In My Experience… Devansh Ashar, Co-founder and chief chocolate maker, Pascati
Pascati was started while founder Devansh Ashar was toying with various ideas after joining his family business.
A bar of Five-Star gave him the idea to research chocolate led him to learn about bean-to-bar chocolates.
After some trials and figuring out the supply chain, he was on his way to making chocolate from scratch.
The unique name is derived from the Sanskrit phrase pascat parivesya which translates to a sweet meal.
Artisanal is a term that is open to interpretation, says Ashar.
The company has empowered a number of cocoa farmers in Kerala through better prices and more awareness.
Schokolade, cioccolato, chocolat, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, and the same goes for chocolate too. In India, we prefer Western brands when it comes to couverture chocolates. However, a number of homegrown chocolate brands are making waves in the market.
Among them is Pascati. Started in 2015 by Devansh Ashar, the brand follows the principle of bean-to-bar, wherein the chocolate is made from pure cocoa beans sans massive processing. In this interview, he narrates his story, explains the term ‘artisanal’ and some tips for budding entrepreneurs.
Q: Can you take us through your journey of launching Pascati.
A: I was working in the hospitality segment till 2014 when I quit and joined my family business. But I was not content with that. One day, I saw my nephew eating a Five Star and I asked him to share some. Unlike Swiss chocolates, the Five Star had to be chewed. After some research, I found Five Star was compound chocolate. I also stumbled upon an American brand called Dandelion Chocolate that made bean-to-bar chocolates, which intrigued me. I thought I’d try it.
The first trials didn’t go well so I decided to figure out the supply chain first. I ordered some cocoa nibs and ground it up with sugar and cocoa butter in a stone grinder. A day later, I had chocolate. I was ecstatic knowing I could make chocolate from scratch provided I had good quality cocoa beans. I found some cocoa bean suppliers in Kerala. A unit was set up in town later. In 2015, Pascati Foods India LLP came into being.
Q: The brand name is intriguing. What was the reason for choosing that?
A: The company was called The Cocoa Company initially. It had five syllables and was convoluted. There is scientific proof that when a luxury brand has only two-three syllables in its name, it’s perceived as lucky. I wanted to return to the grassroots and pick a Sanskrit word, but that was complicated too. The Sanskrit phrase pascat parivesya loosely translates to ‘a sweet meal’. I took the pascat and the ‘I’ from parivesvya and hence Pascati.
Q: What do you mean when you say artisanal chocolates?
A: The term artisanal is very loose. I call myself a chocolate maker because I make it from scratch whereas a chocolatier would make it by melting a store-bought chocolate slab. As there is a human touch they call it artisanal. If you ask a chocolate maker, he may disagree. There are almost nine steps in the bean-to-bar process. A purist chocolate maker would say no machines were used but frankly, there’s no way to do so otherwise. If there is a human touch or you work closely with cocoa farmers, then the chocolate can be artisanal too.
Q: When creating artisanal chocolate brand Pascati - were you definitive on how you would position it in the Indian chocolate market?
A: I knew that my product won’t be available everywhere. We were primarily focussing on premium stores such as Foodhall. We mostly stock at places that are vegan and/or organic.
There has to be a sustainability filter at the store when they scrutinise the brands they want to sell. We also make sure the store is air-conditioned.
Q: When considering the Indian market, how important is it for the brand to educate Indian consumers to truly understand the product, given the price they pay for it?
A: The toughest part of my job is telling people what bean-to-bar chocolates are. Due to Covid, social media is the only way to show what we’re doing. When you’re not interacting with people and telling them the process, it’s a tough sell. But when I’ve interacted with people, those in metro cities at least understand that what we do is different. Once we explain the story, people realise the value.
Q: Shedding light on the brand’s efforts on the sustainability front, the brand works closely with cacao farmer groups. I had learnt that you also trained them, leading them to quote premium prices. Can you tell us more about that?
A: We connected with a farming group in Kerala called Fair Trade Alliance Kerala (FTAK) in 2018. They were a 500-odd group of farmers who grow cocoa beans but don't know how to ferment or dry them. They would sell the beans to a local collection centre at the price offered. I was upset to know they were not getting a good price.
FTAK tried to see if the farmers could consolidate the beans at one place, and then ferment and dry them. I visited them for a week and went over the whole process. We did a batch to gauge the quality. Finally, we decided to procure in bulk. Now they get a much better price. This price covers the FTAK premium that later gets pooled and used for other projects for the farmers’ community.
Every part of the cocoa bean can be used. The shells can be used for mulching. We make sure that nothing is wasted at the factory.
Q: What one thing would you give as a piece of advice to an entrepreneur wanting to get into the Luxury world today?
A: If you are an entrepreneur in India, you need to create value for every stakeholder in the supply chain. That’s the only way that your brand would grow in the long term. Learn how to politely say no, that would be the other advice I would give entrepreneurs.
Pascati also has the privilege of being India’s first USDA Organic and Fairtrade compliant chocolate brand. The next time you have a sweet craving, Pascati may be an excellent choice.
To watch the full conversation please click here to reach our YouTube channel.