Megha Poddar's journey as an astute businesswoman started after she was married into the prestigious business family - the Siyaram Poddar Group. Apart from the fact business ran in her blood, she had the privilege of learning all the nitty-gritty of business from her Father-in-law Shri Pawan Poddar and his brother Shri Ramesh Poddar. She worked closely with them and under their guidance for 8 years in Siyaram Silk Mills Limited where she headed the Retail segment of the company. Her passion and drive to create something of her own led her to start Purple Wok in 2017. Purple Wok was India's first Nationalised Oriental Wok catering to tier 2 and tier 3 cities. In its 2 years run Purple Wok had 35 outlets pan India. Later, she founded White Light Food in June 2019. Boasting of a state-of-the-art central kitchen in the heart of Mumbai and a top-of-the-line range of the widest variety of Asian and Oriental products, White Light Food aims at catering to the ever-growing Asian cuisine segment pan India. “My family business gave me a vast unmatchable experience of 7 years in areas which were highly systematised and corporate while retaining my business genes and roots to be able to take that leap of faith when the time demands it,” shared Poddar who after her maternity break felt that she was ready to test her own journey, following her passion of building up something from scratch and learn through the journey.
What was the whole idea behind white light food? How much money have you invested behind this concept?
The prime idea was to focus on the ever growing but yet under tapped READY TO COOK SEGMENT in India. Most brands are focusing on ready to eat, however with growing awareness about health, aversion to larger shelf life products, availability of healthier options, need for fresher food but reduced time in busy schedules for cooking- all constituted to arriving at a product which solves most of the above. Acceptability of different cuisines, accessible information and exposure, and the increase in the youth percentage across the country had made horeca the fastest growing without having to tweak your product statewise or even season wise. Standardisation, low investment initially, willingness to try newer foods, and need for consistent products in the fnb sector was the key reasons to get into this industry. Since its inception in 2018 we have invested 2 crores into this. Lockdown washed out all that we had done as we were earlier aiming at only providing this product to our own range of QSRs and Horeca. But the sudden lockdown and a reinvention in June 2020 has led us to change our model and grow into a full fledged consumer brand.
We see that Asian cuisine as a concept is growing in India. Why so?
Asian cuisine has always been around for the longest time in India. Traditionally also in an old style multicuisine India restaurant we always only saw ‘Chinese’ added as a cuisine alongside a north Indian and South Indian spread. Geographical proximity always has an impact into surrounding regions when it comes to food along with similar taste palettes. Being a part of the Asian subcontinent, similar availability of natural ingredients and acceptability to spice levels is what Asian cuisine similar and popular amongst Indians. Even though earlier on Chinese was more widespreadly accepted when it was made in an indo-Chinese manner, however with the access to more information, global trends, and people inching more towards authenticity, this favourite foreign and most easily available cuisine of Indians is naturally the first one to get an uplifted makeover and move from being called CHINESE to ASIAN.
What’s the future of RTE segment?
It’s every growing all over the world. However growing awareness of health trends has got a lot of negative limelight to the RTE segment. Most foods in this category contain high salt and sodium contents, preservatives and artificial flavours. Having said that products which are more organic in nature, free of too many enhances, true to their taste and closest to their fresh version will see a huge jump and leap. Ready to eat will tilt more towards ready to cook as per me.
What’s the shelf life of your products?
Cooking sauces/pastes/gravies - 6 months in ambient temperature
Dimsums/Baos and other frozen products - 1 month in frozen state (we are under lab testing phase and have been given a go ahead for increasing the shelf life of the Dimsums to 6 months using only organic ingredients and not artificial preservatives)
How have you priced the same?
Sauces/gravies/pastes are available in 250gm bottles and packs. Price range is between Rs. 200 to Rs. 275 depending on the variety. We have 15 varieties - the highest range of offering in the Asian segment as opposed to any other brand currently.
What’s your market presence? Are you also catering to HORECA segment?
We are present in D2C, GT, Horeca and e-commerce segments. Our D2C clientele is catered to via our own online ordering portal and our supposed team of on ground home marketers. We don’t believe in being on third party delivery aggregators such as Zomato or Swiggy. GT we are present across A plus category physical stores across Mumbai. Horeca is a huge client base for us. Our clientele includes long standing restaurants such as a gallops and a status, larger chains such as tibbs, new age Multi restaurant cafes such as grandmama’s and even resorts such as Marriotts. We are also on Amazon.
Who are you targeting as a customer?
We are targeting the niche segment of the audience that believes in authentic flavours. India is the only country in the world that has a live kicthen in every single home and hence the cooking segment products work maximum in India as opposed to the rest of the world. Ages 25 plus are our target. The working professional who has no time to whip up a meal, the health conscious foodies who wants fresher ingredients and a restaurant style dish at home, a 60 year old mother trying to cook a more authentic Asian meal while putting her signature mommy love and recipes into the food for her family, or a couple hosting some friends at home and wanting to not spend a lot on catering food from outside. This product fits into everyone’s lives.
Do you see any competition in this segment?
There are a lot of brands doing fusion desserts. However fusion cuisines apart from desserts are still being done by very few and that too mostly by dine in friendly restaurants - mostly molecular gastronomy or plating up is confused with fusion. However combining base ingredients and flavours as per me does justice to this upcoming trend. In this regards, very few brands doing it with full research backed menus.
What’s your expansion plan?
We are focusing on our core IP of the ready to cook sauces, gravies and pastes and plan to make them more available pan India via the online route and on ground selective general/modern trade route. Exports is on the cards too, directly it more towards the NRI audience. Also we will be the front runners to introduce frozen Dimsums into the retail space and we aiming to do that by November.