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.
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