Having worked with brands such as Nestle and Paper Boat in the past, Ankur Goyal always knew that he wanted to do something innovative in the food and beverage space. But the trigger for his startup, &Me, which offers a range of functional beverages for women, was more personal. “My mother suffers from osteoporosis because of which she can’t climb stairs. When she visited me in the US while I was doing my MBA at Stanford, she was always in pain. I think, my inability to help her at the time was at the root of my idea of developing a product that took care of nutritional requirements for women," says the Bengaluru-based entrepreneur. According to research that they have unearthed, 15% of Indian women aged 15-49 are anaemic and 70% have chances of osteoporosis due to lack of essential micro-nutrients.
Last August, Goyal launched two products after eight months of research and development. The drinks, which are a combination of fruits, vegetables, spices, Ayurvedic herbs and flowers, claim to take care of 30% of women’s daily vitamin and mineral requirements. Plus, they have no added sugar, preservatives and are less than 80 calories per bottle of 200ml ( ₹80). “During our research, there were two things that came up when I asked women some of their greatest (health) concerns—one, fatigue and cramps during menstruation and second, concerns about hair fall and hair thinning," says the 29-year-old. Hence, the two products &Me launched were—Rhythm, a drink meant to reduce fatigue, bloating and cramps during periods, and Grace, aimed at improving hair and skin vitality and detoxifying blood.
According to Goyal, while the functional drinks market in India is a growing category, it is dominated by energy drinks, most of which are caffeinated. “Almost 80% of the beverage market is driven by men. But I feel women will be major players in the healthy beverage market . It’s just that there aren’t any products (in this space) that take into account the nutritional requirements and taste preferences of women," he says.
Since their launch, &Me products are available at close to 400 stores across Bengaluru and they aim to be in Mumbai soon. These products are also available on the &Me website on a monthly subscription basis.
Differentiating themselves from regular packaged drinks has been the biggest challenge, says Goyal. “In fact, when we launched, we ran a campaign saying, ‘Not a juice’. But since it has fruits and vegetables, people confuse us with juices. We even have to educate retailers that this isn’t a juice," he explains. For instance, Goyal explains that while each drink contains 40% fruits, the rest is a mix of herbs and spices. Rhythm, for example, contains herbs such as shatavari, which reduces mood swings.
The second challenge, according to him, is that once consumers realize it’s a healthy beverage, they automatically assume it’s not tasty. “It’s only if we open the bottle and let them have a taste that they change their minds," says Goyal, who uses a form of dietary fibre as an alternative to sugar in the drinks. In Grace, for instance, they have used coconut water to mask the bitterness of neem. The brand has been participating in a lot of events at corporate houses and public forums to reach out to consumers on a one-to-one basis.
Future of health drinks
Even as Goyal introduces his products to other cities, his team is also developing new products based on surveys. For instance, &Me plans to launch a drink meant to help women suffering from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). He also hopes to launch beverages at a lower price point.
Even though it’s a niche product, Goyal is positive about the future of his brand and the segment in general. “While many women, especially those with families, tend to feel guilty about spending on themselves, the younger generation and working professionals are taking better care of themselves," he says, adding, “It’s also heartening that a lot of our sales at corporate events come from men who are buying these products for the women in their lives."
Cheers To That is a series which looks at healthy beverage startups set up by millennials and how they deal with a nascent market.