Mr. Aspi Irani is a virtual encyclopedia on chocolates and confectionery, with copious knowledge encompassing the complete spectrum on chocolate processing (starting from cocoa plantations to the finished product). He worked in cadbury till 1992, and was General Manager (Technical).
In his conversation with Nirav Sampat of Vedic Systems , Mr. Irani shares his experience pertaining to the confectionery industry, and throws some light on emerging trends.
Q. What changes do you see in chocolate processing methods over the past 20 years?
A. The basic process, starting from fermentation of cocoa seeds to molding of chocolate, is essentially the same. However, with the entry of PLCs, process parameters can be better monitored and controlled. This leads to efficiency in the manufacturing line, and uniform quality of the end product.
Q. Which part of the production process would you rate as most critical?
A. Each and every parameter is equally important. Cocoa seeds are fermented, before the nib grinding. In Africa, this is done naturally using banana leaves, while Indian cocoa-growers use poly-bags. The former method is better, and this reflects in the end product. No amount of extra-processing, post fermentation, will neutralize this difference in flavor and texture. Anyway, the fermentation method is mostly outside the control of the chocolate manufacturer. A relevant example would be processing of the ingredients themselves (cocoa butter, chocolate liquor, sugar, and milk powder). A good mixer, refiner, and conch would ensure fine, homogeneous and odorless chocolate. Time is the key here. At least 11 hours are needed in the conch to remove the odor completely. There is no sense in cutting corners to achieve higher capacities. Even the tempering unit has to have precise controls (where temperature is monitored and maintained at the desired levels across the temperer). Temperature of the chocolate has to be constant in the hopper of the depositor and the pistons. This ensures that the pistons are not clogged and, importantly, the quality of the chocolate filling the moulds is consistent. Even the cooling tunnel has to be extremely accurate in terms of temperature and resident time of the molded/enrobed product. So, every part of the process is critical to obtain a good end product.
Q. Has the Indian confectionery industry achieved global standards?
A. We still have to catch up with international product quality and manufacturing standards. You must realize that the manufacturing process is adapted to consumer preference and market conditions. For instance, we do not have sufficient storage facilities, and manufacturers need to use Cocoa Butter Equivalent (CBE) to prolong the shelf life of chocolates. This means that refining, tempering etc. is geared for compound chocolate. Also, greater humidity in most parts of India leads to faster inversion in sugar boiled confectionery. Even if Indian producers start making chocolates that meet international standards in terms of taste and texture, it may be a different product at the time of consumption. And the taste of India is also different from the west, with a clear preference for higher milk content. Moreover, the choices available to the Indian consumer have not been very wide. That, however, is changing fast, allowing the consumer to be more discerning than possible in the past.
Q. The sugar confectionery industry is set to witness a major change with many large multinationals looking to enter the fray. How do you see this impacting standards in India?
A. Multinationals have better manufacturing practices, and deeper pockets to invest in sophisticated equipment. Continuous vacuum rotocookers are the norm these days. Another recent phenomenon is the shift in consumer preference for deposited candy. A growing urban middle class is willing to pay a premium for deposited products. And the process itself has undergone a sea-change with the introduction of starch-less moulding plants. However, only a couple of equipment manufacturers have perfected one-shot depositors. "One-shot" products allow the manufacturer to experiment with different combinations, at minimal costs. I feel that future developments, as far as sugar processing and forming is concerned, will be focused along these lines.
Q. Finally, a few words on the future of the Indian confectionery industry.
A. Presently, the per capita consumption is very low, leaving ample scope for growth. Also, the confectionery sector has a wide range of products (sugar confectionery, chewing gums, lollipops, jelly, chocolates, bars etc.), and each segment needs to run it's full cycle. Manufacturers who are in a position to quickly adopt to the changing needs of the marketplace will benefit. I have no doubt that the industry will flourish in the days to come. After all, cocoa is the food of the Gods.