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INTERVIEW

“We are in talks with PEs and VCs for growth”
Monday, 10 February, 2020, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Even as novel wellness food products enter the market, the entrepreneurs in the space are working rigorously to have a robust and scalable model that can disrupt existing markets. Companies are coming up with nutritive categories to address the newer consumption patterns of 'No gluten, sugar free & nil preservative products. This is where the  Bengaluru-based Impeccable Innovations has a product line-up of Sportify, which is a  gluten-free multigrain flour, D: Junk a smart choice of sugar-free chocolates, MereVala lime, chilly and mango pickles besides a cold pressed mustard oil trade marked as 'Terve'.   “We are on the path to ensure taste with good health which people across age groups appreciate. There is convenience and nutrition as we process our products that are researched and developed in-house to be safe with zero-pesticide residue, said Arnab Guha, founder director, Impeccable Innovations, in a freewheeling chat with Nandita Vijay. Excerpts: 
 
How do you view the current food processing scene in India?
The scene for food processing and primarily in the space of science-backed food products holds immense growth prospects. This industry not only requires fixed assets and capex but the support of an experienced food technologist. It is here companies like us make a big difference as the research cost is zero since its team is skilled to do it on its own. There is a huge interest as we do see unique novel products being much sought-after. Moreover, cutting edge technologies make a difference to the sector. Our product like the plant-based mock chicken which is free of gluten and soya is a case in point.
 
How did you come up with the name?
My career stints at Britannia, Heinz and Novozymes exposed me to innovation. Now an entrepreneur has no boundaries and is not restricted to work in silos. Having worked on varied roles across food technology  and biotechnology, the experience and expertise has been crucial for us. So Novozymes taught me to understand the fundamentals of science rather than thinking as a food technologist while manning a global project. Being a scientist and a leader provided a horizon on the capability needed to safeguard the technology from the competitors through patents  and to monetise the opportunity. This provided a perfect start to the throes of entrepreneurship and storm into the startup world to create our company.

What is the kind of research going into these products and which of these are your revenue generators?
Our intent is to develop nutrition infused with high fibre incorporating millets among other cereals, focussing on sugar-free and preservative nil products that are safe and healthy for consumers. The range comprises Sportify, D:Junk chocolates, MereVala Pickles and a cold pressed mustard oil trademarked 'Terve' which in Finnish means healthy.  Now Sportify which is our flagship brand entered the market around eight months ago, is doing well and a revenue generator. It is targeted at the section of population who are gluten-intolerant. The D:Junk and MereVala Pickles are still nascent in the market.

There has been immense interest shown for our products distributed at select stores at Whitefield in Bengaluru' apart from The Celiac Store, New Delhi and the NCR. Since information from a health benefit angle is key,  we have extensively embarked on product usage demonstrations to enable consumers comprehend the value of multigrain, gluten-free and sugar-free range that could support healthy lifestyles.

Hence the product research is intense. We are now gearing up to present another two products. One is the idli-dosa multigrain powder with no added preservatives which will be in the market by March end. Another is the development of mock meat which is a plant-based offering of vegetable protein that will hit the stores by June this year. We expect to earn considerable attention with these two products going by the inclination towards natural preservative-free and high quality ingredients. In the case of the idli-dosa powder all that one needs to do is to just mix water and keep it overnight to ferment naturally. These products will revolutionise the food offering in the market space as bringing in the much-needed convenience but also the desired health and wellness benefits.

Now convincing retailers and consumers about our brand is a task in itself. The argument prevails as to why a person already using whole wheat atta or organic flour should shift towards our Sportify. This is where scientifically-backed information on labels will goad consumers to purchase. The social media platforms are also a critical marketing tool that evinces inquiries.

Throw light on your manufacturing facility.
Current manufacturing facility adheres to FSSAI norms and our evidence-based R&D revolves around product safety, quality and taste to woo  consumer attention. This production plant and R&D centre will now be relocated to an advanced facility in Whitefield, Bengaluru. This will allow us to focus on a wider food product category over time.

What is the kind of competition that the company encounters in the market?
There is competition in the gluten-free product space. However, we have taken a path where at the product demonstrations across outlets and public places, we are able to share the details along with the actual cooked products using the gluten-free multigrain flour. The benefits of Sportify is that it can be used by those with Celiac diseases and the general population to maintain good health and well being. The labelling too plays an intrinsic role to assure the consumers on the importance of the contents. The rationale for sale is based on as to why a person using organic wheat or whole wheat switch gluten-free flour. Here our role has been to substantiate the value of the gluten-free flour which is value-added with multigrains and enabled us to retain customers with their repeat purchases. Hence the consumer response is favourable.

What are the visible trends?
The world is looking for innovation that is affordable and accessible. It is here changing consumer preferences for gluten-free diets or food for the health-conscious ones are here to stay. From snacks to meals there is a demand for health-well being and for which consumers are willing to pay a price. For instance, at the Indian Science Congress, Bengaluru, where we garnered a huge interest for Sportify. Moreover, attractive packaging that are environment-friendly will intensify sales. Innovation and differentiation are creating new and healthy brands.

There is a push from millennial and children who decide on opting for healthy foods propelling the research and development across food processing startups to manufacture safe and tasty varieties.
 
What are the challenges encountered in this space?
There are issues of growth and recognition besides access to funds. We are bootstrapped yet now in talks with private equity (PEs) and venture capitalists (VCs) to support our next phase of growth. While government has funding options, these are all through contests and competitions for startups to convey their concepts based backed by valuable data on a successful product launch.
 
How receptive are VCs and PEs to fund a project like yours?
Our dialogues have begun. We have been constantly meeting investors at conferences and seminars to exchange views and gauge market potential for our products. Investors are keen to fund but they look at faster gestation phase. It is a surge of entrepreneurship in the wellness food space with disruptive and futuristic ideas, which investors are closely watching to assess the future performance in the market. We are also on the radar of VCs and PEs as they comprehend the dynamics of our research and business plan.
 
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