This start-up is betting big on instant meal-bowl segment by catering to Gen z, Millennial

Short Description
In an interaction with Restaurant India, Bharat Bhalla and Varun Kapur, Co-founders & Executive Directors at Yu Foodlabs talks about the idea of starting a packaged food business focusing on quality, health.
  • Nusra Deputy Features Editor
Yu Foodlabs

Eating clean is becoming a lifestyle. Consumers today are more conscious about their health, dietary intake and nutrition in the foods they consume. Keeping in mind these evolving consumer preferences, Yu, founded by Bharat Bhalla and Varun Kapur, are trying to re-imagine consumer packaged foods by bringing together a unique / pioneering combination of great culinary expertise and advanced food preservation technology to India. Experts from the interview:

We have seen that the Instant Meal Bowl trend is picking up not just in restaurants but also in the RTE segment. Why so?

In today’s fast paced lifestyles, apart from taste and price, consumers are increasingly looking for convenience in the foods they consume. This is also visible in the high volumes / deep penetration of food delivery apps like Swiggy, Zomato that conveniently supply pre-prepared foods within 30-45 minutes. Yu has attempted to take the aspect of convenience one step further – its meal bowls have a 12 month shelf life at room temperature and hence can be stored at homes at all times. Consumers need to simply add hot water to the meal bowl, allow the product to rest for 3-4 minutes after which it is ready to be consumed.

What’s the shelf life of your products?

Instant Meal Bowls of Yu have a 12 month shelf life at ambient temperature. In a country like India where refrigeration related logistics does create issues / wastages in distribution, retailing etc, providing a 12 month shelf life that too at room temperature gives Yu a significant advantage over other products in the market.

What technology have you used to maintain freshness, quality of the ingredients being used?

A team of highly experienced chefs at Yu prepare foods in-house at its 12,000+ sqft fully integrated facility at Gurgaon. The foods are prepared using proprietary, artisan recipes and freshest ingredients finalised after intense testing and sampling. These freshly preparedfoods (which are devoid of any chemicals or preservatives) are then passed through lyophilisation–the most advanced food technology globally. This highly sophisticated bio-chemistry process does not use heat (which is used in conventional dehydration technologies) due to which, the foods retain almost all their nutrition. Lyophilization is the same technology used by NASA to provide foods to its astronauts when they go on their space missions.

Who are you targeting as your customer?

Yu is on track to sell 100,000 meal bowls within the first quarter of its launch (i.e. by December 31, 2021). Sales have been to a diversified target group including Gen Z and Millennial consumers looking for great tasting food that is highly quick and convenient. But what has been extremely heartening is the early adoption by consumers in the 45+ age group owing to the as-good-as-fresh taste and health aspects of the product i.e. 100% natural foods free of any preservatives.

What’s your market presence? Are you also targeting the HORECA segment?

Yu follows an omni-channel sales approach. With online channels disrupting conventional distribution approaches, Yu’s proprietary website already services 28,000 pin codes pan-India. Additionally, Yu’s products are available across the country on all large e-commerce platforms like Amazon, Big Basket and Flipkart. Yu has launched its products on offline channels in Delhi NCR – its home market. Products of Yu are already available across 500+ modern and general trade stores in Delhi NCR. The offline distribution in Delhi NCR is estimated to increase to 1,500+ stores by March 2022.

We are also targeting the HORECA segment in mid-2022. Yu intends to create bespoke products for a large sub-segment of HORECA which includes budget hotels, self-service hotels, hotels which do not have elaborate F&B options etc. Yu’s pre-prepared, hassle free, 12 month shelf life, 100% natural instant meal bowls across breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert categories fit perfectly in this HORECA segment.

Tell us something about packaging. What all packaging tricks have you applied?

We have consciously built a brand that is influencing consumers towards sustainable choices. Yu’s meal bowls come in eco-friendly paper packaging (and not plastic) that are food grade and fully recyclable. Furthermore, Yu’s meal bowlsare self-contained in every respect i.e. they comes with a spork and the meal is prepared and consumed in the same bowl itself. Lastly, its meal bowls require no refrigeration for transportation, storage or retailing thereby reducing energy requirements and carbon footprint.

What’s your expansion plans?

Yu will continue to expand its offline footprint staring with its expansion in Mumbai MMR this December followed by Pune and Bengaluru. The brand is also starting to get inbound queries from distributors / retailers across North East markets, Srinagar, Bhopal, Indore, Lucknow, Kanpur where preliminary discussions have been initiated.

Any plan entering into the restaurant or an offline segment?

Yu does not intend to enter the restaurant segment. However, its products will soon get listed on food delivery apps along where almost all restaurants list their products. While unlike restaurant foods, Yu’s products will require 3-4 minutes preparation time before consumption, it’s the deep value proposition (foods available between Rs 75-130 per meal) that will allow Yu to penetrate this attractive segment as well.

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