Bengaluru: There are vegetables spilling out of a large shopping bag sitting on the table of the somewhat spartan kitchen at the Nuts Over Salads centre at Richmond Town, Bengaluru. Red and yellow peppers jostle with heads of purple cabbage; cucumber and scallions sit pretty on top of the pile while stalks of celery and sprigs of cilantro lend their distinctive aroma to the hodgepodge.

“This is what is going into our salad tomorrow," smiles Aditya Rao, the founder of the salad meal delivery service that supplies healthy boxed lunches to people in the city, via subscription.

But the brown basmati rice salad, flecked with plenty of vegetables and held together by a soy dressing is among the last few salads that will be delivered to the 500-odd customers, who include badminton players Saina Nehwal and Anup Sridhar.

Rao who runs the business along with his brother Abhijeet Rao, confirmed that the business was moving out of the online delivery space and to a retail model.

Nuts Over Salads started in July 2014 when Rao, who has a degree in culinary arts from Australia and was associated with a number of city-based restaurants, joined a gym. “I used to talk to friends to people at the gym about what was the best thing to eat after a workout," he said. “And the best thing I could think of was a salad."

He hadn’t planned on setting up the venture he says. “One day I logged into the Bangalore Foodies Club on Facebook and asked people what they thought about it," Rao says.

The response was positive; and so the following Monday Rao went ahead and produced his first order—two boxes of salad. “It just picked up from there," says Rao, who says that he has, over the last two years, cobbled together over 300 tried-and-tested salad recipes.

Facebook was their primary marketing platform, spread by word of mouth. “It has been an organic process and that is why we are still here," he says, adding that the business has seen no external investment so far, though they expect to sign a deal very shortly. “We did get a lot of offers but we wanted to find the right partner before getting into this. Right now, we own 100% of the company," he says.

Till 1 July, Nuts Over Salads was simply an internet-first kitchen that delivered a pre-ordered salad (vegetarian or non-vegetarian) from a daily-changing menu. “We try to see that there is a perfect mix of protein, starch and fibre is all our salads," says Rao. So if it is a Spaghetti Agliolio salad with peppers, spinach and chicken one day, it could be barley with poached mushrooms on another and vermicelli with assorted vegetables and chicken on the third. A single meal option was available but one could also take a weekly or monthly subscription.

“The key to this kind of a business model is customer acquisition, maintaining quality, differentiation from others and the width of menu," says Sreedhar Prasad, partner (e-commerce and start-ups), KPMG India, adding that the subscription model works best for someone with a definitive lifestyle whose timings are predictable.

Most people don’t want to commit to a subscription; they are impulse orderers who want to pick up the phone and order what they want, adds Rao. There is also the logistics of delivery to battle with, which can be a nightmare, he says.

With a number of other players having sprung up in the food-tech space, retaining delivery people has become challenging, Rao says. Sixty start-ups across India have raised $297 million since 2015, according to start-up tracker Tracxn, of which five companies—Zomato, Tinyowl, Swiggy, Freshmenu and Faasos—accounted for $258 million. “These companies are massively funded and we cannot afford to pay our delivery boys the way they do," he says.

Nuts Over Salads now hopes to open small outlets all over the city. And while salad continues to be their core offering, they also plan to expand the menu to include sandwiches, soups, coffee-based drinks and warm pasta dishes. “I am not sure how successful the food pick-up model will be in India," says Prasad. “However, opening a retail outlet will enhance credibility."

Their first kitchen will be in the upscale Whitefield area in Bengaluru. “A big chunk of our market is in tech parks, and there are a lot of those in Whitefield; so we thought we would just move there," says Rao, adding that the outlet, which will be located within the food court of the International Tech Park in Whitefield, will continue to focus on using wholesome, minimally processed ingredients.

Pointing to the brand logo—a nut and a salad leaf entwined together to form a heart—Rao smiles and says, “Look, doesn’t this prove how passionate we are about salads?"

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