Market rewards Pune startup that is rewriting recipes for cookies using solar ovens

Kivu, co-founded by a dentist, offers vegan, gluten-free cookies that are prepared in solar ovens by rural women from Marathwada.

Dr. Minal Kabra

Their cookies are vegan, gluten-free, baked in solar ovens and prepared by a pair of rural women in Jalna district of Marathwada. Pune-based startup Kivu, which set out to tick ethical boxes with their product, finds itself riding the wave of conscious eating in the post-COVID society.

The founders, Vaibhav Dugar and Dr. Minal Kabra, had started with a self-investment of Rs 6 lakh, and the company recorded a turnover of Rs 33 lakh in 2020-21.

Vaibhav Dugar

The time that Kivu realised their product would do well was three months after they launched in December 2019. The first lockdown was announced — and their cookies flew off the shelves as the public went on a hoarding spree. “In the subsequent weeks, we saw a huge bump in our sales. People stopped going to retail stores because of fear. We used to be in the traditional retail space but, during the pandemic, we turned our main focus to online,” says Dugar.
A woman baking cookies.

They are present in 18 cities — 72 stores — as well as across online portals.

“As a dentist, I was concerned that the patients, especially children, from the cities as well as the rural areas of Maharashtra who had bad eating habits. Their sugar intake was high and I felt that this is because the children don’t have better options,” says Dr Kabra. Solar cooking was a tradition in their family and her husband, Vivek Kabra, an IIT Bombay alumnus, has created an advanced solar cooker for which he has applied for patent. “I used to make cookies for family functions, such as Diwali, and my husband encouraged me to turn it into a profession,” she says.

After almost four years of R&D, Dr Kabra and Dugar churned out their first commercial batch of cookies. Their range includes cinnamon cookies, ginger lemon cookies and rajgira coconut cookies. The solar ovens have baked 1,400 kg of cookies so far. “We use jowar, bajra and other natural ingredients. There are no artificial flavours and the beauty of the solar oven is that it keeps the natural taste intact so you can taste the ginger in the ginger lemon cookies. The cookies also retain the natural benefits of vitamins,” says Dr Kabra.

As India acquires a taste for healthy eating, Dugar adds that the market and opportunities are huge. “People are moving away from maida and dairy. It is the right time to be in this domain as consumers are very well read. But, the industry is also unorganised,” says Dugar.

Coming up is a line of savouries as well as more options in cookies.

“The cluster in Jalna was the pilot, and the intent is to create 10 such clusters in Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh, among others, by 2025,” says Dugar. The challenge for star cookies is sunshine — sometimes there isn’t enough of it. “During summer, we create larger batches so that we don’t fall short in monsoon,” adds Dr Kabra.

They have cracked the recipe, and the market is coming back for more.

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