Although plant-based chocolates have been around in India for some time, the vast majority of these are dark or milk chocolates due to these being easier to match in terms of appearance and taste when the dairy component is removed.
“There are very few white chocolate bars that do not contain milk and dairy in the Indian market as it is not easy to attain the required colour or milky mouthfeel to match just by using plant-based ingredients,” CARRA CEO Komal Khosla told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“It took us a long time to crack the taste for this, to achieve that creamy, milky taste and texture similar to regular dairy chocolate so that consumers won’t feel like they are making a compromise in any way. This is extremely important as chocolates are very strongly embedded in indulgence, so it is all the more crucial to make the switch to plant-based made easy when it comes to taste.”
The firm started off its plant-based portfolio with dark chocolates of which it now has 10 SKUs, then milk chocolates with two SKUs and now it has launched its white variant – Lemon and Cranberry.
The hope is that the white chocolate will help it to bring in consumers that have a fondness for white chocolates, and that the milky visual and taste will crack even the most ‘stubborn’ consumers that think dairy is necessary to get that chocolatey taste.
“Building on the need to make the switch easy, we opted to go with the Lemon and Cranberry flavour as the fruits blend really well with our white chocolate base, [and] hope that this will appeal to even more people,” Khosla added.
“We are selling our plant-based chocolates at a price on par with regular chocolates as compared to many other brands that charge a premium, but it is notable that our back-end costs are actually 5% to 10% costlier to make, due to us having to use a lot of fruits, nuts and other plant materials to replace the milk powder component.
“That is something we are working on, to get the back-end costs balanced with the market prices and costs for conventional chocolate production, and for this we are looking at areas such as improving our formulations using ingredients such as oats – but the priority will always be to satisfy tastebuds and keep the mouthfeel rich.”
CARRA soft-launched the white chocolate bar in March 2022 in India’s Delhi, Gurgaon and Mumbai.
Sugar-free and brand partnerships
CARRA also has a sugar-free range, which Khosla said has been seeing rapid growth on the back of the rising health and wellness trend.
“The sugar-free series is definitely seeing strong growth from month to month, I would say this is the most upcoming trend in India right now,” she said.
“The health and wellness angle is also the most appealing for consumers, it is a higher focal point for them and we know we have to push this in order to reach more people and resonate with them.”
The firm is also developing a model of working with existing conventional chocolate brands to help them develop more sustainable products.
“This model is something we are looking at focusing on in India first, where we are working closely with other chocolate brands to help them develop their own vegan or sugar-free products,” said Khosla.
“The interest of these brands shows just how much the healthier product trend is picking up in India, how consumers want products that are indulgent yet are getting more aware of what they are eating.
“Dessert is a very big thing in India after meals, and many consumers just want something that can satisfy their taste buds yet not give them any guilt – and plant-based, sugar-free chocolates are able to fill this gap very well.”
As for logistics, Khosla shared that plant-based chocolates face exactly the same challenges as conventional chocolates due to their use of high-quality couverture chocolate (high in cocoa butter) as a base, which have a similar fat content to regular chocolates and will also face melting risks.
“India is a country with very varied temperatures across different cities, and it can reach over 40°C in summer in some places,” she said.
“So right now the logistical challenges are still there and we are working through these by using expedited couriering and packing with dry ice from the warehouse, but eventually the hope is to have a warehouse in every city.
“This is also the reason we aren’t looking closely at exporting yet – before this, we first need to get the right temperature control methods in place.”