is the world’s first zero-waste craft chocolate. What is zero-waste craft chocolate? How did this idea come into being? We operate Asia’s premier Bean to Bar chocolate-making Institute called Cocoashala in Chennai. Students travel for the course from across the globe. Kocoatrait was born out of a need to have a front-end proof of concept for our Institute. This was forced upon us by students inquiring from India about our signature 4-day Bean to bar chocolate making course and asking us whether we market a brand of our own chocolates. We had the luxury of time to build a brand based on sustainability and circular economy approach which we feel and think is the future of bean to bar chocolates and any food product thereof. We have had the luxury of being early entrants in the Bean to Bar business in India. We have successfully set the benchmark for sustainable and zero waste Bean to Bar chocolates for other established and new entrants to get inspired from. The ingredients that we use are organic and we ensure it travels the least distance to us, making our chocolate overall the most carbon positive in the world. We measure the benefits of our efforts by the amount of single-use plastic. We are proud to say that as of March 2020, 50 kgs of single-use plastic has been prevented from reaching the landfill due to our efforts of using sustainable packaging!
Can you share more about Cocoashala? Cocoashala is what we call our backbone. It is our education initiative and institute. We impart high-quality cocoa and chocolate education and knowhows here. We host a 4-day bean to bar chocolate making course each month and host the chocolate taster’s certification course in collaboration with IICCT, UK annually. Cocoashala is also an IASS (Infrastructure As A Service) space and brands can hire the space along with our expertise for product development. We are currently working on 2 such projects.
How does zero-waste craft chocolate differ in terms of taste from the regular ones? Our chocolate differs greatly from commercially available luxury and regular chocolates. The base raw material is processed by the bean to bar maker him/her self and hence the flavour profile is controlled. Most of the luxury brands that you come across simply buy bulk cocoa mass, add sugar and several ingredients to it and package it. But, Kocoatrait Bean to bar chocolates, just like wine, help consumers experience variations. We do not homogenize the experience. Further, we are a palm oil-free / ghee free product and we only use cocoa butter in our formulations. The cherry on the cake is that our chocolate is Zero waste and hence planet-friendly
Packaging of any product is very important. How does your brand relate to the sustainable and ethical terms of packaging? Our sustainability efforts start with our packaging material which is upcycled by using reclaimed Cotton and Cocoa husk which both otherwise would contribute to landfill. This makes it paper, plastic and tree-free. It is also compostable, biodegradable and recyclable. We only use water-based ink for our screen printing. Screen printing itself is a very energy-efficient technology. We operate in and contribute to the Circular Economy. Even, the backside of our wrapper has consumer engagement ideas. This is to help us increase the usable life of our chocolate wrapper before it goes back into the soil. This helps us include ourselves in a circular economy.
Certain chocolate brands have stayed intact with the likes of general mass for years. How does your brand plan to become a prominent space in the market? Being a cockroach startup model and bootstrapped, we focus on profitability and organic growth. We do not chase growth very aggressively. We do not see ourselves competing ever with mass-market players. We shall remain dominant and prominent in the segment which we operate in, which is, planet-friendly & sustainable luxury chocolates. However, because of our approach, our growth will be slow and focused as there is no need to press the pedal on accelerated growth. Our chosen market segment shows very healthy growth that shall feed our sales requirements quite easily. On the positive note, we have already started hearing from the trade partners willing to speak to us more actively now post COVID-19.
Your brand also supports a local community in Chennai. In pandemic times such as this, has it affected your brand and the related community? Yes, we support an NGO called Vexcel Education Trust who train and support citizens with special needs. They are our sole printing partners. In times like this, we are more determined to ensure that our relationship with them is further extended and in fact, post-pandemic, I can clearly visualize that our efforts will be more valued by the NGO, our trade partners and more importantly evolved consumers. We assume that we shall be able to garner more support towards the brand and it will positively help our cause. We are expecting and hoping to see a different, more empathetic world, post-COVID.