The A - Z of baking supplies & where to find them

If you are a home baker in Chennai, you would have made several visits to NS Mani Distributors on Walltax Road by now. From cooking chocolate to canned and dried fruits, butter paper to wafer paper, fondant and fondant tools and even stand mixers, there's very little that a baker will not find on the shelves of this store.

The old address of NSMD

But first, a little history. 80 years ago, on December 1st, 1938, Mr. NS Mani set up a store selling "carbonic acid gas" (soda water in local parlance), imported synthetic food materials to make syrups, essences and ice creams, citric acid and saccharine. "Cool drinks" were popular thirst quenchers for the tropical heat of the city and business was good.

Sprinkles and seasonal decor

Around the 1990s, the soft drink segment was dominated by two cola manufacturers and the synthetic drinks market took a nosedive. Distributors like NS Mani diversified into the bakery business; they started catering (pun intended) to bakeries and cafes, supplying them with ingredients like margarine, cocoa powder and icing sugar. This was the time when many foreign companies set up shop in Chennai, expats took up residence in the city and there was huge demand for pasta and passata, black bean and hoisin sauces and of course breads.

Quite a range of sauces

NS Mani took up distributorship for Calpro bread mixes and soon enough, bakeries, both standalone and those attached to starred hotels were churning out specialty breads. Those were exciting times when mass-produced breads became less popular and words like ciabatta and focaccia rolled off everyone's tongues and everyone's shopping basket was filled with multigrain, Italian herb, seed breads and baguettes. Instant yeast and gluten became available and we could finally get around to experimenting on a variety of homemade bread. 

Glazes and cake decor

By 2005, the firm started stocking cooking chocolate, chocolate chips and home bakers started frequenting the store. The year 2013 saw dairy products like butter and cream cheese being added to the inventory. Also around this time, cake decorating tools from China flooded the market; you no longer had to bug friends and relatives going abroad to get you the much coveted fondant modelling tools, chocolate moulds or flower cutters - they were all there in the store!

Local & imported nuts and berries

Over the years, the variety of products kept increasing, keeping in tune with emerging market trends and while essences are still the mainstay of the business, the growing bakery and confectionery market saw newer products line the shelves.  It is one of the fastest growing industries in the world, recording a 16% growth, the benchmark being standards in Europe and Turkey.

Squashes, syrups & chocolate

Today, NS Mani's original shop has been converted into a supermarket model where customers choose items displayed on the shelves and have them billed at the counter. Quite different from the old days when one stood behind the counter and yelled out the shopping list to one of the harried staff.

Modelling tools and cutters

Food colours

From a shop selling essences and synthetic syrups, today, it's a treasure trove for any home baker looking for the Chefmaster range of food colours, sliced almonds and almost the complete range of products from Bakersville. You can even get edible photo prints done at the store.

Helpful staff

On a friend's recommendation, I first visited the store in the mid-1990s to pick up cake boxes, got sidetracked by the essences sold in 500 ml bottles (never seen such large bottles of essence). Soon, my shopping list at NS Mani Distributors grew longer and Mr. Mahesh, the present owner and grandson of Mr. NS Mani, would give me catalogues of the new products he was stocking. The store was a veritable Aladdin's cave and buying stuff at wholesale rates was an added incentive to shop there. If something was not stocked in the shop, they would make the customer wait while someone ran to the "godown" nearby to fetch it. Today, the godown has been converted into an office-cum-store from where larger orders to commercial establishments are dispatched.

Cupcake liners

Apart from starred hotels, cafes and restaurants located within the city, NS Mani Distributors, being a direct importer and distributor, has customers from Thoothukudi, Nagercoil, Kanyakumari, Pollachi and even the Andaman and Nicobar Islands! One of his oldest customers is Vijaylakshmi Bakers and Sweets from the Island.

Meeting the demand for essences

While many restaurants and businesses have opened and then shut shop for lack of patronage, it's good to see a store that has survived 80 years. Anticipating and meeting the needs of customers is the key here.

Reach N.S. Mani Distributors at
145 Walltax Road
Park Town
Chennai 600003.



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