The Changing Face Of Ice Creams: Burma Burma, Blanchette, Papacream, Noto
A Snowball Effect: The Changing Face Of Ice Creams

Changing trade rules, the rise of Q-commerce and a band of culinarians curious about the possibilities of the retail and packaged goods market has led to an upsurge of homegrown, artisanal brands, many of which are making ice-creams. And summer has never looked better

Finding the sparing swirls of caramel in Häagen-Dazs’ Vanilla Milk Chocolate Almond Ice-Cream Bar is like chancing upon lucky beans in an unkempt garden. It evokes a certain joy that I frequently find myself indulging in, late into the night, way past my bedtime and resolve. Ravaging a treat from the American retail brand in the comfort of my home paints a starkly different picture from, say, 14 years ago, when the company had just launched their first outlet/cafe in Saket, Delhi. I suspect it’s just as surreal for Preity Zinta fans, each time they spot Ben & Jerry’s, summoning memories of the 2005 cult Bollywood romcom, Salaam Namaste, where the actor helped make ‘Belgian Dark Chocolate’ the new ‘It’ flavour. And while global ice-cream brands have been steadily making their way into the country, for the last decade or so, a more veritable trend within this space is marked by the rise of premium/artisanal ice-cream ventures from the home turf. In the last half-decade or so alone, we’ve seen the springing up of companies like NOTO, Get-A-Way, Good Fettle, Minus 30, Zoet Desserts, The Brooklyn Creamery, Amadora, Tandy’s Creamery, Blanchette and Bono Ice-Cream, to name a few.  



Valued at USD 3.01 billion in 2022, with a projected growth of up to USD 6.96 billion by 2028, (as per reports by business intelligence company, Expert Market Research) ice-cream is one of the fastest-growing segments in the country. And understandably so, given that we’re also one of the world’s largest producers of dairy products. But glance through quick commerce apps like Swiggy Instamart, Dunzo or Zepto, and you’ll find non-dairy ice-creams, too. From vegan pistachio and Belgian chocolate ice-creams and desi-fied sorbets laced with the sour and faintly sweet kokum, to velvety versions rich with silky cheese and tart mulberries — ice-cream looks, tastes and sounds completely different today. Beyond the golden trio of vanilla-strawberry-two-in-one — from the age of Kwality Walls — Indian brands are playing with textures, flavours, types and concepts, serving kacchi kairi sorbet sticks, entire sundaes in a mini tub and everything in between.  


Tricks Of The Trade    


Restaurateur Ankit Gupta, who helms popular Asian eatery-chain, Burma Burma, is one among the cohort of true-blue culinarians who’re looking away from the restaurant model or at least, increasingly towards retail/Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG)/Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) and e-commerce channels. Other examples include popular chefs like Prateek Sadhu (ex-Masque) launching his spice line, Paushtik, and Pooja Dhingra veering her pastry brand, Le15, in the FMCG direction with packaged cookies and hot chocolate (that too after shutting her cafe in Mumbai). There are also chefs like Vidit Aren (ex-Soufflé Sil Vous Plait), who started OTP, which specialises in small-batch sauces; Velton Saldanha (ex-O Pedro), who launched his modern Indian chutney company that uses regional ingredients, Chutney Collective; and Yashvi Ratani, who joined as the New Product Development Head at NOTO — a healthy ice-cream company — after working with serious pastry kitchens like, Lavonne and incidentally, Le15.  



Gupta, who has just unveiled a line of artisanal ice-creams under his hospitality banner, attributes this change of heart among restaurateurs and chefs to several factors, including changing trade rules, the rise of quick commerce, and increased scope of ownership. “For us, pivoting towards retail and FMCG had to do with ensuring that Burma Burma reaches everyone at home, rather than the other way around. Coming to why so many chefs are looking to get into this; it’s because now, they can own the distribution. Earlier, it was reliant on traditional trade and distribution networks [such as stores]. But with the advent of technology… you know, everyone knows how to use an app. And in D2C, you don’t pay 40-45% commission, which is standard across modern trade. So, you own the experience. It’s so easy to create a product with the availability of food technologists, easy integration of the website with distribution channels like Shopify, WeFast, Dunzo — all of this has come in the last three to four years. The other angle is the rise of Performance Marketing. You see, on Instagram, every third post is sponsored,” he chuckles, adding that the format also lends itself to a certain limitlessness. “A restaurant will be 40-seater or 50-seater, but a product has no limit. So, it’s an exciting space.” 



The Sky’s The Limit    


In business lexicon, the ‘limit’, or lack thereof, refers to scalability — something chefs and restaurant owners struggle with. Not just because of the low profit margins and high operational and fixed costs associated with brick-and-mortar spaces, but also, because of the creative scepticism of what scaling may do to their ethos. Husband-wife duo behind NOTO, Ashni and Varun Sheth, experienced this first-hand while handling their restaurant and pizzeria, 1Tablespoon. “Running a chain of pizzerias was fun, but it had its own set of challenges. It was not easily scalable; standardisation became an issue and it was also very manpower and capital-intensive. Varun and I used to have multiple discussions on working on a packaged product range that could be scaled to pan-India,” Sheth tells us.  



This reflects the challenges faced by Tanvi Chowdhri, CEO and founder of gourmet ice-cream company Papacream. After managing 15 experiential outlets across the country since their launch in 2015 — and dealing with issues like the nitrogen ban (in 2018, the food safety department banned the use of liquid nitrogen while preparing ice-cream, cold drinks, etc) and being restricted to a certain radius — swivelling towards FMCG seemed like the wise choice. “We soon started to realise that scale and accessibility were becoming a problem. Which was taking us away from the original vision of establishing Papacream as a challenger brand that wasn’t just available in a few metro cities, but accessible to people in every corner of the country, at affordable rates,” she opines. “The ROIs are more justified in FMCG, where the operations and manufacturing are centralised. And a lot of people who start these brands are very passionate about the product, but when they get into the cafe/restaurant model, it often becomes a lot about operations and running those restaurants. Whereas with manufacturing, the focus still lies primarily on the product, and of course, then, the distribution comes in. But you still are completely in control of the product because it’s centralised,” she adds.   



Fillings And Feelings   


For the longest time, Saloni Kukreja was synonymous with attractive food content on social media. But in 2019, the erstwhile blogger, took a break from content creation to pursue cuisine and pastry studies in Vancouver, Canada. Upon returning to the country as a ‘trained’ chef, her entrepreneurial spirit spurred her towards starting a business, and ice-cream seemed like the best fit. Kukreja’s decision was inspired by similar business-related factors like her competitors — growth in the market, the rise of Q-commerce, and as she puts it, the “overall improvement in the cold-chain transportation infrastructure, which definitely contributes to market growth.” But more urgently, it had to do with her own experiences with the frozen dessert. “From all the food memories I have as a child, eating ice-cream — and even the first time I ate gelato — really stayed with me. Those sensations, flavours and textures are vividly etched in my memory. I wanted to create a product that was new and refreshing, yet somewhat familiar and nostalgic,” she reflects. Launched last month, Indu Ice Cream specialises in ice-creams and sorbets rooted in Indian flavours, and offers options like mango shrikhand and a dark chocolate version, swirled in with jaggery caramel.  


Chef Bianca Manik echoes this sentiment when she says, “My family and I really love no-fuss cakes; a simple chocolate cake with ganache/vanilla, with some jam as opposed to the ones that were made with fondant/buttercream or entremets. So naturally, Blanchette launched in February 2020 with exactly those sorts of desserts.” The finance major and graduate from Le Cordon Bleu and School for European Pastry, who also happens to hold a diploma from Carpigiani University for gelato, harnesses her dessert and ice-cream business to craft treats that truly speak to you. The Chocolate, Chocolate and Chocolate ice-cream is as indulgent as they come, with a dark chocolate base, chocolate ganache and wafer bits that leave you ooh-ing and aah-ing in every bite. “I was aware of the growth the ice-cream market was seeing globally and realised that there was an opportunity in terms of the kind of ice-creams we wanted to retail in Mumbai. Our products are actually sundaes and not plain ice-creams. All of them have different mix-ins added to them — swirls, crumbles, cookies, fudges, etc., all while using premium ingredients, from the base to the add-ins, so we can get the textures right. 



Ultimately, be it Burma Burma’s stellar, duvet-soft avocado ice-cream or Papacream’s cosseting ice-cream cake slices, homegrown artisanal brands have altered the fabric of India’s ice-cream-scape forever, weaving in international and ultra-regional flavours, a host of formats (tubs, cones, mini-cones, bonbons, ice-cream-cakes, popsicles), and a nostalgia factor, that for all this business-savviness, chiefly accomplishes this: allowing Indians to enjoy summer’s biggest gift to mankind — ice-cream. But without having to resort to once-unattainable global brands that you had to be pregnant and/or Preity Zinta to get your hands on. 

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