Namah Chawla

“Maggi can’t be replaced; we want to be the next best alternative”: Sagar Daryani on ready-to-cook, frozen momos

QSR chain Wow! Momo recently forayed into the FMCG space, with ready-to-eat momos. A chat with CEO and co-founder Sagar Daryani.

The momos market in India is an unorganised one. Not very many players have experimented with momos. Since its inception in 2008, Wow! Momo, India’s homegrown QSR momo chain, has aimed to build this food item’s identity across the country.

Sagar Daryani, CEO and co-founder of Wow! Momo, fondly reminisces about his college days, when he and his friends used to enjoy momos from a momo aunty stall. It was then that he got the insight and confidence that good quality momos can sell. It led him to experiment with the food item - first in the QSR business and, now, by foraying into the FMCG space, with ready-to-eat momos.

Wow! Momo recently unveiled ready-to-eat momos. There are various flavours available, such as Veg Darjeeling, Chicken Darjeeling, Masala Chicken, Corn & Cheese and Chicken Cheese Momos. The prices are between Rs 155 and Rs 190 for a 10-piece pack, and from Rs 255-285 for 20 pieces. These frozen momos can be steamed, fried, microwaved as per your requirement/convenience.

It must be noted that with the brand’s entry into the frozen food/ready-to-eat category, it will be competing with the likes of well established brands, like McCain, Godrej Yummiez, ITC’s Master Chef frozen snacks, Nestle’s Maggi and many more that have become even more popular due to the COVID pandemic.

In an interview with afaqs!, Daryani talks about the QSR chain’s entry into the FMCG segment, collaboration with BigBasket, ideal distribution breakup, challenges for ready-to-eat segment, and more.

Edited excerpts:

Since you own two QSR businesses, Wow! China and Wow! Momo, how did you zero in on momos over other food items for the ready-to-eat segment? What was the clincher?

The ready-to-eat momos idea came to my mind five years back, but I wanted the brand to grow from the restaurant space and was waiting for the right time to introduce frozen momos. We wish to make momos an all-time food, be it for lunch, evening snack, dinner, or even at 5 in the morning at the airport.

Indians have grown up eating Maggi (noodles), which can never be replaced, but what can be the next alternative to Maggi? That was the initial thought behind it. What can be the go-to snack in the country. Our foray into the segment addresses the time crunch that most people face in their lives. It can be quickly made and you don’t have to wait for 35-40 minutes, which is the normal food delivery time.

"Our foray into the segment addresses the time crunch that most people face in their lives."

First, we wanted to make eating momos a habit, and then get into the FMCG space so that we got the right traction and volume. The pandemic has also helped as more people are now working from home and it is no more about a working lunch, but a working snack.

Today, the e-grocery segment is as competitive as the ready-to-eat market. There is BigBasket one one hand and the likes of Big Bazaar, Grofers, Amazon Pantry, JioMart, DMart, etc, on the other. Why not make the new range available everywhere? What’s the merit in launching via an exclusive collaboration with one platform?

Wow! Momo has an exclusive tie-up with e-commerce platform BigBasket for three months. The benefit of launching it via an exclusive collaboration with one platform is that I wanted to not only gain visibility for the new product, but also know what BigBasket can offer, in terms of promoting the product.

Additionally, before going to the masses with the latest offering, we wanted to test and try it with one collaboration, and get the consumer feedback and traction from the chunk of different pockets in just 10 cities. This exclusive collaboration ensures greater visibility on the platform because we are committing to just one e-commerce player.

What’s the ideal distribution breakup for you - online versus offline, and within online - your own D2C e-commerce channels versus selling via BigBasket-type multi-brand platforms?

Once the exclusivity period with BigBasket ends, the ready-to-eat momos will be available across other e-commerce channels and modern trade platforms, and post six months, in Tier-II and III cities as well.

The product is already selling at Modern Bazaar outlets in Delhi and, seeing the demand patterns right now, the focus is to go big on e-commerce platforms and modern trade, especially in North India.

What are some of the challenges, and what are you most apprehensive about? Is it the competition, or the fickle consumers...

Being a trendsetter and one of the first ones to experiment with a QSR specifically for momos, the biggest challenge is that in India, frozen food is always looked down upon, as compared to fresh food. However, it is much safer to consume frozen food in a post-COVID world because the chances of contamination are bare minimum as the temperature is always being maintained.

"The biggest challenge is that in India, frozen food is always looked down upon, as compared to fresh food."

Momos, in their authentic avatar, are steamed. Purists can’t even imagine taking momos out of a packet and re-heating. Is this something that concerns you because ultimately, frozen food’s actual rival is fresh food?

I don’t want to be a frozen food (product) leader. I want to be a leader in the frozen momos space. To do that, we need to bring about a change in people’s perception that frozen food is not fresh, and create a mindset that frozen food is a healthier option and free from any contamination.

How are you addressing the health concerns that are associated with frozen food?

Since Wow! Momo is a homegrown brand, while coming up with this offering, we had a responsibility towards our consumers. We wanted to make sure that what we feed them is healthy and affordable at the same time. People from across age groups, be it a kid or an elderly person, can consume our food.

The only unhealthy part of momo is the flour, or maida. We are working towards making gluten-free/diet momos as well, which will be out in the coming months.

"We are working towards making gluten-free/diet momos as well, which will be out in the coming months."

Wow! Momo’s essential services began when COVID struck last year. It was your initial foray into the FMCG space. How did the learnings from that help you, while launching ready-to-eat momos?

We came up with Wow! Momo’s essential services to utilise our assets better and cope with the stress caused to our business. Essential items were delivered to people’s doorsteps within just 30-45 minutes. It also helped the brand to gain visibility.

When we forayed into essential services, the entire team’s conviction became stronger. It meant that if we decided to step into the FMCG space, or ready-to-eat business at a later stage, it will be successful. The idea of speeding up our foray into the FMCG space started in May-June last year, when we were actually into essential services.

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