Chokkapan S (email@example.com)
A fun trip to Goa with family turning a passion into delectable confections. It’s not a run-of-the-mill success story, nor is it about a straitjacket entrepreneur. Call it plain serendipity or innovation at its yummy best. Here is an innovator that has opened up a refreshingly new market for millions with a sweet tooth. That too in a country with limited candy options not too long ago.
“Upon my (then) 4.5-year-old son Jishnu’s insistence to munch on candies, we visited a store in Goa and bought one. Unfortunately, it fell and cracked. It was then a shopkeeper who told me that despite being supplied only for 3-4 months, those candies were in demand throughout the year. It lit a spark in me and I dove deeper into the confectioning process,” recounts Mahesh Dharam about his experience almost a decade ago.
It was during that trip that Mahesh figured out that high-quality swirl pops and candies were not easy to get in India. “Most of them were imported from China and Europe, and recognizing this as an opportunity and a gap in the confectionery business landscape, I decided to launch my own company.”
Just for the record, the new-age confectioner is not a first-gen business enthusiast. “I am a commerce graduate and hail from a business family. My father used to run a display board business, which I took over,” says Mahesh, adding, “Post that, I was in the corporate sector for 15 years.”
One thing, however, has remained a constant in his life. He has always been passionate about cooking, baking, and confectionery, much before his Goan sojourn: “When I went to Europe on an official trip, I found some candy stores with candies and confections of the highest quality. This evoked my curiosity and helped me rediscover my childhood passion.”
Thus came Kandee Factory into existence. The candy manufacturer and supplier has spearheaded sustainable manufacturing practices. It is credited to being among a select few across the globe to tap into atmospheric air-water extraction technology to make eco-friendly candies and confections.
Kandee Factory has been manufacturing vegan (plant-based & zero dairies) and cruelty-free products like marshmallows, gummy bears, lollipops, etc. over the past 7-8 years. “We started small at our home, manufactured a few candy canes, and displayed them at a neighborhood mall. It took me over one-and-a-half years to procure all equipment and master the art of confectioning. Subsequently, I underwent professional training as well. As for going vegan, I found a lot of synthetic substances being added by other confectioners in their candies. We use high-quality sugar and natural colors, including those of vegetable extracts. We avoid titanium dioxide and talcum powder,” elaborates Mahesh.
His confectionery range comprises Marshmelts, Vegan Marshmallows, natural preservative-free Orileys Gummies, Talc Free Orileys Hard Candy, Natural Colour Toonpop Swirlpops, Ville Nour Chocomallows (Chocolate-laden Vegan Marshmallow) and DouxBon Mallowpops. The manufacturing plant has an all-women crew, most of whom are from economically underprivileged backgrounds.
Around 2013-14, Kandee Factory took part in a lot of exhibitions with demand for high-quality candies steadily increasing. Mahesh takes over, “I quit my job then, and availed a Rs 2,00,000 loan to run the business full-time. My cook was my only employee back then.”
The candy seller is now merchandising its products across prominent E-marketplaces, quick commerce and E-groceries including Amazon (across geographies), BigBasket, Flipkart, Ola Foods, Swiggy Instacart, and Zepto. As of this year, Kandee Factory has sold one million candies online and also enjoys a presence in over 750 physical stores across the country. “We are present in bookstores, FMCG retail outlets such as Reliance and Spencer’s, malls, etc. across 40 Indian cities. Almost 96% of retail consumers prefer buying offline,” reasons Mahesh.
Kandee Factory is backed by angel networks and investment firms. Its products now reach international shores in the United States and Canada, thanks to Amazon’s global selling programme. SIDBI awarded the company as one of the top-five Indian start-ups in January 2020.
Apart from making his own, Mahesh is also supplying marshmallows to baking and ice cream sectors, “as it is used as a topping in restaurants and cafeterias, among other places. We supply pure vegetarian marshmallows – without gelatin and animal protein – to ice cream manufacturers.”
Enquire him about the technology usage in the confectionery sector, and he says that Kandee Factory employs tech only for packaging. “About 10-12% of the companies in the organized sector might have automated a lot, but the rest still function as a cottage – and highly fragmented – an industry with complete artisanal work. I don’t foresee tech adoption to increase drastically over the next few years,” concludes Mahesh.