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INTERVIEW

“We are in discussions to raise large round of capital”
Monday, 03 January, 2022, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Indian households are strapped for time and are looking for simple to cook options. This is where liquid masalas and Moi Soi Oriental sauces are positioned to garner the much needed positive response, said Deb Mukherjee, founder & CEO; Jagmandeep Singh, co-founder & CBO; and Amit Mange, co-founder & COO, Ceres Foods, in an email interaction with Nandita Vijay. Excerpts:

How would you describe the scene and prospects for growth of the ready-to-eat segment of the food processing industry?
The ready-to-cook is showing high growth rates. This relatively new segment has grown at a CAGR of 15-20% and 2019-24 outlook is of 20%, and estimated to achieve an annual revenue of Rs 70 billion by 2024.

This trend is certainly going to stay, powered by the fast-paced lifestyles, health concerns and the urge to prepare dishes at home. With Ceres Liquid Masalas we are not just targeting the ready-to-cook market segment but a much larger masala market that is almost 20x the size of the ready-to-cook segment. Customers have evolved in the last 10 years and are looking for home cooked food options of authentic taste. Here Ceres Liquid Masalas and Moi Soi oriental sauces are geared to deliver just that.

In your opinion what are the visible trends of bringing restaurant cooking into the household?
The India ready-to-cook market has been indicating positive growth. There seems to be no ebbing this trend. Rather the pandemic has been a further trigger to this segment. Authenticity of the cuisine while simplifying the cooking process by making it fast and  convenient are the visible trends.

In this ongoing pandemic, how has the competitive landscape of the company changed and what challenges were encountered during the phase of the national and global lockdowns?
It is a sort of irony that Ceres Foods has experienced enhanced sales during the pandemic. With consumers locked down into their homes and travel restrictions, going to restaurant was a no no. However the desire to savour restaurant food was never locked down, rather it  flared up. Our ready-to-cook products: Liquid Masalas and Moi Soi Oriental sauces have been in high demand.

Moi Soi offers restaurant style food prepared at home. Our aggregators experience stock outs and have urged us to scale up production. Even in the hospitality space, we are seeing significant surge. Due to pandemic it is becoming increasingly difficult for hotels and restaurants to retain staff. Many who left for their hometowns have not returned or have been out of action due to the virus. Here Moi Soi products are cost-effective, easy to deploy, safe and offer excellent dining experience.

How is your company faring in the D2C space and what is your competitive edge?
We are currently offering 13 product SKUs, with another 8 products due for launch in the coming months. From the traditional Indian cuisines with four Instant Liquid Masalas viz. Nalli – Nihari, Laal Maas, Kosha Mangsho (Bengali Mutton Curry) and Mustard Fish, to oriental cuisine with 9 Oriental Stir Fry Sauces viz. Black Pepper, Black Bean, Kung Pao, Hot Garlic, Szechuan, Manchurian, Sapo, Sichuan Chilli Oil and Asian Chilli Mix, we are looking to bring authentic restaurant style cooking to home kitchens. We will further augment our offerings with more variants of traditional Indian Curries and Ready Asian Curries, which no one else is offering in the market. Soya Sauce, various types of vinegars etc., coming from Moi Soi brand, which will soon become a one-stop shop for the consumer. We are a direct to consumer and digital first company. Moi Soi, a Ceres Foods brand, is rapidly scaling up with online partners to make its products available in multiple cities and towns.  

Most companies operating in this segment, offer a product range that is 70 to 80 per cent overlapping. We differentiate ourselves from the competition with product innovation where   taste and quality have no compromise.

How many products are in the market? Is it the instant liquid, cutlets and shots and which of these are the fastest growing?
All 13 of our current offerings are well accepted. Many a time, our distributors run on low inventory owing to high demand. One of the advantages of offering ‘complete’ and ‘authentic’ product consistently is that somewhere the consumer realises that this is an honest brand. This has definitely been a key factor which gives us the confidence that other products launched under the Moi Soi brand name will be well accepted.

The oriental products under Moi Soi have been a big hit. All that one needs to do is to add main ingredients to it and follow the instructions in the ‘Little Moi Soi Cookbook’. Our liquid masalas are averaging around 10,000 packets a month in retail with a projection to achieve  100,000 units in 6 months.

Where is your production facility and would want you to spell out the details of the same or have you opted for contract manufacturing?
Our production facilities are world-class adhering to the stringent global standards. Our   total available capacity is approx. 40 MT / day across various product categories. We work with three factories at Mumbai, Bengaluru, and Nagpur.

We follow a farm to factory model. Our sourcing ensures quality at the entry levels where best quality ingredients are sourced directly from the farmers/producers. A case in the point being our Moi Soi range that uses a lot of authentic ingredients imported from Asian countries. Similarly for Ceres Instant Liquid Masala range like the Laal Maas the essential ingredient is authentic Mathania chilies procured directly from Mathania in Rajasthan.

Throw some light on the food research in your company and what are the developments on that front?

Our research driven approach ensures that we bring products to the market that the consumer would want to use. Our research team is focussed not only on the taste and the ease of execution but on bringing healthier options. All our products do not require any additional oil. We have multiple development work ongoing across various categories.

Detail us on the digital first distribution in place.
Our products are already selling well on leading online aggregators viz. Flipkart Groceries, Amazon, BigBasket, Supr Daily, Jio Mart and Ceres’s own website. We are also getting into an omnichannel distribution. We will increase product penetration via offline retail formats the process of distributors for individual territories is already underway. Moi Soi products will soon be available through offline channels as well viz. retail chains, mom and pop stores, select meat shops.

Moi Soi is a big hit across consumers. Ceres Liquid Masalas are fully equipped to deliver the final dish and follow the instructions in the ‘Little Moi Soi Cookbook’. We are averaging around 10,000 packets a month in retail with a projection of hitting 100,000 units in 6 months.

Going forward what are the expansion plans envisaged?
Our expansion plans are 3 pronged: Product range, Online availability and Offline geographical availability covering India and overseas. We are available across 75 general/modern trade stores in Mumbai, Pune and growing on daily basis. We have  appointed distributors in Goa, Delhi/NCR, and talks are on with partners in Kolkata and Bengaluru. Internationally, we are in advanced discussions with distributors in Singapore, MENA, US and Canada.

How are PEs and VCs receptive to food processing companies in the D2C space?
Consumer packaged goods as a sector is poised for a significant growth. Several companies like us are exploring D2C and also omnichannel. The idea is to establish the brand in the mid of the consumer. PE and VCs have strong interest in this category and although being currently bootstrapped, we are in discussions to raise a large round of capital early next year.
 
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