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Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

Opinion | Health food firms sprout in a fitness conscious India

The Indian consumer knows it is as much about eating right as it is about exercise

Suhasini Sampath, chief operating officer of Bengaluru-based Sproutlife Foods, says India’s health food market may be coming of age. In 2015, when she started the company with her sister, Anindita, and made nutrition bars for people working out in gyms and yoga studios, the retailers she approached had told her that health does not sell.

Cut to 2019. Sproutlife’s Yoga Bar is a 60-crore brand expected to touch 100 crore next year. It is available across 6,000 retail outlets in 30 cities and sold on Amazon, Flipkart and Big Basket. “Our nutritious snack bars are no longer just a gym product. People are snacking on these even at workplaces," she says.

Sudarshan Gangrade, founder of Lo! Foods, who has just raised half a million dollars from a clutch of angel investors in the financial and FMCG verticals, has, however, positioned his company differently. The former Ola executive, a serial entrepreneur, says his brand creates healthy, low-carb and keto-friendly food that is inherently Indian. He is manufacturing mainline food products instead of opting for niche ones. “My criterion is very simple. India does not eat granola bars every day at 4pm with tea. It eats biscuits. So, I have created what India already eats and not a new category." His range includes low-carb atta, biscuits, namkeens and chocolates available on health platforms like Freshmenu, Eat Fit and e-commerce sites.

To be sure, numerous startups are beginning to make their mark in the growing market for health food. V.S. Kannan Sitaram, venture partner, Fireside Ventures, thinks health food has several manifestations. Among them are “better-for-you" foods with less fat, less calories, less sugar and less salt. There’s also “clean food" which is organic with no preservatives. The “good-for-you" products come without maida and processed sugar, but with ingredients known to be good for the body, like nuts, seeds, proteins, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Last, there’s a range of products which are processed with care so that they retain the goodness of nature. “While big companies are addressing, to an extent, the less-sugar, less-salt market, a lot of the younger companies are tackling the remaining three kinds of food," he says.

Arjun Gadkari, founder of Nilgai Foods which offers coconut-based products—coconut water, chips and oil—under the Cocofly brand, says his brand sits squarely in the health food and drink category “as it is all about healthy living powered by coconut". Sold across 10,000 outlets in Delhi, its coconut water was launched in Mumbai in April. In the next three years, he hopes to cover all the metros and a few tier 2 cities.

Gadkari believes India has seen a huge change in attitudes towards health: “The shift is enormous and its impact on the health food segment has not reached its full extent. In my opinion, the biggest growth in the industry is yet to come." Sampath agrees: “Consumers have started reading food labels, besides reading a lot more on diet and nutrition." Yoga Bar launched muesli recently and plans to expand its range and enter the snacks segment. Lo! Foods has just added low carb laddoos to its range. The firm currently makes 15 products and has 50 stock keeping units.

“Consumers in India have become more health-conscious and are keeping a watch on what they are consuming. In response, packaged food manufacturers continue to reduce the fat, sugar and salt content of their products, and beverage manufacturers also place significant focus on the reduction of sugar and fat, leading to increased sales of better for you products," says an analyst at Euromonitor International. According to him, larger manufacturers are actively introducing products that are healthier, challenged by the entry of small companies and startups offering health and wellness products and encouraged by the government measures to improve the health of the population.

Yet, young firms face a challenge: “The products they are offering tend to be premium priced as they are more expensive to make. At present, the core consumers are either very health-conscious or people who are starting to make the journey to a healthier lifestyle. This is still a relatively smaller part of the population, though growing rapidly. So, startups must work hard to increase the relevance of their products to more consumers, make their products more affordable, and differentiate their brands."

Clearly, health food is not a fad but an enduring trend, as the Indian consumer has understood that it is as much about eating right as it is about exercise.

Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff.

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