A taste that satiated the Chinese taste buds

By 29 Jul 2021

Paul and Mike, a chocolate brand from God’s own country, has made history after winning silver for its ‘64% Dark Sichuan Pepper and Orange Peel Vegan Chocolate’ at the world final of International Chocolate Awards. Aultrin Vijay finds out more

Paul and Mike is an artisanal chocolate brand headquartered in the bustling city of Kochi in Kerala with cocoa farms located in Kochi and Coimbatore. The brand has been awarded silver for its ‘64% Dark Sichuan Pepper and Orange Peel Vegan Chocolate’ at the world final of International Chocolate Awards 2020-2021 – a first for an Indian brand.

“I was not expecting it. So, I was pleasantly surprised,” says Vikas Temani, business head at Paul and Mike.

The award-winning chocolate, which was launched in May 2019, was created for the Chinese market. “Sichuan pepper is one of the most widely-used spices in Chinese cuisine. We paired it with orange peel (for texture) and it complements Sichuan pepper really well,” says Temani.

Truth to be told, the unique hot-and-sweet blend of the chocolate was well received by the Chinese taste buds and sold out very quickly. At Rs 250, it is not very expensive for an artisanal chocolate.
The reason to develop this unique flavour, according to Temani, is that the brand always tries to create something that has not been done before. “Sichuan pepper was one such ingredient. We like to experiment with both Indian as well as global flavours.”

Inception of Paul and Mike
Named after two Latin American fine cocoa farmers – Paul and Mike – the young brand, which was launched in 2019, has come far in terms of flavours on offer and attractive packaging design. The brand is backed by Synthite – a USD 200 million natural food ingredients company headquartered in Kochi. Synthite also owns two more food brands – Sprig and Kitchen Treasures.

Paul and Mike grows and ferments cocoa on its own on its farms in Kochi and Coimbatore. According to the brand, it sources wet cocoa beans from “progressive farmers in Kerala and Andhra and takes care of the entire post-harvest operations”. Its chocolate making unit is based in Kochi, just a kilometre away from its cocoa farm.

Paul and Mike started off its operations with 10 flavours in its kitty. Today, the three-year-old company has 36 varieties of chocolates in the market and is planning to widen the consumer base of the brand with 100 varieties this year.

Most of its portfolio consists of unique flavours for the Indian consumer such as Indian Style Thandai, Peppermint Gelato, Sitaphal (custard apple), Jamun (java plum), Alphonso Mango and so on. These were also one of the first chocolates launched by the brand for the Indian market.

“We have the biggest range and the most innovative flavours in most categories such as liquor chocolates, Indian flavours, international flavours, vegan, snacking and more,” adds Temani.

Packaging design and development
One of the stand-out features of the chocolates, apart from its flavour, is the packaging. The design illustrates cocoa cultivation and the joy attached to having or gifting a chocolate during special occasions. The colour of the pack aligns with the ingredients used in the chocolate.

According to Temani, the brand identity and packaging design is meant to convey the distinct personality and farm-to-bar positioning of the brand. “That is why we have used pastel colours and farm illustrations. We used a standard foldable board paper and offset printing process.”

Speaking of which, the packaging for Paul and Mike was mandated to the Ernakulam-based award-winning printer – Anaswara Offset. Last year, Anaswara bagged 19 awards at AIFMP’s National Award for Excellence in Printing (NAEP) held in Westin Mumbai Garden City, Mumbai.

Anoop Venugopal, technical director at Anaswara Offset, says: “Anaswara has been involved with the packaging of Paul and Mike chocolates from the very first bar. We’ve been associated with Synthite Industries (the parent company of Paul and Mike) for a very long time.

“When they (Synthite) decided to start a new chocolate brand, Vikas Temani called us for a meeting at their head office back in October 2018 for an initial discussion. Since the production had not started, the information was strictly confidential then. While they researched on the flavours and the reach, we started researching on packaging design.”

Like Temani, team Anaswara was also excited after the announcement of the chocolate awards. “We were as thrilled as the entire team of Paul and Mike themselves when we heard about the award. They had informed us as soon as the awards were announced. Also, this is not their first international award, they have won a bronze each in the International Chocolate Awards Asia-Pacific 2019 and Great Taste UK 2019,” says Venugopal.

He notes that Paul and Mike was very particular about having green and sustainable packaging solutions. This is evident in the brand’s website as well, which states, “By 2023, every Paul and Mike bar you eat will help remove CO2 from the environment and will help secure our children’s future. Just in case you needed a second reason to eat more chocolate.”

After a lot of deliberations and discussions pertaining to the design, substrates and sizes, team Anaswara chose a folding box board (FBB) with food grade aqueous coating. “We had long discussions on how to incorporate every information they (Paul and Mike) wanted into a single outer carton,” says Venugopal.

“After we gathered information on concepts from Paul and Mike and their then agency in Mumbai – at very odd times on occasions – we used to sit together as a team to come up with the most feasible packaging solution from our end. After a lot of discussions and sampling we came up with the final packaging design for their 68g and 13g chocolate bars by December 2019 or so. Their gift boxes were again developed after a lot of brainstorming sessions,” he adds.

Implementation and hurdles
Anaswara rolled out its first order for Paul and Mike for the brand’s 68g and 13g cartons in January 2020. “We were extremely delighted to find that along with appreciation for the exceptional chocolates, people fell in love with the packaging as well,” Venugopal says.

However, there were difficulties for Anaswara during the development phase. The toughest part of the project being the new product development phase because Paul and Mike weren’t an ordinary chocolate company.

“They were a brand with a vision and hence creating a packaging concept that encompasses that was a tedious job. But we made it,” explains Venugopal.

Anaswara is now involved with every single variant – 36 varieties – of chocolates of Paul and Mike. However, Venugopal believes that the Sitaphal variant is a hit with everybody. With a hint of humour, he says, “Maybe that good packaging adds a flavour on its own to the chocolates.”

Speaking about the production process, Venugopal elaborates, “Before going to the final print, we make sure that our customer and us are on the same page on the outcome of the design and mock-up sample and we provide offset sampling on request. We make sure that they are present in the unit for the first batch of bulk printing. We get a colour approval from the customer before we proceed with the entire lot.”

With Paul and Mike’s plan to widen its consumer base with 100 varieties in 2021, Venugopal says team Anaswara is all equipped to handle it without any hassles with the help of its dedicated packaging unit. “We are just excited. The more the merrier, we say,” says Venugopal with much enthusiasm.

Another hurdle that team Anaswara faced was in designing gift boxes. Venugopal feels that it was one of the biggest challenges, as the courier costs were high because they use thermocol boxes with ice packs to keep the chocolates from melting.

“We did everything in our part to reduce the size of the boxes without compromising on the required aesthetics, so that they could send the chocolates at a feasible cost,” he adds, confidently.

Meanwhile, speaking about Paul and Mike’s plan for the future, Temani concludes, “We want to continue innovating by launching more variants in more categories. We are aiming for gold next year. We would like to tap the export market.”

Rapid fire with Vikas Temani

What were your thoughts when you heard about the Award?
I was not expecting it. So, I was pleasantly surprised!

Why name ‘Paul and Mike’?
The brand is named after two Latin American fine cocoa farmers who we learnt a lot from.

How was the selection procedure for the Awards?
There are two stages: regional (APAC in our case) and then world. All gold, silver and bronze winners at regional level are allowed to compete at the world level with a new jury.

How many flavours were introduced at the beginning?
We started with 10 flavours.

Any flavour that the company declined to move forward with?
None.

Which is your most favourite flavour and why?
87% dark, as it has the most complex flavours.

Which packaging design did you like the most?
Beer chocolate pack design.

What was the impact of Covid on Synthite in general?
Not much as we are in the food category.

Has it affected the brands under Synthite’s umbrella?
Not overall. But sales shifted to online from offline.

Total no. of chocolates/flavours launched so far…
Thirty-six so far; 10 this year.

 

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