Harish Manoj Kumar & Karthikeyan Palanisamy were out drinking one night in 2015 when they had the idea to launch a domestic artisan chocolate company.
Both of them had the same philosophy despite coming from quite different backgrounds, they weren’t scared to dream big and face the risks that came with it.
Karthikeyan managed the family textile company, Harish took care of his ancestor’s farm in Anamalai, central Kerala, an area noted for its pleasant temperature and beneficial topography.
Therefore, on that fateful evening in 2015, Karthikeyan was interested when Harish, who was having success with the cacao planter at the farm, stated he wanted to start an export farm.
He describes the two factors that made him interested in this idea. He always desired to start his own company, and he also enjoyed eating. The idea was fascinating. And just from an easy evening’s optimistic conversation, the new chocolate company – Soklet came into existence.
Nothing Just A Chocolate Company
In the months that followed, Karthikeyan and Harish’s garage became the home of Soklet. Almost 24 tonnes of artisanal chocolate products are sold each year to countries including the US, Europe, Japan, and New Zealand.
In a world where expensive chocolate brands predominate, it hasn’t been easy to explain the enchantment of handmade chocolate to consumers. Yet, they assert that it was worthwhile.
In their garage, they began experimenting with recipes they got off the internet with the goal of building a brand.
Karthikeyan tried to wash the cacao beans for the first time because he thought they looked “dirty,” he says, “but they made blunders every time in the start.”
There were more factors to take into account, such as the roasting temperature and the ratio while grinding, and much more. The youthful occupants of the building, Soklet’s first set of tasters, were prepared after a month and countless trials.
They asked Nitin Chordia, one of the skilled chocolate tasters in South India, for his assessment in 2016.
They thought he’d spit it out. Yet while staring them in the eyes, he added, “There’s something there.”
He cautioned them that there was still a long way to go before Soklet’s beans could rival those that were regarded as standard.
This acted as a prompt for them to think about partnering with bean-to-bar manufacturers all over the world, and one such opportunity presented itself in the form of a chocolate festival in Amsterdam soon after, where they could connect with high-end businesses.
Hard Work Was The Key
Despite the fact that the beans garnered little attention during the festival, the endeavor was favorably accepted. As stated by Karthikeyan, “people at the festival found it amazing that India was suddenly experimenting with cocoa beans, something that had never been done before”. The major occasion at the festival had an impact on the rest of Soklet’s journey.
An upscale chocolate company present there saw the beans’ potential and sent one of their sourcing specialists to the Kerala farm. He came to the conclusion that they needed to follow the right post-fermentation procedures after assessing the plants.
Not just this, he also paved the way for an international market for Soklet. He made the promise to connect them with a farmer in Hawaii.
After long research and hard-earned results, the final product came into being. Well, now we all know the chocolate company so well that it’s safe to say, their idea not just survived but thrived as well.
Harish, who quit his corporate career in Bangalore in 2000 to return to Annamalai and work with his father on the farm, is extremely happy to finally see Soklet’s goods reach worldwide chocolate producers.
He recounts his early days of uncertainty as a farmer:
“My father farmed using conventional ways, and I would observe the number of chemical fertilisers and pesticides.” I decided to go in a new direction and started organic farming on a little piece of land.
While he didn’t notice benefits immediately, eventually he saw the benefits and his optimism increased.
Harish planted cocoa beans on 160 acres of the family’s 40-year-old property in 2006. The rest, as he puts it, is history.
Now, 60 people work at the farm; an eight-person team is in charge of the manufacturing area, and a six-person team is in charge of the fermenting area.
Soklet takes pride in selling every one of the 10,000 bars of chocolate it manufactures each month. It took them a long time to master the tricks of the trade and get their products on the right store shelves. The company brought in Rs 4 crore last year.
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