Rahul Gandhi, its CMO speaks to us about its recent food innovations, its deep-pocketed rivals, and its glitches in offline distribution. Also, a primer on dosa's origins.
Countless moons ago, a war broke out between India’s five southern kingdoms that threatened to tear the cosmos asunder. Like all solutions to life-ending calamities, the gods decided to set up a committee.
Vishnu, the committee’s chairperson, told the multitude of gods in attendance that the war needs to be resolved in two days or else, it will interrupt Mahadev’s meditation. Now that is a situation one has to avoid at all costs. Why? Well, because an upset Mahadev would then perform the dance of destruction that could kill the gods. Nobody, except Krishna, saw Vishnu’s smile after this terrifying declaration.
Ganesh thought of hosting a peace summit, when he felt his belly rumble. That’s not good, because if his hunger is not satiated, Ganesh would take on an ugra roop (fierce avatar) and cause havoc. Krishna knew that Vishnu had a role to play in Ganesh’s hunger. So, he decided to play his role in this leela.
Krishna decided to cook divine round golden crepes using a batter of rice from Vishnu’s never-ending pool of milk (it conveniently became a pool of rice) and some urad dal from his beloved Radha’s kitchen. Ganesh squealed with joy after the first bite and declared that whoever eats this dish will forgo his dosha and reach a state of nidra. Hence, the crepe was called dosha, or dosa, as it is now known as.
Krishna visited the southern kingdoms and fed the crepes to the citizens, who decided to end the war after the first bite. They begged him for the recipe. Krishna, out of compassion, revealed it, but left one key bit out — how to make a round dosa. It has been thousands of years since he fed the dish to us mere mortals, but even now, the art of making a round dosa remains and feels like a divine art.
I feel that iD Fresh Food (or iD as people call it), the Bengaluru-based food products company, must have found itself in a similar predicament when it introduced a dosa maker. Turns out that the reasons were more real than the fictional tale I came up with out of my love for dosas.
“An eight-year-old could not make a round dosa. So, he had to be taught… Inspired by this, Abdul Nasser collected spare metal parts from a nearby shop and made a prototype,” reveals Rahul Gandhi, iD’s chief marketing officer.
Nasser and PC Musthafa are iD’s co-founders. Nasser is also the man who made the prototype for the brand’s medu vada maker.
The dosa maker, I am told, includes a tawa, spoon and lid, as seen in the ad.
iD has innovated quite a bit over the last few years. There’s the dosa and medu vada maker, the filter coffee decoction, and even the smart-sip coconut. The credit for all these goes to "the innovation checklist PC has put up," remarks Gandhi. “What is different about a product that is not there in the market? Without a USP, we don't go ahead.”
Innovation is hard, especially in India. Does iD Fresh Food do it all on its own, or does it have partners? “It varies from project to project. Sometimes, it is all in-house. Sometimes, we take outside help,” reveals Gandhi.
He explains that the company is willing to take such risks because the cost of failure is low for the company. “… The failure of a new product for a traditional company would mean stocks stuck with distributors, at warehouses, factories, and then you would have to withdraw it... We're on a zero inventory model. Nothing is in the factory.”
Almost all of the company's offerings are South Indian in nature, except one or two products. It must be a challenge to win the North Indian markets then. “It is important for a brand to remain true to its roots,” remarks Gandhi. “Right now, they (the North Indians) are consuming it (idli dosa) in restaurants or using powdered batter. Our output is far more superior and economical than those options.”
These innovations from iD have prompted bigger and more established brands to also dip their legs in the market. Nescafe has introduced a ‘Sunrise Liquid Coffee Decoction’, while MTR Foods took potshots at iD in a newspaper ad, saying idli and dosa should have different batter, and not one, which iD sells.
Says Gandhi, “Our product quality is good. Our supply chain is unique. The consumers have taken to us. Our competition found it tough to enter, until now.”
If you thought iD has bolstered its e-commerce and offline sales due to the competition, think again. We have noticed iD Fresh Food products are hard to get in stores. Gandhi tells us that they have not expanded aggressively, in terms of distribution, in the current financial year because of the "tumultuous time in the sales and distribution space."
“iD will grow by 50 per cent this year, without expansion or distribution, and that is primarily being done on the back of better demand generation” states Gandhi, adding that whether it is Ahmedabad, Kanpur, Coimbatore or Lucknow, iD has store expansion plans in 2022.
“You need a manufacturing location close to the consumption location, otherwise the whole 'fresh' proposition won't stand. That's why our scale-up has been small, but we have figured out a way, starting with the setting up of a factory in Delhi…,” Gandhi signs off.
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