The bean-to-bar choco­latier and re­tailer of Pondicherry

In­dia’s grow­ing aware­ness of ar­ti­sanal choco­lates has con­sumers pay­ing more for bet­ter qual­ity and health­ier al­ter­na­tives as more com­pa­nies en­ter the fray to pro­duce high qual­ity, hand-crafted choco­lates made of pri­mar­ily lo­cally sourced in­gre­di­ents.

Progressive Grocer (India) - - Contents - By Roshna Chan­dran Stone­bridge

Ma­son & Co makes hand-crafted choco­lates from lo­cally sourced in­gre­di­ents.

Ma­son & Co, the cel­e­brated bean-to-bar choco­late maker in Auroville, Pondicherry, is owned by French hus­band-wife duo Fabian Bon­tems and Jane Ma­son. The com­pany works di­rectly with or­ganic cer­ti­fied farms in Tamil Nadu and Kar­nataka and of­fers many kinds of choco­late bars made from sin­gle ori­gin In­dian ca­cao. Over the past few years, In­dia has wit­nessed a bur­geon­ing trade in ca­cao, which is used in mak­ing high qual­ity and gourmet choco­late. Com­pa­nies like Ma­son & Co spe­cial­ize in high qual­ity, hand-crafted choco­lates that en­cour­age con­sumers to dis­cover and find a con­nec­tion to lo­cally pro­duced choco­lates. Nowa­days, con­sumers are not only be­com­ing more con­scious about the prod­uct’s ori­gins but they are also open to try­ing out a va­ri­ety of fla­vors.

The two choco­latiers con­firm this ris­ing trend and say that con­sumers are be­com­ing more dis­cern­ing about the qual­ity and health ben­e­fits of choco­late. “Choco­late snob­bery is heav­ily on the rise as con­sumers have started tak­ing to 72%-80% dark bit­ter choco­lates. We make or­ganic dark and ve­gan choco­late. Our fla­vors are very clas­sic and we want peo­ple to en­joy their fa­vorite fla­vors,” says Jane Ma­son, trained Choco­late Maker and Raw Food Chef who has teamed up with her hus­band Fabian Bon­tems, a Sound Engi­neer by train­ing, to set up Ma­son & Co.

Jane and Fabian started man­u­fac­tur­ing their prod­ucts out of their house and slowly grew it into a fac­tory unit of ap­prox­i­mately 200 square feet with nine peo­ple to man­age the work. Fabian uses stan­dard choco­late mak­ing equip­ment like stone

grinders and ad­justable ma­chines de­pend­ing on the func­tion­al­ity and pro­duc­tiv­ity. For re­mov­ing the skin of ca­cao beans, Ma­son & Co has de­signed some of its own equip­ment. Ca­cao beans look like an al­mond and come with a thin skin cov­er­ing. This skin can be re­moved by hand or by soak­ing the beans in warm water. Choco­late mak­ing com­pa­nies with a large pro­cess­ing fa­cil­ity use ma­chines to re­move the skin. In the case of an ar­ti­sanal out­fit like Ma­son’s, Fabian has de­signed his own ma­chin­ery to sep­a­rate the two. Th­ese beans once crushed are known as ca­cao nibs, which are fur­ther pro­cessed for a long du­ra­tion to make choco­late bars. Ca­cao beans are par­tic­u­larly found to be very healthy for its flavonoid con­tent. The darker the choco­late, bet­ter the flavonoid con­tent is has, which helps to pre­vent dis­eases Can­cer and Alzheimer.

Ma­son & Co cur­rently sup­plies to over a 100 stores in In­dia. The com­pany has a varied prod­uct range com­pris­ing 13 fla­vors in the mar­ket to­day. Th­ese in­clude ca­cao pow­der, nibs, drink­ing choco­late and herbal tea. “Out of th­ese, choco­late bars have be­come the fastest mov­ing cat­e­gory. Most of our prod­ucts have a 12 months’ shelf life, ex­cept for a cou­ple of fla­vors of choco­late bars that have a shelf life of nine months,” points out Fabian. “Cur­rently, we have reached our max­i­mum pro­duc­tion ca­pac­ity and so we are work­ing to ex­pand now,” in­forms Jane, adding that the com­pany is fo­cused on sup­ply­ing to as many of its cus­tomers within In­dia as it can. Orig­i­nally a prod­uct that is bought for spe­cial oc­ca­sions or as gifts, or­ganic choco­late is now be­ing pushed as a prod­uct that one can eat ev­ery other day. And choco­latiers like Ma­son and Co are prop­a­gat­ing health­ier choco­late al­ter­na­tives by buy­ing pro­duce made from lo­cally found or­ganic in­gre­di­ents, which hold a big­ger ap­peal for con­sumers.

Ma­son & Co choco­late prod­ucts are avail­able in all ma­jor In­dian cities, in­clud­ing Mum­bai, Delhi, Bangalore, Chen­nai, Hy­der­abad, Kolkata, Cochin, Pune and Goa. The com­pany also has a part­ner­ship with Bread & Choco­late, a highly rated bak­ery cum café in Auroville, Pondicherry. Though it op­er­ates as a sep­a­rate busi­ness, the lo­cal eatery serv­ing break­fast, desserts and bakes, and ve­gan op­tions has be­come Ma­son and Co’s main sell­ing point in the French union ter­ri­tory. “We have a café that we run with our busi­ness part­ners Bread & Choco­late. This is our main point of sale for our prod­ucts lo­cally where peo­ple can try a wider range of fla­vors as we use choco­late in a number of our recipes,” says Fabian.

Though Ma­son & Co en­joys a high rep­u­ta­tion for the qual­ity of their choco­lates and its healthy in­gre­di­ents, main­tain­ing a reg­u­lar sup­ply of qual­ity in­gre­di­ents is a chal­lenge. Lo­gis­tics too is an is­sue bear­ing in mind the lim­ited avail­able in­fra­struc­ture within the lo­cal­ity, which be­comes more ac­cen­tu­ated in the case of trans­port­ing a prod­uct that melts and de­grades quickly un­der trop­i­cal con­di­tions. This also acts to re­strain the pro­duc­tion lev­els while mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to ex­port. “As we are in a small city, we do not have a steady sup­ply of water or elec­tric­ity, which poses a chal­lenge for pro­duc­tion,” says Jane.

To over­come some of the chal­lenges, Jane and Fabian work with like-minded peo­ple who are pas­sion­ate about choco­late and un­der­stand how to store and dis­play choco­lates in the right way. They also of­fer ser­vices such as post har­vest­ing ad­vice to farm­ers and bean-to-bar train­ing. “We have our own team and we take all the ef­forts to en­sure that goods are not dam­aged; we have not had any com­plaints of dam­aged goods till date,” avers Fabian.

Jane and Fabian are cau­tious about scal­ing up though both are con­fi­dent of the steady growth of Ma­son & Co. The com­pany has been able to build a rock solid foun­da­tion and rep­u­ta­tion by en­sur­ing care­ful se­lec­tion of raw in­gre­di­ents, es­pe­cially good qual­ity ca­cao. With con­sumers tak­ing a keen in­ter­est in where the food ac­tu­ally comes from and how the prod­uct is made, their choco­lates have been very well re­ceived and the de­mand is grow­ing steadily. “Peo­ple are mov­ing to­ward ar­ti­sanal choco­late and away from mass pro­duced stan­dard­ized prod­ucts. They are look­ing at con­nect­ing with their food in a more holis­tic way, which we feel is fan­tas­tic. What comes with this is also an in­ter­est and mo­ti­va­tion to eat lo­cally,” says Jane.

Go­ing for­ward, the hus­band and wife duo is look­ing to ex­pand the pro­duc­tion and sup­ply chain, and are in touch with the right chan­nels. The two are also work­ing on build­ing a new pro­cess­ing unit, which will al­low them to in­crease pro­duc­tion and help them to ex­pand their sup­ply within the coun­try and abroad.

Peo­ple are start­ing to move to­ward ar­ti­sanal choco­late and away from mass pro­duced stan­dard­ized prod­ucts. They want to con­nect with their food in a more holis­tic way, which we feel is fan­tas­tic. — Jane Ma­son Choco­late Maker, Ma­son & Co

We have a café that we run with our busi­ness part­ners Bread & Choco­late. This is our main point of sale for our prod­ucts lo­cally where peo­ple can try a wider range of fla­vors. — Fabian Bon­tems Choco­late Maker, Ma­son & Co

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