Thinking about being a food entrepreneur? Here’s advice from the founders of two young start-ups

Tanul Mishra and Shipra Bhansali, of eatelish.com; and The Temperamental Chef’s Srishti Handa on the importance of packaging, on the downsides of perfectionism and the highs of being in the food business.

By: Team Express FoodIE | New Delhi | Published:March 7, 2016 4:33 pm
Kondattam Molagu (sun-dried curd chillis, from Kerala; Malabar Biryani masala; and handcrafted teas, coconut macaroons and jeera butter biscuits from venerable Mumbai bakeries. (Photo: Eatelish.com) Kondattam Molagu (sun-dried curd chillis, from Kerala; Malabar Biryani masala; and handcrafted teas, coconut macaroons and jeera butter biscuits from venerable Mumbai bakeries. (Photo: Eatelish.com)

What’s common between Agra ka Daal Moth, chammanthi podi, and puliodharai? Well, apart from the fact you’d want to have all of these simultaneously, they are also part of Eatelish’s product portfolio. Eatelish was started by Tanul Mishra and Shipra Bhansali in 2014. Mishra and Bhansali, who were formerly colleagues at a mobile start-up, figured that, like them, there would be a lot of people across the country who pine for iconic regional delicacies. And, so, they embarked on a journey across the country, meeting artisanal food makers and building bonds. Soon, eatelish.com was born. The website today has over 50 products (some of these are seasonal) sourced from suppliers across the country. Eatelish’s products are also available on the likes of bigbasket.com.

Tanul Mishra & Shipra Bhansali, eatelish.com
* A little after we started out, we procured these pedas from Jodhpur. They are just called pedas, but they are different from every other peda you’ve had. And, we bought a lot of them only to have it hammered into our heads that India is a large country, and shelf-life is different in each state. The pedas, which last for a long time, about three months, in Jodhpur, didn’t last more than a week in Mumbai, and had fungus all over them.

* We like social media, we are on it, but does it translate into sales for a young start-up? Not really. Instead of spending money on social media marketing, the wiser thing to do is to participate in events in which you have a better chance of furthering your brand and selling your products.

* Packaging will play a huge role in how your products are perceived and sold. We are not just talking about design, or the colours you use, but the materials used in packaging are also important. We made the mistake of packaging our red chilli pickle in glass jars. It looked nice, but there was no way to stop the oil from seeping out. So, we turned straight away to food-grade plastic for our pickles.

Mishra (left) and Bhansali started Eatelish to bring regional Indian delicacies under one virtual roof. (Photo: Eatelish.com) Mishra (left) and Bhansali started Eatelish to bring regional Indian delicacies under one virtual roof. (Photo: Eatelish.com)

* You get a lot of opinions as you set out, both from your well-wishers and people in the know. It pays to listen to all sides, and then judge the situation for yourself. Retailers, for example, these guys know what they are talking about.

* Getting the right partners and vendors is important. People like Nature’s Basket, for example, have been with us every step of our journey. On our part, we, too, have been honest with our vendors. We pay upfront, especially since we source from artisans who can’t really afford to deliver and then wait for a couple of months for payment.

* Keep entry barriers low. At Eatelish, our range starts at Rs 85, and goes all the way up to Rs 1700. A low entry barrier helps because you don’t mind spend spending 80-odd bucks on, say, our Karuvepillai Saadam (Curry Leaf Rice mix), and if you like it, you are sure to soon pick up such as the East Indian Bottle Masala (Rs 265) and, perhaps, one of our Flavours of India boxes that has Lal Mirch ka Achaar, from Jharkand, and Pudina Sadam mix and Thengai Saadam mix, from Tamil Nadu.

Srishti Handa, The Temperamental Chef
Delhi-based Srishti Handa was never a big fan of paneer. But, when she gave up meat about four years ago, she realised that the only thing that seemed to land up on her plate, especially at parties, was paneer. And, she got tired of it. That’s, sort of, how The Temperamental Chef was born. The three-year-old start-up’s low-cal, premium, ready-to-cook vegetarian offerings cater to those who are looking beyond the ubiquitous fries and paneer tikkas. The Temperamental Chef’s creations include Mexican Bean Bolts Fajitas, Beet and Walnut Bites Bruschettas and, among others, Spinach Bolts. The products are available both at the likes of Foodhall and Nature’s Basket, as well as at online stores.

* Don’t start a food business. It’s incredibly tough. Just kidding, but if you really do, be prepared to go through a great grind. There are highs, of course, but mostly, it’s administrative work.

From L to R: Srishti Handa's The Temperamental Chef creates low-cal, premium edibles, perfect for parties or otherwise; a photo of Beet and Walnut Bites Bruschetta. (Photo: The Temperamental Chef) From L to R: Srishti Handa’s The Temperamental Chef creates low-cal, premium edibles, perfect for parties or otherwise; a photo of Beet and Walnut Bites Bruschetta. (Photo: The Temperamental Chef)

* Tweak. Tweak. Tweak. Especially if you are a young food company. When I started out, I had this great vision about how my product and brand should be, and what it should reflect. And, it was, mostly, my way or the highway when it came to the design for the packaging and the materials used. But sometime after launch, we did tweak the design and changed the material that was used to pack the food. At the moment, it is sealed in a pouch, as opposed to earlier when we used cardboard. It helped. Going back to the drawing board, so to speak, helps you go further.

* Listen to everybody. Both well-wishers and critics. And, then find a balance.

* We started out a couple of years ago with Balinese Bean Bites, a medley of black-eyed peas, peanuts and golden corn and ginger, among others. But if it were left to me and me alone, The Temperamental Chef would have never taken off. So, don’t be a perfectionist. Make sure you have created the best product possible and get it rolling.

* Don’t be carried away by what retailers say. At launch our products were priced higher than they are right now because we were assured of a good response. That wasn’t the case. Plus, the stuff they said would really sell received a lukewarm response. On the other hand, our Mushroom and Eggplant Bites, which most people were not too gung-ho about, is our best-seller.

* Temper your expectations. The days and weeks after our launch were not really pleasant. Our well-wishers wanted to know about the numbers and about why sales weren’t better than what they were. The point is, there is a gestational period. Everything takes time. Don’t expect miracles.

* If you are thinking of scaling up and are meeting people for the same, make sure the idea you have for your brand and its essence doesn’t get diluted.

* Is there a market for frozen, low-cal, premium vegetarian snacks? Well, there is certainly a niche. In India, you can buy both Marutis and Rolls-Royces. But, the thing is, until you find out for yourself, you’ll never know.