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Vegan market is small, but growing: Kinjal Darukhanawala

DNA India | Updated: June 20, 2017, 07:20 AM IST

A passionate food blogger and promoter of a digital marketing agency ‘SpottOne Consulting’, Kinjal Darukhanawala caught fancy of vegan foods after noticing that hotels and restaurants had begun focusing on having a dedicated menu for patrons looking for vegan food. Though a niche market, people have opened up to the idea having good business potential in the coming years, she told Ashish K Tiwari. Over a telephonic conversation, the founder and chief executive officer of food start-up Wegan Foods speaks about the market and her plans to tap the vegan community in India and overseas.

You’ve raised funding from Sheikha Arwa Al Qassimi, a member of the royal family of Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah. How did you manage it?

We have a digital marketing company (SpottOne Consulting) that’s operational for the past eight years. Around five years ago, we were approached by her for some work and that’s how the first connection happened. She found us on Google as we are into search engine optimisation (SEO), social media marketing (SMM), etc. We have had a long-standing association with her highness and when we started this (Wegan Foods) venture earlier this year, she showed keen interest particularly since we were planning to create a women-centric organisation. That’s when she decided to get involved. Unfortunately, I will not be able to disclose funding details related to this transaction.

From digital marketing to vegan foods, that’s an interesting shift. Do you also have a background in food technology?

Personally, I don’t have a food technologist or a nutritionist background. However, I was always interested in food, nutrition and cooking and, have been blogging about vegetarian food for almost five years now. A year ago I turned dairy-free/vegan and realised that there is a real dearth of dairy-free products like cheese, yoghurt, etc in the market. I began experimenting in my kitchen and that’s when I thought that it was a good idea to venture in this business. Also, the vegan population is gradually increasing in Mumbai and other metros across the country but the products are not really available.

What’s the size of this vegan market you are targeting?

The vegan population is categorised people who are purely vegan (not consuming any kind of animal product), people who are dairy-free or lactose intolerant and those who are totally on a plant-based lifestyle. At this point, the numbers are too small at say around 15,000 to 20,000 only in Mumbai. I say this because a lot of hotels and restaurants, bakeries, etc are now promoting vegan menu and gluten-free options. Similarly, modern trade outlets like Nature’s Basket have started selling vegan products like almond milk, soy milk, etc. This is an indication that the market, though small, is growing.

What’s the current set up like for your company?

I am still experimenting on my own and have a team of two people helping me in this process. We will also have food technologists on board in the coming months. The funds raised will help us set up a 400 square feet commercial kitchen at Mahim as well as getting the FSSAI licence, regulatory approvals and other permissions for our foods venture. Thereafter, we will get into food tasting in restaurants to test the product across different styles of cooking like commercial kitchens and wood-fired ovens.

How many products are you planning and what’s the production capacity like?

Our kitchen is designed in a way to cater to a market requirement of around 100 kilogrammes per day. The shelf life for our first product – dairy-free cheese – is seven days because it’s preservative free at the moment. Once we scale up in other metros and have enough volumes, we will look at ways to increase the shelf-life to six months. So production at present will be ‘on demand’ i.e. after receiving the purchase order from the modern trade channel partners and food delivery apps that specialise in selling vegan products.

We have planned for enough growth but since there are no market benchmarks, we will increase production based on the market response. The commercial launch of our dairy-free cheese is scheduled for October this year post which we will also introduce other vegan products like milk, paneer alternatives, butter, yoghurt and other staples. Currently, a lot of research and development (R&D) is being done on creating products that do not contain soy or even tofu to give a variety of options to our customers. In fact, milk is our next product and a very challenging too because we are not creating a nut-based milk but using a formula that’s based on oats.

How are you going about pricing these products? Will the products be mainly targeted at hotels and restaurants?

The ingredients required for making these products are expensive so the products will definitely be sold at a premium of over 30% over the dairy-based products available in the market. In the business-to-business (b2b) segment, hotels and restaurants will definitely form our target customers. Having said that, we will have equal focus on the modern retail channel of distribution. Exports will also be part of our business model once we have reached a particular scale.

When will your next round of fund raise happen?

The money raised currently should be good for another six to eight months.

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