For Sreejith Moolayil and Puru Gupta, founders of clean label breakfast and snacks start-up True Elements, it took four pivots before they really entered into their element!
Moolayil, an MBA from Symbiosis who had done stints with Tata Motors and Cognizant in the HR domain, teamed up with his wife’s cousin Gupta in 2011 to launch a start-up that set up kiosks offering healthy snacks and beverages in corporate offices.
“It was perhaps too early for its time,” says Moolayil.
From there, they pivoted into a distribution company supplying healthy products. The duo burnt a lot of money but ended up with lots of learnings. The next pivot was to a corporate wellness company called Healthy World but, while it did, well realisation dawned that “it was not a multi-million dollar business”.
Focus on foods
For good health, says Moolayil, fitness would be about 20 per cent while the foods we consume would contribute about 80 per cent. Hence, the two were very clear that they needed to work in a foods business. “We pivoted Healthy World into a marketplace of health food. And that’s where we started thinking about our own brand.”
True Elements was thus born in 2017.
The positioning of the brand was clear; it would be a certified clean label with 100 per cent whole grain, and focussed sharply on health.
Moolayil says two things had made that positioning razor sharp. One was his China stint. “The Chinese really take care of their health, eating healthy,” he observes. The second was personal tragedies — the loss of close relatives to lifestyle diseases.
Despite the positioning, with a plethora of D2C brands in foods and several in healthy foods, isn’t the market getting too competitive?
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Moolayil feels you can create new opportunities in packaged foods, especially if you keep ingredients clean and close to home-made.
For instance, he points out how dosa/idli has become a pan-India breakfast now. But while wet batter is closest to home-made, a small family may not have the need for one kg batter (which needs to be consumed in two days). So, consumers buy instant dosa mixes which use both baking powder and vegetable fat. Was there a way to create a mix without using this? The solution was to use lotus seeds as a raising agent. Thus, the True Elements multigrain dosa mix was born.
Most of the products created by True Elements come from consumer insights. Moolayil points out how they observed that oats were consumed more in Kerala in the evening versus in the morning in the rest of India. “Being a Malayalee, I knew people eat kanji in the evening and launched an Oats Kanji with chammanthi and veggies.”
There are challenges, undoubtedly. The perception remains that health food tends to be costly.
“We don’t want True Elements to be a premium brand. Perception around premium and health isn’t welcoming in the consumer minds. Also, our real competition is the canteen / roadside nashta guy, so we can’t be a premium brand,” he says.