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Lavanya Bahuguna


Manipur’s Zeinorin On Making Spicy Chocolates And Entrepreneurial Ideas That Uplift Communities

  • IWB Post
  •  October 30, 2019

Woman Up Summit 2019 introduced many phenomenal changemakers from across India during a two-day session. IWB couldn’t resist meeting some of these revolutionaries personally who, irrespective of their social status and financial influence, are working hard to ferociously bring about positive change in the society. From working towards bettering women’s position in our communities to making deprived ones financially stronger, the stories of these change-makers are definitely worth celebrating!

In case you, too, are wondering how the state of Manipur that doesn’t grow its own cocoa is able to gradually emerge as a promising chocolate maker, meet Zeinorin Stephen Angkang and Leiyolan Vashum from Ukhrul. These two friends are the happy founders of a brand called Hill Wild that was established in 2017.

A happy place for us. – Alan and Zeino

242 Likes, 1 Comments – Hill Wild (@hillwild) on Instagram: “A happy place for us. – Alan and Zeino”

This small company, which initially operated from their home kitchens, took no time to catch the attention of chocolate lovers across India because of its unique flavors. From local pumpkin seeds to Nagaland’s Bhut Jolokia (world’s spiciest chilli), Zeinorin and Leiyolan use unusual ingredients to come up with exceptional chocolate recipes.

Kynmaw Shillong. 🏞️

119 Likes, 0 Comments – Hill Wild (@hillwild) on Instagram: “Kynmaw Shillong. 🏞️”

IWB met Zeinorin at the Woman Up! Summit to indulge ourselves in a sweet conversation, coated with her memories from the initial days of being an entrepreneur at Hill Wild. Excerpts below:

Why is making handmade artisanal chocolates so important to you?

Hill Wild, when started, had two things as its vision. First, to use Manipur’s natural produce as the main components in recipes. Second, to approach the holistic way of working in order to build a local community that would empower our district’s farmers and vendors. Therefore, being able to make chocolates looks like a brilliant consequence that organically emerged out of this mission.

Talk a little more about the work ethics at Hill Wild.

We follow the Holistic approach at work that makes sure there is a healthy and harmonious relationship between the employer and the employee. It only happens when we choose a mode of work that ensures the staff are well supported and can work productively. In our case, we’re only producing and marketing natural agricultural products and not the industrially processed food, thereby, supporting local farmers. Today, we’re fortunate to look after and nurture 25 farmer groups who we buy the raw materials from. As a food processing company, we’re like a direct market for them.

Ngashanngam – Our first found and now our factory manager. A precious gem for us. Hill Wild family is about building and growing together.

145 Likes, 1 Comments – Hill Wild (@hillwild) on Instagram: “Ngashanngam – Our first found and now our factory manager. A precious gem for us. Hill Wild family…”

Meet Nimshimwon, our star employee and inspiration 🌟 She juggles between graduation, household chores, work and partly supporting her family financially. Some women slog and sweat and strive to do better because they believe in a better future. Here’s to possibilities. Here’s to building Nimshim’s dream. Happy Women’s Day to every one out there 💖

179 Likes, 4 Comments – Hill Wild (@hillwild) on Instagram: “Meet Nimshimwon, our star employee and inspiration 🌟 She juggles between graduation, household…”

We sense a very progressive childhood upbringing behind a mind like yours. Is that so?

You can definitely credit my parents for they taught me and my sisters how to work closely in a human community and at that, not hurt the Mother Nature. As a child, we were taught making soaps, shoe polish, body scrubs, candles, chocolates, etc. We even managed a kitchen garden in our backyard where the kids were encouraged to grow seasonal vegetables and fruits.

I’m sure you’ve noticed that, in a majority of North-Eastern communities, women are equally strong (mentally and physically). Especially on the Eastern side of the Himalayas, you see many women-led businesses. It is because, as girls, we are taught to live an independent life from our early school days.

How did Hill Wild come to life two years ago?

Leiyolan and I did some study before getting our hands dirty in the chocolate syrup. We visited Ooty’s famous chocolate factories, read innumerable books in the libraries, and watched documentaries on the internet to understand the functioning as much as possible. Later, a good friend of mine, who’s a professional Chef, taught me the basics of chocolate making.

Perks of being in Ukhrul is enjoying all the seasons to the fullest. Today morning, it’s drizzling. From the window, we can see cherry trees bursting out its blossoms. Spring is surely coming and cold days are getting over soon. We’ll enjoy this bar for now. #weatherupdate Pic by @kahorpamhoram

142 Likes, 1 Comments – Hill Wild (@hillwild) on Instagram: “Perks of being in Ukhrul is enjoying all the seasons to the fullest. Today morning, it’s…”

Once we thought we were through with the knowledge, my partner and I invested Rs. 1000 each to get the raw material and try some chocolate recipes at our kitchens. It was only when we thought we could take it forward, we pitched the idea to ‘Start-up Manipur’ and received funding of Rs. 20 lac.

Did the trials go well?

To test our recipes, we distributed samples amongst our family and friends who suggested us how to balance the sweetness and pepperiness in our recipes. I’m really thankful for being surrounded by people who believe in supporting and giving feedback with honesty in their hearts.

Celebrate ordinary things in life 😉 How are you all? Happy new year, better late than never😆

131 Likes, 2 Comments – Hill Wild (@hillwild) on Instagram: “Celebrate ordinary things in life 😉 How are you all? Happy new year, better late than never😆”

Talking about the pepperiness in your chocolates, how popular are these bizarre combinations among your customers?

They are our number one selling items! So, while the common ingredients like cocoa beans, sugar, vanilla, milk remain the same, we’ve also tried some unique blends that might not really make your chocolate taste sweet but add a dash of spicy zing to it to play with your taste buds. For example, we’ve got a range of chocolates that incorporate the locally sourced North Eastern ingredients such as roasted pumpkin seeds, hodgsonia, plum wine, and even the famous Naga King Chilli (Bhut Jolokia).

Apparently, Bhut Jolokia is the spiciest chilli in the world! Right?

You’re right. Our ‘King Chili Chocolate’ is a bar of artisanal chocolate which is a combination of chilli and chocolate. When you eat it, the explosion of flavour will first take you on a sweeter ride followed by a tingling spicy sensation. The king chilli flavour is not overpowering at all and hence, mildly leaves a sense of heat on the tip of the tongue. If you are a chocolate lover and want to try something very different, this one is for you.

Togetherness. We love King Chilly. The heat, The smell, The sensation! A calling of somewhere I belong. #kingchillychocolate #artisanchocolate

170 Likes, 14 Comments – Hill Wild (@hillwild) on Instagram: “Togetherness. We love King Chilly. The heat, The smell, The sensation! A calling of somewhere I…”

Talking about the marketing of the brand, what strategy do you apply to spread the word about your business? 

We didn’t do any sort of marketing in the beginning. In Manipur and the adjacent states of North East, it was solely a ‘word of mouth’ type of publicity that did wonders for us. However, it is only now that the media have started noticing our efforts and helping us reach the other side of the market.

Other than this, our second initiative called #MadeInUkhrul, a kind of farmer’s market, displaying and selling locally made items, is helping us spread awareness and increase our network. It is a mini-trade fair that started in 2017 with an objective of promoting sustainable enterprises in the district.

What difficulties do you face in running a start-up that has turned so popular today?

Being popular means handling high demand and working efficiently. You’re not allowed to make mistakes at this stage. Since we don’t have any cocoa produce in Manipur, there are circumstances where we wait for days for our trucks carrying the beans to reach Ukhrul on time. Also, when the weather is not supportive in the mountains, we face a shortage of local fruits and nuts. Since we use only natural raw materials and no food chemicals in our products, situations like these slow down the production process which consequently harms the delivery system.

We recently talked about ukhrul plums. We bottled some for wine and left some for dehydrating soaked in salt brine. No preservatives. Fancy an infusion with dehydrated plum? More details coming soon. #lifeinukhrul

129 Likes, 0 Comments – Hill Wild (@hillwild) on Instagram: “We recently talked about ukhrul plums. We bottled some for wine and left some for dehydrating…”

We’re sure such delays temporarily discontinue the income of the farmer groups, as well. What do they do in such situation?

It’s true but we, at Hill Wild, have come up with a solution recently. We’ve decided to dedicate a certain amount of money towards funding a few side businesses these farmers have tried their hands at to get a side earning. This includes making baskets, toys, peeling vegetables, and doing the work of packaging for us and other similar enterprises. The seed funding from our side helps them stay financially strong during the months of slow business.

What tips do you have for trades which sprang from home and now aspire to mark their presence nationally?

If you are sure that your work ethics are adding value to society, have confidence that you’re on the right track. In this case, you can attend the govt. conferences and apply for funds meant for start ups. You’ll be surprised to see the schemes that the Indian government has in store for the SMEs.

Lastly, what’s in future for Hill Wild?

A Chocolate Factory, what else? Both Leiyolan and I are keen on opening a space that promotes cocoa plantation and at the same time, attract interested travellers in Ukhrul. We’re confident that it will bring in more tourism related employment to our state.

Hill Wild has brought a massive change in the way Ukhrul’s local economy was running before its existence. By supporting resident farmers and helping them make better business links, the company has tremendously contributed towards revolutionising the livelihoods and making a majority of businesses fully sustainable.                                                                                

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