- Indian consumers are changing how they eat and are interested in healthy and sustainable foods.
- According to reports, the healthy snacking market in India is expected to grow at a CAGR of around 20% between 2020 and 2025.
- Nirali Shah, a CA and M&A professional observed this trend and launched Protreat, a startup in the healthy snacking space.
- Here is her 7-month journey – decoding every step, from idea to product creation, packaging, marketing, and sales.
Idea: Healthy chocolate bar
Like most Indians, I have a sweet tooth and crave something sweet mostly chocolates now and then.
However, as my awareness of the health risks associated with refined sugar and preservatives grew, I couldn’t help but feel guilty with each bite.
I said to myself – Why can’t chocolates be healthy, tasty, and filling?
In early 2023, my sister-in-law, Pareena Lalchandani, a Certified Nutritionist, introduced me to an oats-based chocolate bar with no artificial sugar. It was one of the tastiest chocolates I had ever eaten
Sugar-free, natural ingredient products existed in the market, but few of them tasted good; the ones that did were often very costly. This also sparked a business idea.
I asked people in my network if they would consider eating healthy chocolate bars. Turns out many of them were looking for a healthy and organic snacking option.
When we found this market gap, it was a lightbulb moment. The D2C Food and beverage industry is projected and I was certain this was the space to be in.
Perfecting the Prototype
When I had the idea for a startup, it was exciting but I was not ready to quit my job and take the plunge into the unknown.
After all, it was still an idea and needed substantial investment to get to the prototype stage.
What now? I decided to develop the product, perfect it, and then jump into this wild path.
Product development is no easy task; pair it with a full-time Big 4 M&A job and you have the perfect recipe for a nerve-wracking lifestyle.
Over the weekends, my sister-in-law and I worked on perfecting the recipe for our chocolate bar. We mixed and matched ingredients, and grappled with communication hurdles since we were both in different cities.
We made one bold move – to use millets instead of oats. It tasted even better.
It took us around two to three months to perfect the product after wiggling through a lot of trial and error.
Three months later, we decided to share our delicious creation with our neighbours, friends, and relatives, and guess what? They loved it! The positive feedback came pouring in.
But here’s what pushed the idea into a tangible: my sister took some of these bars on an international trip along with other well-known brands. She conducted a blind taste test and Protreat won the taste-off!
It wasn’t just about being tasty; our bars were incredibly filling too.
We took the opportunity seriously.
In April 2023, I decided to pull off the ultimate career curveball and quit my job to dive headfirst into the world of Protreat.
Funding, production, packaging
Let us talk about funding first!
My husband and I put all our savings into the startup.
(IStarting a venture in this space can be done with 2-5 lakhs INR; you don’t necessarily need 10-30 lakhs right from the beginning. However, funding may become necessary as you grow over time.)
Instead of VC hopping and making pitch decks, we decided to bootstrap as we wanted to get our product ready and launch it in the market first.
The most challenging part… Finding a suitable manufacturer
In the beginning, we manufactured the product in our kitchen.
We figured out that producing a product for the masses would require a third-party manufacturer.
Finding a manufacturer that aligns with our product’s vision, and provides the best quality at a reasonable rate was a time-consuming process, to say the least.
For most of the manufacturing partners, the minimum order quantity (MOQ) was around 50,000 to 1 lakh bars. However, when you’re just starting, procuring such massive quantities is not feasible.
I visited numerous manufacturers, only to face rejection each time. It was a challenging experience for me.
Nevertheless, after much persistence and effort, we finally identified a suitable partner.
We subsequently launched our product in packaging choices of 20 and 10 units each.
For foods and beverages, or any product for that matter, the more attractive your packaging, the more sales you have.
First and foremost, the ‘WHY’ should be crystal clear; Why are we developing a product? It should be reflected in our packaging. Only then can consumers truly relate to us.
Again, it took us quite some time to find the right packaging partner and come up with a design that was within our budget and looked appealing.
We are currently seeking attractive packaging solutions for individual bars that will be distributed in retail stores.
After conducting a shelf life study for our product, we registered ourselves with the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) and obtained the license.
Only when you have met certain standards, you can apply for the license. You cannot sell the product commercially otherwise.
As of now, our chocolate bar has a shelf life of 5 months, but the shelf life study is an ongoing process.
Sales and Marketing Strategy
In our startup journey, the next steps are marketing and sales.
Our focus has been on social media marketing, through channels like Facebook and Instagram. The response has been very positive.
Subsequently, we observed organic growth in sales as people tried our product and recommended it.
We also keep our eyes open for customer experience and feedback. We regularly seek their feedback on not only the product but the entire purchasing process, from order placement to delivery. We have even incorporated a few of the feedback into product improvements.
In the initial stages, the majority of consumers for food and beverage products tend to purchase offline, typically from grocery stores or retail outlets like D-Mart.
That’s why we engaged in activities such as participating in retail stores and exhibitions to raise awareness about our product. People who tried our product at these events often placed orders on the spot.
Additionally, we’ve established partnerships with distributors and are actively seeking more distributors to expand our physical presence and availability.
Some of our sales partners and affiliates found it relatively easy to sell because the product practically sold itself.
Given the rise of online delivery, we are considering listing our product on platforms like Big Basket and Blinkit.
The reality of building a startup
I would be lying if I said we didn’t come across challenges. But that’s what being a startup founder is about. It also comes with learning.
- Coming from a finance background, Getting the hang of sales and marketing strategies was no walk in the park. We learned along the way. Adaptability is key.
- Finding the desired manufacturer and packaging solution was a very time-consuming process, and perhaps the biggest challenge for Protreat. Negotiating with the manufacturers was also difficult as I was new to this. Suddenly, financial spreadsheets were replaced with market research.
- Sales has always been another headscratcher for us. The more awareness you create the more sales it generates.
- It’s essential to maintain complete control over the supply chain. In the initial stages, you can collaborate with external vendors and third-party suppliers. However, in the long term, having control over your manufacturing facility, packaging, and delivery channels will not only enhance your profit margins but also ensure quality control.
So far, the journey has been very exciting.
I had to learn and unlearn a lot.
Overall, building a startup in this space could be challenging but at the same time, exciting.
If you too want to explore the same path, consider developing a product while working in your current job. This is what I have done and, in my opinion, is the best approach.
Currently, I am going through all the highs and lows as an entrepreneur. But to be fair there is nothing much you can do at the initial stage. All you have to do is carry on until you find a solution.
As a startup founder, one has to be patient to get the right reward.