3 food entrepreneurs and their appetite for success
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Thinking of a career in food but don’t see yourself becoming the next top chef? In that case, joining a food-focused business may be more to your taste.
To be the driving force behind developing, launching and promoting culinary products and services requires channelling your inner foodie. It also requires being adept at reading spreadsheets, forecasting trends and playing administrator. To give you a flavour of what it actually involves, we spoke to three food entrepreneurs.
Alyona Kapoor, 50
Director, Khana Khazana Pvt. Ltd, Mumbai
She may be married to Sanjeev Kapoor, one of India’s most popular TV chefs, but Alyona Kapoor admits she had butterflies in her stomach when she faced the camera for the first time recently. “I used to get so nervous, my heart would flutter and I would literally run away from the mike,” says Alyona, who is anchoring a web series called Family Food Tales that launched on YouTube in June. “But then I have counselled so many people as producer (on Zee TV’s cookery show Khana Khazana and now on the Food Food Channel), so I decided to apply my gyan to myself and things changed after that,” she says, adding that she is happy with the feedback on the show.
How she got there: “All my life, I have been surrounded by great food. My mother is a great cook, my elder sister is a chef and food is how I met Sanjeev, my husband (he was a visiting chef at Hotel Ashok in Varanasi, where her elder sister was a chef) too,” says the commerce graduate who started her career as a marketing professional. She married Sanjeev in 1992. In 1997, when Sanjeev quit his job as executive chef at the Juhu Centaur Hotel, Hotel Corp. of India, Alyona decided to work in the food business along with him. “We had less than Rs1 lakh in the bank. One of our only projects was a recipe book for BPL microwave. We used to do the food trials in our home-cum-office,” she recalls. In 1993, Sanjeev began hosting the cookery show Khana Khazana; by 1998, when he took over production of the show, Alyona took charge of production because she had spent enough time on the sets.
The move from behind the scenes to facing the camera is a recent one. “We used to get so many questions as to what does Sanjeev eat at home, what do I cook, what do the kids like, that we thought of introducing this show,” says Alyona. “Mostly, the script is impromptu, drawn from real life and the personal touch we wanted comes across.”
Skills needed: “Being in production, you have to know how to handle people and be a good administrator. Also, you need to have an understanding of your subject matter. In the web series, I need to make a conscious effort to be spontaneous and let go of the feeling that I’m not a good orator,” she says .
What she loves about her job: The independence and flexibility of being able to work from home.
What she would change: Alyona thinks she may have benefitted from a post-graduate specialization, perhaps in the culinary arts. “I’d like to change the attitude I sometimes get that, ‘Oh, you are here because you are Sanjeev’s wife’. I would like it if people evaluated me as me.”
Favourite food: Green chilli chicken cooked by Sanjeev.
Compensation: “As producer you can earn anything from Rs15-50 lakh per annum. As a presenter of a show, depending on your seniority and expertise, you can earn anything from Rs50,000 to Rs10 lakh per day of shooting,” she says.
Bhavik Rathod, 35
Head, UberEATS India, Bengaluru
Why go through the hassle of calling a restaurant and ordering a meal when you can browse a menu, place an order and have it delivered via a mobile app that already has thousands of users on board? That’s the simple logic behind Bhavik Rathod’s drive to automate the restaurant delivery business with UberEATS, the meal-ordering and delivery platform of cab aggregator Uber. “The UberEATS app stores information such as the cuisines and restaurants that you prefer as well as what your typical lunch and dinner order looks like. So it speeds up the ordering process,” says Rathod, who heads India operations for the global business and has overseen the launch of UberEATS in Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru.
How he got there: He did his bachelor’s in electronics and telecommunication engineering from the University of Mumbai and diploma in financial management and accounting from the Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies in 2006. After doing an MBA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the US in 2008, he worked at Ernst and Young (now rebranded EY) in Mumbai from 2010-11. Following this, he founded Employee Social, an employee rewards and recognition start-up, in 2012, which shut eventually. In 2013, Rathod joined Uber as general manager, Bengaluru, going on to manage south and west India. Earlier this year, he moved to helm UberEATS.
Skills needed: An entrepreneurial mindset with the ability to hustle and solve problems, he says. Rathod spends a lot of time going out on food deliveries, looking at the India-specific challenges in optimizing delivery. “There are lots of restaurants inside buildings, where parking is difficult. We try and solve this by writing detailed notes—like park near this landmark, walk 10 steps to the right. These instructions help our delivery partners,” he says.
Rathod believes in using data analytics, and says that it gives the company the ability to slice, dice, trisect in order to optimize the experience for customers. A large part of his job involves meeting restaurant partners and explaining the data on consumer preferences they would have access to by joining the UberEATS platform.
What he loves about his job: Being part of the hustle, scrappiness and passion of a start-up, working with data and tackling problems like poor connectivity.
What he would like to change: Rathod has to travel 10-12 days a month, between Mumbai, Bengaluru, Delhi and occasionally other cities, with a few trips to Singapore and the US. All this travel means he misses out on spending time with his family, including his 18-month-old daughter.
Favourite food: Pav bhaji and dosa.
Compensation: Rathod did not want to comment. Estimates based on industry websites (like Glassdoor and Indeed) put the figure for freshers at Rs5-10 lakh per annum and upwards of Rs1 crore for senior, specialized hires
Anusha Bhushan, 29
Co-founder and CEO, Muddy Puddle Foods Pvt. Ltd, Bengaluru
When she decided to get into the smoothie business, Anusha Bhushan had to change her work wardrobe. “I have ditched my heels and formal dresses. I dress very practically, as I might just have to pitch in and help with labelling, packing and dispatching,” she says. This hands-on approach extends to outside of office too. “People look at me in disbelief when I arrive at stores and ask for directions to the loading bays and stockrooms,” says Bhushan, who is known to make quick trips to the beverage aisles to gain insight into customer buying behaviour.
How she got there: After a BSc in economics from the London School of Economics and Political Science in 2009, and a masters in business administration (MBA) from the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta (IIM-C) in 2014, Bhushan started working at consultancy firm Bain & Co. in Mumbai. It was there that she formulated the idea of building a business of her own and gravitated towards the food industry. She realized that it wasn’t easy for young professionals like her to find nutritious food options in metro cities. That’s when she decided to create a range of pure fruit smoothies called Smoodies . Moving to Bengaluru in 2016, she co-founded Muddy Puddle Foods along with her IIM-C batchmate Siddharth Deb. Bhushan and her co-founder initially invested their own money, and subsequently raised funds from an investor. Bhushan and Deb, along with a four-person production team, operate out of a workspace-cum-office where the smoothies are prepared in customized mixers and pasteurizing machines. They are stored in industrial refrigerators before they are dispatched to stores across Bengaluru and Mumbai.
Skills needed: Bhushan, who manages different aspects of marketing, including running the social media accounts and packaging and sales, says the skills required keep changing. “Initially I had to be a good product development person, then a good sales person and good fund-raiser. Today, I feel I need to be a good administrator,” she says.
For instance, negotiating terms with retailers for introducing Smoodies as a brand can get tricky. “Onboarding your product in a new outlet can become expensive as sometimes retailers will ask for as much as Rs1 lakh as registration fee before they allow you to place products with them,” she says.
Sourcing ingredients for the six smoothie flavours can be a logistical test, since the banana, mangoes and guavas come from Andhra Pradesh and oranges and strawberries from Maharashtra. There is also the occasional troubleshooting—a recent blip in the supply of glass bottles was resolved with the team developing plastic alternatives.
What she loves about her job: Building a product right from manufacturing to marketing. “The learning curve on aspects like persuasion and closing a deal, as well as efficient project management, has been enjoyable,” she says.
What she would like to change: “Our overreliance on outsiders like suppliers to run things smoothly. That can make you feel very powerless when things don’t move on time.” She also hopes she can be an efficient decision-maker. “In start-up life, a lot is about the discovery of what works and what doesn’t work. Sometimes you just have to do things, get them wrong, ditch an idea fast, move on and get it right again. I have to become better at that.”
Favourite food: Chola-bhatura, from Karthik Sweets in Bengaluru.
Compensation: Like many entrepreneurs who have raised funds, Bhushan pays herself a salary. “It’s little less than Rs1 lakh per month,” she says.
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