Mother knows best, of course. And, when it comes to food, there really cannot be a second opinion.
Somey Samuel always felt there was something missing in the chicken tikka masala she got in the UK, where it is the national dish. Her love for food prompted her to spice up delicacies, adding variety to already Westernised Indian food. Today, Somey’s Kitchen has made a name for itself in the UK market and has forayed into India.
India has a large base of young professionals who hardly find time for traditional cooking. That’s where kitchens serving home-style food come in with recipes garnished with mother’s expertise. Having realised the power of their cooking, moms are taking on the food industry, creating brands with their healthy and hygienic food. The shift towards better eating is laying the foundation of successful small and medium businesses in India which women, mostly mothers, are handling successfully.
According to a report by TechSci Research, ready-to-eat (RTE) food market in the country is projected to grow at a CAGR of around 22 per cent in the 2014-19 period. Pushing this growth are increasing working population, growing per capita disposable income, rising per capita expenditure on prepared food, more middle-class and affluent consumers, among others.
The increased trend of buying home-made style, ready to eat food is becoming popular as couples and bachelors, after putting long hours at work, need food in the shortest possible time.
Somey’s dream got a push from her daughter Sandy Samuel Jerome and son-in-law Joel Jerome who together started Somey’s Kitchen. “The UK loves our chapatti and roti. Somey’s Kitchen made organic and gluten-free food for them,” says Sandy, CEO and co-founder of the start-up. Joel is the founder-chairman of the venture. They capitalised on their success with ready-to-eat speciality food in the UK and brought Somey’s Kitchen to India, she adds.
Asked about the choice of business, Sandy explains, “We saw the need for unique, speciality, healthy and great tasting food in the market. There are so many consumers who do not have time to cook, yet want to eat healthy and home-made food.
“When we started Somey’s Kitchen in the UK, we saw a big gap in the Indian cuisine. There was a need for something new to spice up meals and bring in variety,” she adds.
Neeti Sarin, mother of two, founded Tiffin’s Etc in 1990. She caters to kids, a section she calls the “toughest to please”. “My children would take food packed at 6 am and eat it five hours later. The food would be cold and unappetising by then. I knew this was a problem for other parents too and sensed an opportunity for hot home-style cooked meals at schools,” she says.
Her company ties up with schools and provides food that meets children’s nutritional requirements on campus. “Many a time, children skip breakfast/lunch and instead buy junk from the school tuck shop or eat at canteens that cook unhygienic food. I decided to get children to build a healthy relationship with food. Keeping nutrition at the core, I came up with a service that would deliver home-cooked, well-balanced meals to children at school,” says Sarin. She has also served her food to Michelin chefs, Prince Charles and the Dalai Lama who praised its quality as well as taste.
Passionate about cooking, Arpita Dutta Gupta wanted to take it further. Since 2017, she, along with her husband and son, has been delivering “Mom’s Food” in Bengaluru.
“We cater to corporate employees and students at a very reasonable rate. We also have families ordering food early and pick up the meals from our premises. Today, Mom’s Food is spread across HSR Layout, BTM and Kormangala,” she says.
“It is just the beginning and we are putting lots of efforts in spreading our taste, which is the biggest challenge. Social media is coming handy and enabling us to do the marketing of Mom’s Food,” says Gupta. “Lot of efforts have been put in to market the brand name. From distributing flyers, to relying on word of mouth to gaining customers on social media, we did it all without outsourcing any part. We don’t have any website, or any mobile app. WhatsApp is only our mode of communication for taking orders,” she adds.
Food manufacturing industry is completely different from others for reason that the products here are consumed, not simply worn or kept away in a bag or applied superficially. There are details to be taken care of, like safety, allergens, best-before dates. A small mistake can be fatal. But then, mothers know exactly how to serve safe food. According to Sandy, the biggest challenge is to make the food tasty, healthy at the same time while keeping note of safety standards under the guidelines of Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). “The safety element makes food industry very sensitive. People consume these products so they have to be clean, healthy and tasty. As a mother, I want to give healthy food to my children and family. But there is a big difference in producing a speciality dish at home and then taking it to the industry level. The taste will not be the same as it’s not made with your kitchen utensils but with industry machinery. Bridging that gap so the taste and quality remain close to homemade is always a challenge.”
She adds that it requires a lot of research and development, process alterations and machineries customised to requirements. “Our aim is to safeguard quality, bring homemade humble product to suit industry and market standards,” she says.
For Gupta, the challenge lies in the form of delivery to 30-plus customers that she has now, along with the multi cuisine menu. “As we are adding new customers daily delivery is the another challenge for us. My husband delivers the meals to everyone personally and that has to be on time. And it’s also tough maintaining our rule of variety every day. We are known for variety and we always have something new to offer on our daily combos, so we make sure we never run out of variety. We all do the brainstorming. Sometimes customers also have certain demands, thus we have to cook accordingly.” Now she plans to operate her tiffin business along with a home cafe.
Innovating to excel
Changing lifestyles and increasing inward and outward tourism have also compelled innovations in food menus. The new trend is “Free-From” category where foods have to be free from dairy and gluten. About 29 per cent of the total Indian population over the age of 15 years is vegetarian. Also, customers are shifting to fusion foods and healthy eating regime which includes low carb, lacto-vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free diets. “We’re constantly working on catering to varied tastes and preferences. Further, we have product offerings under gluten-free, dairy-free, organic, without preservatives and allergen-free products that cater to a wider section of consumers, as these are a few areas that have seen growing consumer demand. Having a product range that is versatile enough across such mentioned adds to our success,” says Sandy.
The health-conscious segment caters to about five million people in the top six Indian cities – Chennai, Bengaluru, Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Pune. According to Indian Food Services Trends, this segment is also growing at a pace of 10 to 15 per cent annually and has reached a market size of Rs 125 billion in 2016.
How to do great business
Success comes along if you know what you are doing with a proper plan, says Sandy, while emphasising on the role and importance of management, funding, marketing and advertising in turning a business into a success.
The first hack towards success is the idea itself, with confirmation on the market needs or the problem one aims to solve. Ideas are great but if they do not solve a problem or meet any need of the consumer, they are prone to failure.
Finance is the next step. This is where over 90 per cent of start-ups fail in the very first year as any business needs constant funding at different stages.
That which refuses to change stagnates. The third important aspect is the ability to remain agile and learn from the market to make changes to services or products. One needs to be ready to make changes to plans and strategies in accordance with the feedback so that the business stays aligned to market needs.
Successful visionaries may not necessarily make good leaders. It is another skill that will help take the idea towards execution. It is important to manage a team, have strong financial control process in place so one invests in places where the return is high, especially during early stages when the funding is always lean. Overall management plays a key role in making a start-up business successful.
How and when you market and advertise for your product is a determining factor of success. Both these aspects help make business successful in minimum budget. One must choose the right channel to market any product or service to make it effective.
Working with children, known to be the fussy eaters, is a totally different experience, Sarin points out.
Her mantra for success is innovation. “When your customers eat your food for close to 14 years, even the best foods will get boring if not modified. Keep tweaking the menus, keep adding a few new recipes every month,” she says.
She also vouches by commitment to quality, training and feedback. “In this industry, it is very easy to save a few bucks by buying cheap ingredients and then trying to camouflage the poor flavours with spices. However, the best tasting food comes from best ingredients and one will find it easier to grow in a competitive industry if one embraces quality,” she says. Another important recipe for success is training, Sarin points out. “The key people should be provided the right training so that tastes can be standardised. Last but not the least, try to keep a strong and active feedback mechanism in place. There will be days when your clients do not like your service. Act immediately and nullify such issues in future,” she says, adding that attention to such details has brought success to Tiffin’s Etc.
Gupta feels that for a successful food business, the first rule is to be responsive and ensure on-time delivery. “I was a home science student and that helped me acquire knowledge on food and nutrition. You have to be customer friendly and cook according to their needs. I make sure to use minimal oil and cook as per their likes and dislikes. Branding and business through social media also enabled us to reach more people, providing ease of doing business,” she adds.
However, everything begins and ends with customers. “If you want to be successful, know your audience,” says Sarin.