Case Studies - Brand & Marketing - Brand Design - Food & Beverage

Manam Chocolate Cultivates New Tastes

Manam Chocolate is elevating the quality of the country’s cacao at one end, and creating an experiential, design-driven brand at the other. By doing so, it hopes to get more Indians to eat — and gift — Indian craft chocolate.

Selection of Manam gift boxes, some opround, some rectabgle, some open, some closed on a dark green background

As affluent Indians have become more discerning about their coffee, their cheese and their wine, conversations about origin, terroir, notes and flavour are becoming commonplace. The vocabulary around chocolate, however, is still limited to ‘dark’ or ‘milk.’ 

Chaitanya Muppala, founder, Manam Chocolate, is setting out to change this.

The Opportunity 

Pie chart showing split of Indian chocolate market. Total = 1800 crores. Industrial = 13000 crores. Specialty premium chocolate = 4600 crore. Rest = 400 crore
The current Indian chocolate market is dominated by industrial chocolate brands, but an overall premuimisation trend means there is headroom for premium, speciality players.

The Indian chocolate market is about Rs.1,80,00 crores, and growing fast. The bulk of this is made up of mass-produced industrial chocolate, which typically retails at about Rs. 1 per gram. The premium specialty chocolate market, with an average price of Rs. 5 per gram, is dominated by European brands like Ferrero Rocher and Lindt. Only about Rs. 400 crore is made up of Indian specialty chocolate brands like Smoor and ITC Fabelle, as well as niche ‘bean-to-bar’ players like Mason and Paul & Mike.   

Muppala’s family owns the Hyderabad-based, Indian sweet chain, Almond House. 25% of their business comes from corporate orders and gifting – and customers were asking for gifting options to mithai. After an initial study in 2019, the premium specialty chocolate space seemed like the right market to enter. 

The Difference: Proudly Indian

Not Swiss, Not French, Not Belgian – that’s the opening line of the video on Manam Chocolate’s site. ‘Indianness’ is key to the brand’s positioning, but while Indian brands typically work with chocolate made from imported cacao, Manam has taken a different route.

Why Indian Cacao?

The answer to that question is part history lesson, part business strategy and part agricultural experiment.

 “Once we had decided to enter the chocolate market and plotted the landscape,” says Muppala, “we realised that nearly everyone in the market was buying chocolate from the same global players, then moulding, branding and selling it. If we did the same, what would be our differentiation? We would just end up with a homogenised product mix, very similar to the evolution of mithai.”

Creating good chocolate starts much before the bean. The genetic profile of the plant, soil, temperature, processes – multiple factors contribute to the quality of the final product. 

India grows only 1% of the world’s cacao. The plant was brought to the country in the early 1960s, and the varietals were optimised for industrial production, not flavour. 

The Manam Chocolate team started spending time in the West Godavari region, where cacao is grown, speaking to farmers to understand how they could improve cacao quality. The fact that the pandemic hit soon after, turned out to be a blessing in disguise. “We couldn’t travel, so we just started creating our own business model, technology and processes,” says Muppala.

From this experiment, was born a separate company called Distinct Origins, which will introduce new, improved cacao varietals in India, and explore export possibilities, in addition to supplying the raw material for Manam Chocolate. “Historically, cacao has been grown by the colonised on the coloniser’s terms,” says Muppala. “We’re turning that on its head. First, by making sure that the value gets distributed to farmers, and second, by promoting Indian cacao to the world.”

Group of women wearing colourful sarees shucking cacao shells into plastci tubs labelled Distinct origins
A separate company called Distinct Origins, will grow new, improved cacao varietals in India, and explore export possibilities, in addition to supplying the raw material for Manam. (Also scroll down to see how the colour and vibrancy in this scene finds its way into the packaging.)

Balancing Familiarity with Inventiveness

While Muppala relates the story of Distinct Origins with great animation and admits he “geeked out” over the process, he is pragmatic about how much it will influence consumer choice. 

Customers can scan the QR code on products and see a fully traceable supply chain, but Muppala knows this will not be a good enough reason to buy. 

“Finally,” he says, “People will buy our products because they taste good and they are giftable.” 

Therefore, the key question facing the Manam Chocolate team as they set out to create the brand was this: “What can be uniquely Indian about chocolate – without being reductionist and limiting Indianness to stereotypes like adding elachi, or kesar?” 

No brand has influenced the Indian palette like Cadburys and for generations of Indians, the sweet, smooth Dairy Milk bar is their first reference for chocolates. “We recognise and respect this,” says Muppala, “and we understand that we need to balance familiarity with inventiveness.” He cites the example of Manam’s single origin, 67% dark West Godavari, which has “very familiar notes of molasses, jaggery, cashew nut, but towards the end, you get an unexpected note of citrus fruitiness.”

Manam’s portfolio seeks to balance familiarity with inventiveness, and go beyond stereotypical flavours like kesar and elaichi

The Product Portfolio: Crafted for Gifting

Rahul Chawda, founder of consulting firm, Anomaly Brands, has worked closely with Manam Chocolate to create the brand. “The difference,” he points out, “is not just how the world sees Manam, but how Manam sees itself. The common view inside the company is that it is a platform that integrates craftspeople across the value chain. They are farmers, fermenters, chocolatiers and storytellers – and at every point, craft is critical.”  

This platform approach is most evident in Manam Chocolate’s product range and the unusual way it is architected. 

Manam Chocolate’s 300+ product portfolio spans 50 categories and showcases the versatility of chocolate – from tablets to truffles, bonbons to barks and pralines to cookies. The textures and flavours are unique and interesting. You will encounter the familiar almond praline, but there is also a Chai Biscuit Tablet, as well as one that offers notes of the Chakkarakeli Banana.

“This is where our halwai pedagogy has served us well,” laughs Muppala.

Photograph showing assortment of Manam chocolates, bononbons and bars in different gift boxes
Manam’s 300+ product portfolio spans 50 categories and showcases the versatility of chocolate – from tablets to truffles, bonbons to beverages and cakes to cookies. The width and depth of offering encourages gifting – a key use case for the category.

The Nomenclature Strategy

The product range is based on a library of couvertures – the rich, pure chocolate obtained from beans through complex, nuanced processes. In 2023, for instance, Manam had 42 couvertures, which were the foundation for its wide range of products. Products from a single library of couvertures are presented as an ‘edition.’

While sharply differentiated, is this classification and naming strategy too complicated for customers to understand? 

“It may take some time,” says Chawda, “but for instance, people are already asking about the difference between Origin Tablet No 1 and Origin Tablet No 2, and it gives us a chance to reinforce Manam’s approach.” 

3 Manam chocolate tablets with covers and chocolate slabs
Manam’s product nomenclature system is based on couvertures. The tablet itself is divided into different sized pieces and the moulds draw inspiration from shapes found in the brand’s fermentery. The distinctive, cutout ‘M’ brand mark, is used across touch points, from packaging to signage.

The Brand Design

The Name

Manam means “We” or “Us” in Telugu, and while that is an appropriate meaning, Muppala says many other factors influenced the selection, including the fact that the word is a palindrome and lends itself well to balanced design across interfaces. 

The Brand Identity: Elemental Grandeur

Manam’s design strategy is based on the idea of “elemental grandeur.” The phrase is an attempt to capture how simplicity can command a sense of awe – linking the sophisticated end-chocolate product, back to growers in the farms.  

To address the diversity of requirements, from packaging to signage, the typographic strategy uses a mix of Latin (Heroine Pro, Infini, and FS Meridian) and Indian typefaces (Anek Family).

Manam Chocolate’s visual style emphasises illustrations, and the brand commissioned Namrata Kumar, to create the visuals for the 2023 edition. These depict scenes from Manam’s farms and fermentary in the artist’s distinct Impressionist style and are used in interfaces from packaging to the website. The emphasis on design, and attention to detail, is evident across everything the brand does – even the moulds for different product formats are custom-designed and inspired by elements from Manam’s fermentary. 

“Not only does this illustration-based identity allow the brand flexibility with artistic expression, it infuses the brand style with that essential aspect of craft. The illustration may change, but Manam’s style will always be very editorial and real,” says Chawda. 

Template showing packaging design of Manam with illustration of farmer women in a field of cacao with the back of pack panel
Manam’s visual identity uses signature illustrations, depicting scenes from the farms

Growing & Scaling 

Currently Manam Chocolate retails from its own website and a Karkhana in Hyderabad. This large, experiential space offers workshops in chocolate-making, as well as a behind-the-scenes tour that shows how craft chocolate is made. The Karkhana was inaugurated on Aug 15, 2023, and 40 farmers came down to do the honours. “The road outside was jammed for a couple of kilometres,” remembers Muppala, “We did not expect so many people to show up.”

Gates of Manam Karkhana in Hyderabad with M logo
The Manam Chocolate Karkhana in Hyderabad, which serves as an experience centre as well as a retail outlet. There are plans to open smaller versions in other cities soon.

Manam Chocolate and its focus on craft, must now stand the test of scaling across locations. The in-house expertise that Almond House brings, will probably make this easier to do at the supply end. The real challenge will come as the brand moves out of its home city and woos lesser-known markets and customers. It will need to gain mind-share with a demanding set of affluent customers, before market-share is forthcoming.

Muppala is exploring how to replicate the Karkhana experience in other cities, albeit in smaller, more budget-friendly spaces. He does not rule out raising external funds, although details are still under wraps. 

“There is just so much opportunity ahead of us,” he says,“ and we are very ambitious. In these last 10 months we’ve seen that India is ready for Indian craft chocolate, and it is possible to build a big company in this space, as long as we continue to interpret chocolate in ways that are relevant and meaningful for our audience.” 

4 Comments

  1. Great story. Hadn’t heard of Manam. Just checked them out. Love this new crop of cool Indian brands

  2. The packaging is so gorgeous! I love that the brand sees itself differently and is taking an editorial approach to their design and communication. Being truly premium means not diluting that to appeal to a broader base—I wish them luck!

  3. Lovely story. So NICE to see a brand with ambitions also get design right. Hope they stay on this path and don’t dilute

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