For Aparna Gorrepati, who has over 13 years of hands-on experience in the confectionery landscape – both in industrial and retail chocolate – setting up her Chocolate Studio named ZUCI Chocolates has been a dream come true. A first-generation woman entrepreneur with a deep-rooted passion for culinary arts since an early age, she inculcated deep domain knowledge and training in chocolate while learning and experimenting with diverse cuisines. Aparna now takes utmost pride in working with Master Chefs, completing her formal training at the Chocolate Academy, Belgium and the Ecole Nationale Superieure de Patisserie (ENSP), France. No wonder she outclasses as one of the leading chocolate experts in the country and the finest in her craft!
A True Fighter!
Establishing ZUCI wasn’t a piece of cake for Aparna! She faced a fair share of challenges and stumbles in the journey of becoming who she is today. ZUCI was established just a month before lockdown last year, and the pandemic hit it brutally in all forms. Despite being extremely disappointed with the happenings around, Aparna and her team of experts soared ahead with confidence vested in their products, skills, and opportunities laid ahead. They ensured that they focused on retaining the staff that they carefully handpicked and trained to meet their wavelengths on thoughts and skills, redrawing their business model from a walk-in driven to D2C model, and watching their costs and driving a frugal operation. Besides, Aparna’s pleasant personality and determination to never give up made her and her team create exclusive ZUCI experiences that invite customers to constantly visit, taste, enjoy, and come back for more. In short, she has stood-out in the confectionery landscape by developing a palette for chocolate!
Despite some considering her works as an expensive hobby, Aparna worked extremely hard to lay the foundation for a stunning commercial establishment that brings Hyderabad the most unique, world-class gourmet chocolate experience, thereby relishing a fulfilling experience. On a more critical note, she believes that the COVID-19 pandemic has turned down businesses’ well-laid plans. She adds, “As much as one could have done a risk profiling with mitigating plans, this was completely unexpected in its impact. It has pushed leaders to think differently, question the assumptions, consumption patterns, and in many cases, the fundamental business models itself.”
Synonymous with Pure
Coming to the name – ZUCI, it is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Shuchi’, which means ‘PURE’. Synonymous with Pure, Aparna’s brainchild – ZUCI has been offering the purest products to its customers. The firm adheres to a strict policy of deploying the best ingredients sourced from across the world. ZUCI also strives to make as many ingredients as possible (pastes, dips, sauces & more) – in-house and free of preservatives. Besides, the produce is always ensured to be in small batches to offer the freshest of the products and nothing less to customers. At the backend of these products lies the usage of the best technology and equipment and world-class trained experts who assure to deliver premium quality and consistency in each product.
The portfolio of ZUCI includes the broadest range of truffles, bonbons, dragées, and many chocolate products, thereby outstanding as an Artisanal Chocolate Studio. The firm also extends its bracket to offering Artisanal bread with speciality and healthy bread, including sourdough, focaccia, and flavour infused bread, and one of the most extensive spread of desserts in Hyderabad, pleasing every palate and sweet tooth. To further ensure a wholesome experience, Aparna incorporated a flagship studio and café in Hyderabad, which holds the best food and beverages menu and ZUCI’s chocolates, desserts, and bread. Being recognised as the Best Restaurant of the Year and the Restauranteur of the Year 2021 by the Times of India Food and Nightlife Awards 2021 is a massive testament to ZUCI, which is undoubtedly the go-to chocolate and gifting place in Hyderabad and across for most people!
Learning is a continuous process of life! On a similar note, Aparna holds her share of important learnings in her journey. She learnt not to try to do everything by herself without adequately delegating. She says, “As a perfectionist in what I did, my bar of performance is very high. But over a period, I realised that doing things by myself did not allow me to focus on what is a priority, but often end up in crisis managing things”. Hence, she learnt the importance of building a good and trustworthy team that she can rely upon. The other lesson she learnt was to stop tolerating mediocre performance, which significantly impacted the quality of services or products at ZUCI. She realised that it is crucial to be compassionate and hold the team’s highest standards and expectations and not mix emotions with business.
Many times in the attempt to please the customers, Aparna understood that she and her team tried to be the best at everything but at times, lost sight of the core. It is critical to have that clear vision about the core of your business while you attempt to be the best at it – This was her biggest learning in the positioning brand ZUCI. On the other hand, she and her team wondered why not many customers were visiting them in the initial days, despite having the best products. Eventually, they figured out that they must chase the customer in terms of marketing, awareness, delivery, experience, and other factors and not expect the customers to chase them!
The Wall of Fame
Breathing in various lessons like these, Aparna grew into a successful leader over the years with significant accolades, patronage and success with ZUCI Chocolates. Some of her noteworthy milestones entail bagging multiple recognitions for ZUCI across many categories within a year of establishment, being a first-generation entrepreneur, overcoming the risks of starting ZUCI, and dabbling into unknown territories such as finance, marketing, business development, sales and others. She adds, “Making a mark as Hyderabad’s first and exclusive chocolatier, building the resilience to see through the tough first year, ability to retain our core talent, and building brand ZUCI to reflect our core values of Purity, Quality and Trustworthiness within a short period, are what I would consider as my achievements”.
Yet, Aparna considers the smiles of customers showing their satisfaction towards ZUCI’s products, testimonials on why they have liked those products, and being an integral part of their celebrations are some of the most satisfying moments in her journey so far.
Behind the Hard Work
Aparna’s working day usually starts with team huddles, product tasting, strategy discussions, reviewing the production schedules, and discussing and reviewing any special orders. Considering her multiple roles, the day transitions into more extended discussions on product innovation, R&D, talking to her stakeholders, and most importantly, ensuring to spend adequate time in customer interactions. Overall, she takes up the curator’s role of the ZUCI experience for every customer by overseeing every aspect of business – setting the menu, finalising the recipes, presentation of the products, and packaging.
Pressure is indeed a part of the responsibilities she has signed up for. Interacting with customers has always been a big stress reliever for Aparna. As she builds relationships with the customers, conversations go beyond the product, and she ends up knowing them better or learning something new. Additionally, she takes small breaks, even if it’s for a couple of hours when possible, and ensures spending quality time with her family. In a nutshell, she realised that it is best to internalise stress or pressure and find activities that can take her mind off to strike the work-life balance instead of just complaining about it.
Vesting great belief in her team, Aparna follows very high standards in hiring her people, emphasising skills, experience, potential, and most importantly, their attitude. Some of her key practices include ensuring every staff member is on the same wavelength of their values and objectives, infusing adequate autonomy in them to deliver their individual targets, building a culture of transparency and ability to give each other candid feedback, and above all, listening to each one of their ideas.
Chocolate – The Best of All Expressions!
Aparna is currently focused on expanding ZUCI’s product portfolio to entail a much wider range of chocolate and healthy options by heavily investing in R&D and marketing. She asserts, “Our objective is to be the destination chocolate place in all the markets that we operate in (in & beyond Hyderabad) and the gifting partner of choice – being able to customise, curate and being a part of everyone’s special occasions and celebrations. We believe in ‘Many emotions, One expression – Chocolate’ – that every occasion demands chocolate and we are the chosen one”. Moreover, she is also focused on educating Indian customers on the diverse variants and the USP of ZUCI’s products by breathing the motto – “Think Chocolate, Think ZUCI”.