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Kolkata sweets (Rosogolla, Sandesh, Khir etc.) will soon be
a sweet word for the cash-strapped West Bengal Government, which is setting up
a plant to produce Bengal’s best known sweetmeat. The plant will produce
traditional Bengali sweets. The Government hopes to tap into the sweetmeat
export market, especially for renowned rosogollas, which are dollops of casein
dipped in sugar syrup. West Bengal accounts for almost 50% of India’s Rs
1,600-crore sweetmeat market, but the state Government has so far failed to
capitalize on it. “We are in talks with the National Dairy
Research Institute to set up a factory. Once that is in place, the Government
can meet the entire requirement of casein for our sweetmeat industry, besides
producing sweets like rosogollas,” state animal husbandry minister Sri
Swapan Debnath. The Government plans to market tinned rosogollas with a special
emphasis on exports. The plant may also produce sandesh, another typical
Bengali sweetmeat of a drier variety. Other milk products will be sold in tetra
packs.

Though the Government
doesn’t have a presence in the sweetmeat sector, it markets an ice cream under
the brand of Metro Dairy. It also sells cheese, curd and butter milk under the
brand. The state’s sweetmeat industry, which is undergoing a technological transformation
to brace for competition from the confectionery and ice cream industries, wants
provision for an exclusive milk service for the sweetmeat industry. The state
produces almost 900,000 liters of milk every day. Often milk is thrown away in
the absence of adequate storage facility even though the sweetmeat industry
cries hoarse over its shortage. According to Rabindra Pal, secretary of the
West Bengal Sweetmeat Makers’ Association, they are forced to compromise on
quality because milk suppliers do not provide “adequate quantity or
desired quality”.

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The inimitable Bengali sweets have turned exotic
from the earlier days of the simple and bare sandesh, rasogolla, chamcham and a host of chhena goodies. Some prefer to think of
it as the first tentative steps of Bengali sweet makers, who annually do
business worth Rs 6,000 crore, towards ‘globalization’. Looking beyond
Bengal, the traditional, family-based industry is now talking of export markets
and patents—terms unheard of in the past. But before plotting their moves to
create an international market, or perhaps simultaneously, they are
concentrating on tapping a ready market in other parts of the country.

 

The new market reality has resulted in a change
in the character of Bengali sweets. Generally made of sweetened cottage cheese
(chhena),
reduced solidified milk (khoya), or flours of different cereals and pulses, the
delicacies now come with a blend of nuts, pistachio, rose water and cardamom.
Not just that, the enterprising sweet makers are adding a dash of some
internationally preferred flavors like black current, kiwi and strawberry to
the desi spread. Mr.  Rabindra Kumar
Paul, General Secretary of West Bengal Sweetmeat Makers’ Association and
Director of Hindustan Sweets: “Besides people of Asian origin, Americans and
Europeans are our potential customers. The new avatar of sweets will help in
effectively marketing the products and convince the overseas market of the
nutritional value of either a sandesh or a rasogolla compared to pastry, which is full of empty calories.”

 

K.C. Das, arguably the most popular brand of
Bengali sweets (particularly for its canned rasogollas), is also keen on
tapping this market, albeit more aggressively as is clear from its retail
spread—five shops in Kolkata, as many as nine in Bangalore and one shop in
Mysore. From a humble beginning in a tiny, obscure corner of Baghbazar in North
Kolkata way back in 1866, the rasogolla maker is now offering Golapi Pera,
Rosecream Peshwari, Sandesh Cake, Soya Roll, Keshar Dahi and Orange Dahi to
cater to contemporary palates.

 

So, would the fusion sweets mark the end of the
good ol’ mishti? A vehement no comes from the sweet makers. “We
have come up with items like Carrot Rasogolla, Soya Rasogolla,
Tulsi Rasogolla, and the responses have been overwhelming. It
doesn’t mean we have done away with the traditional sweets,” says Paul. The
next course Sweet makers are now taking steps to integrate traditional and
modern methods of production. K.C. Das is carrying on research at its southern
unit in Bangalore to improve the flavor of its prime product, the rasogolla
& sandesh.

 

The sweetmeat merchants of the state, grouped in
the”Paschim Banga Mistanna Byabasaee Samiti”, are considering patenting
all Bengali sweetmeats masse to “save not only our age-old
businesses, but also a part of the Bengali tradition.” They will meet
for a two-day convention-cum-workshop, to discuss the issue of patenting their
products and explore the possibility of imparting technological and
scientific training in their preparation. Discussions are also to be held on
the prospects of boosting sweetmeat exports. At least 40 varieties of
sweetmeats are made in West Bengal, some of which are available only in the
state. PBMBS officials said the art of making sweetmeats had been handed
down over generations. “As a result, most of us are hardly aware of
the science behind these preparations and do not know anything about the
health value, calorie content or protein or fat proportion in
these preparations,” PBMBS secretary Rabindra Pal said. Citing an
instance, he says, a moyra, or sweetmeat-maker, may not be aware of the
temperature at which he has been baking or steaming a particular preparation.
The proposed workshop will aim to impart training to moyras to make them aware of
the science behind the preparation of sweetmeats and increase their
awareness of technology. The Association of Food Scientist and
Technologists has joined hands with the PBMBS to impart training to the
moyras. Mr. Pal said Bengali sweetmeats have a great demand in European
and American markets where people import them as the know-how is
unavailable there. Export can be boosted if production was made more
technology oriented, he said. Mr. Pal said there was also a need to market
Bengali sweetmeats in a better way by capitalizing on its food value. He said
sweetmeats were six times healthier than ice-creams, which to be avoided by
people over 40. “But ice-cream companies sell more because of their
marketing tactics. They are trying to enter the mishti doi market in the
state,” he says. The country’s sweetmeat industry has a
total turnover of more than Rs 16 billion, of which West Bengal’s share is
45 per cent. There are at least 1, 00,000 sweetmeat shops employing about half
a million people in state, with retailers running most of the sweetmeat
business. 

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