“I have always been curious about food and travelling to different parts of the world, it got me interested in cafes with a continental food experience. This was an opportunity for me to explore and discover food trends with the maximum amount of innovation,” shared Visakh Viswambharan, Director, Cuppa Beverages whose travel journey inspired him to start something similar to that in India with a place where the magic of great food and distinctive ambience goes hand in hand.
Cuppa’s Executive Director, Vijay Sreedhar, during his university days in the UK had developed a fondness for the food industry and decided to venture into the F&B industry. Vijay and Visakh met with a belief of creating outlets that have a connection with the people. When Vijay learnt about Cuppa brand being up for grabs, he jumped at the opportunity and insisted they both kick-start our plans together. That’s how they acquired Cuppa in 2018.
You acquired Cuppa in 2018. Why Cuppa?
We were already working with the former owners of Cuppa, through my first venture Appiness - an IT services firm, and when we discovered that they are looking to divest the brand. I had had a meeting as mentioned above with Vijay before I learnt about this, and I was aware that he was intending to start an organic food chain.
It just seemed like the right thing to do together, and we ended up buying the Cuppa brand. Cuppa has always been around and has made a mark for itself among the young crowd of Bangalore. When we acquired Cuppa, we wanted to create a great experience by giving Cuppa a European touch. We have specified utmost importance to the interiors and the feel of the ambience, to bring out the best dine-in experience.
How much money have you invested in the brand?
The real investment was our time and effort. When you start a venture, that is too close to your heart, it isn’t just about the money, but more about your zeal. Both Vijay and I have been passionately driven by food and we have indeed invested our all, from being involved in designing the outlets, the menu and ensuring everything fits the bill and our vision before taking it to the floors.
The whole idea of cuppa is to deliver fresh, healthy and nutritious food. Why are customers preferring such brands these days?
Staying healthy is a need, not a choice. Moreover, people these days are well aware about what they are eating and they are more into fitness and are health-conscious than ever before, and us being part of the industry, it’s our responsibility to be thoughtful about what we are placing on our customer’s plate. Today an egg is not an egg anymore, it can be organic, locally grown, cage free, non-GMO etc.
We at Cuppa, make a conscious effort to ensure that the food served should be freshly made and we aim to provide the best taste while keeping the nutrients intact. We discourage and do not believe in serving frozen food. We also try to keep up with the food trends, e.g. Grab & Go, Organic and Vegan food are some of the evolving trends and we constantly adapt to it, with the intention of serving our customers better. This is an ongoing endeavour at Cuppa.
Most of our customers are well read and know what they are consuming, they look at the attributes related to health and wellness, ethics, and the environment. Consumers want their food to have an increasingly wide range of benefits. They will pay more for food that delivers the benefits it claims.
You are running 3 different models under Cuppa. Which according to you is more successful?
It’s too early to comment on that. However, all the three models which are Cuppa Café, Cuppa Redefined and CuppaGo are based on different ideas of food service we wish to deliver to customers. Cuppa Redefined - our dine-in outlet has an extensive menu and it would ideally take somewhat more time to settle-in compared to CuppaGo, which is our Grab and Go model.
For the past one month restaurants have been suffering a lot. How do you see the response for your brand?
The past one and a half months have been difficult for the entire industry. We, as an industry have been experiencing some unpredictable and challenging situations of our times. Our grab and go outlets, Cuppa Go which is based on an easy takeaway model, and is placed on the main streets with a good footfall; we are not operational on that front because of the COVID-19 situation. Whereas at Cuppa Redefined, through online delivery apps, we are able to retain 40% of business as compared to before lockdown.
Furthermore, we understand how difficult it must have been for people who aren’t financially well off and need a job and sustenance right now. Keeping this in mind, we started an initiative over 40 days ago and named it as Cuppa HOPE (Helping Other People Eat) where we provide free meals to daily wage workers and people living in slums. The food package consists of lentils, rice and a curry. With this initiative, we aim to serve our susceptible community. We want to reach out to the maximum number of people to ensure that nobody sleeps hungry.
Are you also doing online orders? What’s the number of orders?
Yes, we are operational through online delivery apps like Swiggy and Zomato. It has been a huge support in order to retain part of the business during this time of crisis. Currently we have all our businesses running through online orders which is helping sustain operational continuity.
What is the future of concepts like Cuppa, post covid?
Life will not be the same post the COVID-19 pandemic. It will have lasting changes in the way we eat, live and work. Some changes are already in process while others will evolve once the lockdown is lifted. According to the National Restaurant Association of India, one of the majorly affected sector post COVID-19 will be of the food services.
Focus would be more on hygiene and social distancing. People would be more conscious about what they eat and where they eat. Also, we might witness the rise of Grab and Go and home deliveries where people can avoid gatherings.
We have already started with regular temperature checks for our staff and delivery executives. We sanitize every 4 hours, all our staff are instructed to mandatorily wear masks and gloves always. Our inspection team does random checks on all our outlets to make sure this is practiced regularly.
We see that post lockdown, customers will be much more conscious when eating out and they would be very particular about the brand they chose to dine. How are you planning to convince your customer?
Cuppa as a brand has always believed in serving customers with utmost dedication and honesty and it’s not going to change post lockdown. We’ll continue taking precautionary measures to assure the safety of our valued customers and our staff. Similarly, we’ll continue creating awareness about the safety and hygiene practices by reaching out to people at large through various social media platforms.
You were planning to open 50 outlets by 2020. Is the plan still on. Where can we see the outlets opening?
When we started, we were getting some amazing responses from the customers. We had our hopes high and we were certain on planning the opening of multiple outlets by the end of 2020, until the eruption of COVID-19 situation. The entire industry is going through very challenging times and committing anything in the midst of this situation would be difficult. We’ll continue improvising and once the situation gets better, we’ll plan the go ahead strategy.
What’s the expansion plan going forward?
These are the most unprecedented times. The effect across the industry has been devastating. Right now our focus is on serving our valued customers with utmost honesty and dedication. Once the situation gets better, we’ll be in a position to decide on how to go about the expansion plan.