Emerging Entrepreneurs

A food processing start-up that takes the crying out of frying

Amrita Nair-Ghaswalla | Updated on February 19, 2018 Published on February 19, 2018

Satyajit Roy, Managing Director and CEO, EGK Foods,

EGK Foods sells ready-to-use fried onions

The quintessential ingredient of any home cooked biryani is golden brown onions, fried to a crisp, adding a rich dimension to every component of the dish. Satyajit Roy could not understand why a hearty mutton biryani, the mainstay of his family lunch every Sunday, necessarily involved several painstaking hours with the shallot.

“Every Sunday, we used to have a mutton biryani feast in our house and share it with our neighbours,” recalls Satyajit. The ritual, every Sunday, would start by chopping 20-25 kg of onion for the biryani. Satyajit had not paid attention to the chore earlier, but one Sunday morning, the message was brought home. “I left my house at 9 in the morning for an errand and came back past noon to see my mom still chopping onions at the table. The help had not turned up and I realised it was a crazy way to spend one’s Sunday,” he said.

A Google search for readymade fried onions threw up a blank. That is when the penny dropped for the engineering college drop-out. “In my arrogance of youth, I decided to bring cut and fried onions to the market, so that instead of wasting time peeling, chopping, and frying them, people could just take it out of a bag and garnish their home recipes,” he said.

The journey of EGK

Thus began the journey of EGK (Everyday Gourmet Kitchen) Foods, a food processing enterprise that decided to take away the pain associated with fried onions. “Onions, in general, tend to make up a large percentage of most Indian cuisines, and are a staple for biryani, pulao, curries, or a sizzling korma recipe. We have identified the single most painful point that exists in any kitchen,” said Satyajit, Managing Director and CEO, EGK Foods, who has made processing onions his business.

Adding flavour and texture to a dish was secondary. The time-saving aspect to the mundane and cumbersome task was what caught Satyajit’s fancy.

Small packets of fried onions (also called birista) were prepared and handed over to the National Sports Club at Haji Ali in Mumbai. “We are members there. They agreed to keep it on the shelf and see if there was any demand for the product. That is how our retail journey started. We got a fantastic response and even today, three years later, that store continues to sell the most quantity of our fried onions,” he said.

Immediately after, Satyajit participated in a culinary event, the food exhibition at UpperCrust, “wherein under-30 entrepreneurs were getting a table to showcase their wares. Every mom who came to my table gave me actual validation of the idea, since they yearned for a respite from the laborious task. This helped spur me further,” he said. Though retailing was a profitable option, the team wanted to rake in bigger volumes. EGK then decided to target the B2B sector such as hotels, restaurants and caterers.

To get things off the mark, the team approached Afshin Kohinoor at Britannia and Company, one of Mumbai’s most iconic eateries. Soon, the biristas became an integral part of the restaurant’s famed Chicken Salli Boti and Berry Pulao.

Larger kitchens were next on the menu, and deals followed with restaurant chains such as Zafaran and Delhi Darbar.

“We made a conscious pivot two years ago to do more B2B business, since it is less costlier than B2C. Educating consumers on the retail side is time consuming, and expensive, and we can’t handle the credit cycles of big companies, which have a payment cycle of 3-6 months,” he said.

Early struggle

Before fried onions, there were five failed ideas. “I decided to aggregate all the chatwalas under Mychatwala, where one could get bhel, batata puri and sev puri delivered to the doorstep. Another launch was pet insurance, which exists worldwide but almost doesn’t exist here. Then came organic mushrooms,” reminisces Satyajit. Soon, things came to a standstill. “I was running out of savings, running out of people’s trust. It also boiled down to not trusting myself,” he adds.

The entrepreneurial spirit refused to die down though. Over the last three years, EGK has “shifted out of five kitchens. We keep expanding where our 100 staff undertake daily chopping and frying of 5,000 kg or five tonnes of raw onions. By February-end, it is set to become 15 tonnes a day. As of now only peeling is manual, but we should be 90 per cent automated soon,” he adds.

Published on February 19, 2018
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