Srinagar: A chance bite of handmade Halaal candy from Australia changed the life of two friends who have created a new brand of Kashmiri chocolates free of emulsifiers and harmful colors.
Fouzia Farooq, an MBA from Safa Kadal and Farzana Qayoom Malik, an MPA from Lal Bazar have created handmade Halaal chocolates which have become a runaway hit in Kashmir.
“We met in college when we were pursuing BBA. We always wanted to start our own business. We were not so fond of jobs. The same ideology connected us”, said Fouzia.
And a gift of handmade chocolates from Australia came in handy as the duo decided to try their hands on making a local version of Halaal chocolates. “While enjoying handmade chocolates which my sister had brought from Australia, we decided to replicate it in Kashmir,” said Farzana.
The idea clicked and both decided to receive formal training in chocolate making. “We took two months online course for chocolate making. We also did some research on chocolates”, says Fouzia.
Enter 2018, F&F Halaal Foods and Flavors was born. “While researching we found that the chocolates contain emulsifiers which are not good for health. Emulsifiers are the agents that make the chocolates soft. Instead of emulsifiers, we use coconut oil in our food products. We named it Halaal which means pure,” she said.
Like always they had to face a fair share of criticism as chocolate lovers objected to the `Halaal’ word.
“Some people used to say, ‘do you mean other chocolates are haram’. It took us time to make people understand what the name signifies. Many people confused this name with Islamic thing. We just wanted to tell people that our products are pure and don’t contain any harmful ingredients,” she said.
The girls take pride in the fact that they have never used food color in chocolates. “Even if customers demands we deny. We use fruit pulp for coloring that makes our product Halaal. For the records, we have more non-Muslim customers than Muslims,” she said.
Starting a venture was not easy as finances were a big problem. Coming from middle-class families, the girls pooled their pocket money to start the venture.
“Initially we had some financial issues. We pooled our pocket money. We used to order ingredients from Australia and the shipping expenses and other taxes were so much that we hardly could get any profit. Alhamdulillah as the demand for our products increased, we started earning profits. Now we have hired more four more female workers”, said Farzana.
Such is the demand that the girls are getting eight orders per day. “We make more than 100 varieties of chocolates. These include sugar-free chocolates, dark chocolates, milk chocolates, white chocolates, and others. Some parents say that their kids are too small to eat hard chocolates, so we provide them soft chocolates with more quantity of milk,” she said.
Like other sectors, communication blockade hit their business hard last year. “Our business is online and in Kashmir, the internet is often suspended. It is very hard for us to reach out to the customers. Our business was hit last year when the internet was suspended in Kashmir after the abrogation of article 370”, said Farzana.
Pandemic dealt another blow to their business. “Due to pandemic, we suspended our business for at least one and a half months. Sundays are the days when we go for complete sanitization. We are very touchy about people`s well-being”, said Fouzia.