Renny supplies chocolates to supermarket chains such as Walmart and Metro in their Indian outlets and coffee chains such as Café Coffee Day and Costa Coffee. He also makes gourmet chocolates.
Renny, who credits his ‘wonderful team' for what they have achieved, says these are not mass produced chocolate bars but delicate gourmet treats such as truffles and thins, machine made.
And then he offers the unimaginable: “Do you want to see the cold storage where the chocolates are?” and he walks towards a white rectangular box like structure. It looks like something out of a sci-fi movie. At that point of time the panel blinking red digits, above a door that looks very secure, makes no sense. Renny points to it and says, “it shows the temperature and humidity inside.” No footwear. Check. Hygiene caps. Check. All geared up, we step into chocoholics' paradise.
The temperature and humidity controlled storage room is stark white and as spotlessly clean as spotlessly clean gets. We enter with a slight shiver of delight and it is cold. The temperature hovers at a nippy 16 degrees Celsius. Outside is a blistering 30 degrees Celsius. Another armour-like door and voila! Square blue baskets full of chocolates wrapped in all hues of foil.
Perfectly round smooth chocolates called truffles (round smooth chocolate globules with fillings). Along with these there are other kinds of chocolates, of most sizes and shapes with flat bases, arranged in neat rows in neat shelves or piled in baskets. Gourmet chocolates come in small packages.
Truffles are the toughest to make, says Renny. The perfect globule requires expertise. He makes the infusions (fillings) in his factory at Peermedu. Cashew, hazelnut, coffee, orange, cocobean, mint… he makes 24 different kinds of fillings (which make the chocolates gourmet). Right now coconut cream is keeping him busy, “I will find out how and I will do it. After caramel, coconut is a popular flavour.” He is game for a challenge when it comes to chocolate. This is a risk that has paid off for him. This chartered accountant calls Kanjirapally home and himself ‘a villager'. Chocolate making is an unusual choice of career for a ‘villager'. He worked for a couple of years as audit manager with Frazer and Ross, which is now Deloitte.
Rubber and cocoa estates were part of his childhood in Kanjirapally. As a supplier to Cadbury's he got curious about what happened to the cocoa once it got there. “Imagine not knowing what happened after the cocoa left my estates? I would look like a fool. I wanted to know and so I found out,” he says.
“Do you know why Cadbury's has a purple cover?” he asks suddenly. And before getting an inanity of a response he says, “the insides of a fermented cocoa bean is purple.”
Finding out what happened to the cocoa turned out to be an expensive proposition, but for him there can be no compromises in learning. It hasn't been easy, it has taken him and his wife, Jaya, 20 years of visiting chocolate factories in Italy, trade exhibitions, confection exhibitions and of course investment of huge amounts of money to get where they are.
His office too is a chocoholic's paradise. On display are beautifully packaged chocolates, in all manner of shapes and sizes. “Packaging is 70 per cent of the chocolate experience, and Sarin Patrick is very good when it comes to that,” Renny says of Sarin Patrick, the sales and marketing director of India Cocoa, the man behind the designs.
In keeping with stringent production standards, every process, except packaging, is mechanised. The ‘factory' looks extremely clinical; in fact it is more a confection laboratory. ‘Technicians' in lab coats, clean footwear, hygiene caps and surgical masks operate the machinery.
There is no room to get complacent. The work is never done. A couple of weeks back, Renny and Jaya were in Shanghai. On a mission ‘to learn about the aesthetics and culture of a new place', he found out that ‘chocolate is not part of their culture and China is way behind when it comes to food technology.' And ‘none of the machine manufacturers from Europe put their machinery on display at Shanghai. They just put up posters.'
He and Jaya are hardcore foodies, who love experimenting with food. With all that chocolate around him, does he like chocolate? “Yes! I am very fond of chocolates!” For all the right reasons, of course!