It would take a lot of will power for most people to pass up on good quality chocolate, and to make it even harder for you to stick to your diet, Hill Wild brings in the added excitement of unique flavours. Founded by two foodies from Manipur, Zeinorin Stephen and Leiyolan Vashum, Hill Wild products are getting a lot of attention online and offline for obvious reasons. We speak to Zeinorin to know more.
How did you find yourself, along with Leiyolan Vashum, wanting to venture into chocolate production?
I had this great friend of mine who taught me how to make chocolates while I was in Delhi and I totally loved it. I was in a transition period of wanting to move back to Manipur from Delhi to spend more time with parents, and I also wanted to start my own business.
When we first met, the first common love we had was for food. For me, I loved creating things and making a living out of it, and for Leiyolan, his interest for the betterment of our own community was pure. I think we knew that we both wanted to do something that works for the community and the company. With a lot of simple testing and sampling of products, our humble chocolate was born.
Your company puts a lot of emphasis on producing chocolates from organic locally sourced products. What is the objective behind that?
We both come from families where we have a lot of extended relatives who we take care of directly and indirectly, in the little ways we can. Somehow it’s a shared responsibility, and we share a strong belief in making a few lives better. Since we have focussed on using locally sourced products, we are constantly identifying nuts, gathering indigenous knowledge from the older generation and trying to incorporate the same in our products. It has been an amazing experience. It feels like their generation is handing down gems to us. We are happy that farmers, cultivators, forest foragers can improve their livelihood and showcase unique products through Hill Wild. Any producer/cultivator need to be aware of the balanced cultivation within the ecosystem they work in and that is what we aim to do.
What are the many difficulties that you face in your business, especially in Ukhrul, Manipur?
I have shared this with a few friends about how I started. I started with INR 2000 and made small batches and kept selling. In no time, I registered my company. In the beginning, the struggle started from inconsistent supply of seeds. There were times when we were bombarded with orders but our packaging got delayed and we missed out. Logistics was a core issue for us. When our company grew a bit bigger, we upgraded a few things. Everyone faces struggles but it is the duty of an entrepreneur to find a way. We have been finding solutions through this optimism.
I have never seen fancy food products being manufactured from my hometown, Ukhrul, and our company kind of take it as a challenge. Someone has got to start. We wanted to produce something that can win foodies over across India and put Ukhrul on the map. We are making chocolates now, but plan to keep introducing unique products and stand true to our company name; expect to see a lot more wild products from the hills!
Mashing pumpkin seeds with chocolate is uniquely original. Where did the idea from?
It’s a nostalgia thing. During monsoon, we usually roast pumpkin seeds to relish on it. People out the Northeast people may not have experienced it before so we thought it could be a palatable journey for Hill Wild
What are the various products that Hill Wild offers? Are you newly venturing into the frozen food line with artisan sausages?
Hill wild offers roasted pumpkin chocolates, ghost chilly chocolates, rum and raisins chocolates, hodgsonia (oil nut) chocolates. We also make artisanal sausages and cater to restaurant and events.
How have customers reacted all over the Northeast?
I think people love what Hill Wild is doing. We have received so many positive feedback and suggestions as well. In my little town, Hill Wild chocolates sells more than any other brand. We aspire to bring out the best without compromising on the quality.
Hill Wild has a goal to provide livelihood to the locals. How do you go about it?
We formed a farmer’s group where we have a list of products that Hill Wild needs and other entrepreneurs in the region need. Accordingly, they plant and supply to the various entities without any middleman. We created our own little ecosystem.
What does the future hold for Hill Wild?
It has big potential. That’s all I believe.
By Nandana Phatowali