Mahbir Thukral was speaking to us at the Gulfood show in Dubai where he launched what he believes is the first dark chocolate product to be infused with premium Indian Saffron.
This product follows hot on the heels of a new formulation of his milk chocolate, also infused with Indian saffron.
Topping off the range are his Mahbir Tangy Orange Marmalade, which won the best condiment or sauce product at the Gulfood Innovation Awards 2018, and the packaged fresh saffron ingredient.
Thukral’s background is in food marketing, but he had always harboured ambitions of launching his own products.
However, he wanted to combine his knowledge of the industry in the West, with premium ingredients from his Indian heritage.
This at first led him to consider using products such as turmeric and cardamom, before deciding to experiment with saffron.
And it wasn’t exactly a plain-sailing experience.
“I must have called the Indian spices board 20 times before someone friendly took an interest and put me in contact with the Kashmir co-operative,” he said.
“I was very conscious that I wanted to work with people who were very open and honest about their accreditation, traceability and ethics. These people answered all my questions, so we decided to join forces.”
Then, it was literally a case of trial and error in his Kitchen in the UK as he experimented with saffron cheese – “too expensive” – and safrron pasta – “the saffron broke away” – before achieving success jam and chocolate.
A manufacturer for the jam was quickly secured in Greece, while the chocolate is now produced in the Netherlands.
Middle East listing
Over the past 15 months, countless long nights have followed – Thukral still has his day job – but now his products are listed in five countries and picked up a UK Great Taste Award last year.
“Our products are now available in the UK, Finland, Belgium, the Netherlands and Greece,” he added.
“We were able to attend Gulfood with the support of the UK government’s Department for International Trade and it coincided with our first Middle East store listing at one of Dubai’s leading fine food retailers, milk & HONEY.”
Thukral has now set sights on driving growth in the Middle East and Scandinavia, while also striving to promote good sustainability and traceability practices for saffron.
“For example, we are the first fully traceable saffron on the market. From strand to farmer, we are openly sharing this information so customers learn about the origin of our saffron, and can also have full confidence in the product they’re buying,” he said.
And he also wants to play his role in helping Indian produce develop a more premium positioning.
“There are some great Indian food brands, but it can sometimes feel like a bit of a car boot sale,’ he said.
‘However, there are fantastic Indian chefs with Michelin stars and higher-end restaurant chains that are proving to be very successful. The consumer product-side isn’t at that level yet, but there is absolutely no reason why it shouldn’t follow suit.”