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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Omani chocolatiers rally

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Ready to take their preservation of country's heritage and culture to the next level, the world.
Friday the 13th is most commonly associated with spooky traditions and stories of misfortune and gore; however, it also is famous for another significant product – chocolate, as it is the International Day of Chocolate. Let's place the spotlight on Oman and its very first chocolatiers.
Presenting, preserving and promoting Oman's heritage and culture through its sweets are the key aims behind Salma's Chocolates, http://salmaschocolates.com .  Run by Oman's first chocolatiers Salma and Aisha al Hajri, they aim to grow their business from a two-person start-up into a successful Omani brand.
Having set up the company two and half years ago, the pair make all the chocolates by hand themselves and source most of their ingredients locally in order to give their sweets an authentic Omani taste.
From zaatar (thyme) truffles and ginger chocolates to more modern mint and cheesecake creations, the principle of the company is to take traditional Omani desserts, give them a modern chocolate twist and present the taste of the Sultanate to Omanis and foreigners alike, according to Salma al Hajri.
She said, "We want to take Oman and present Oman through our chocolates. The name, the taste and even the packaging material will eventually come from Oman and represent our culture."
However, to take the company to the next level, the pair has embarked on a major marketing and presentation overhaul, working with local designer Dalida Abdulnour to change the packaging and branding to give it a fresh outlook.
According to Salma, "We had some idea of the business plan, company profile and mission statement, but we faced a lot of challenges as we were new to the business."
She added that a factor behind the growth from selling through word of mouth and working from home to setting up their own shop three months ago and having companies buy their chocolates is through self-improvement, training and research.
"We read and researched, and we also took some foreign courses. It is all part of investing in ourselves and our business. We were just beginners, but we have tried to be professional from the beginning," she said.
Aisha adds that preservation of traditional sweets is a way of keeping the Omani heritage and culture alive, by reintroducing the old sweets to the new generation. She said, "The new generation did not know about the old sweets and it took to chocolates like Mars. Slowly traditional Omani sweets started to vanish.  We use these traditional sweets in our chocolates, so when we introduce those sweets again with the chocolate, it is like they are reborn."
The old sweets used in the company's chocolates include a milk and cardamom dessert known as mahoo and a sweet coconut dish called halwa narjeel as well as date and halwa concoctions.
To help preserve the heritage of Omani sweets through their chocolates, Salma and Aisha source all their ingredients locally, with their honey coming from BidBid and Musannah and their thyme, lemons, dates and rose water are also from the Batinah region.
Although the company's Belgian chocolate is currently being imported from a European supplier, Salma added that the company is still in 'the stage where we are trying to build the supply chain' for all its local ingredients.
She added that although the company is looking to expand regionally and eventually sell in foreign markets like the UK and the US, the company's objective is to present and promote the Sultanate through its sweets.
"We can make enough money here, but it is not about money. It is about Oman. A box of chocolates can say a lot about a country," she said.
Salma's Chocolates  is located at Alazaiba next to Um Al Qra mosque in Muscat, Oman. Store hours are Saturday – Thursday, 9am – 10pm. Distribution to Australia is being discussed at the moment.
For more information regarding the Sultanate of Oman, visit www.omantourism.com.au
Video links:
Salma's Chocolates, http://youtu.be/6qXyLKJyhTA

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