In an interaction with Vikram Agarwal, Managing Director, Cornitos Food Marketing and Technology Magazine, India tried to find out his success mantra of running a different snacks busness successfully. Nachos was not readily available when he launched it in India. A glimpse of his journey and his future plans is in this excerpt.
You being from a business family how much did it help you to align yourself to ‘think businesses from the day you joined business?
As you correctly revealed, I was raised in an entrepreneurial family. That more or less innately encourages you to grow up to be one. Before starting a nachos brand, I worked in my family business, Global Capacitors, founded by my father, that manufactures and exports film capacitors. Working alongside him truly helped me understand his perseverance, dedication, and success that inspired me to venture into the snack industry. My work ethics and business understanding, both are a gift from my father to me. I feel absolutely blessed to have had the privilege to work beside him and to start the brand with a passion for the food business.
How did you come up with the brand Cornitos? Could you elaborate on the thought process behind it?
On a regular business trip to the US, not knowing that it would change my life forever. During the trip, I stumbled upon this Mexican snack called tortilla chips or nachos. I instantly fell in love with the crispy tortilla chips and decided to launch a nachos brand that offered Mexican flavors with an Indian twist.
In India, traditional namkeen still ruled people’s taste buds. I studied the Indian snack market and found a gap between the ubiquitous Indian namkeen and western potato chips. I believed this gap could be filled by tortilla chips. Of course, I faced several hiccups during the early years of Cornitos. The challenges we faced were choosing the correct variety of corn kernels, then setting up a production unit that met international standards, after that distribution network, and lastly gaining customer approval and acceptance. Nachos were not an established snack category when Cornitos first launched. After a few years of struggle, Cornitos grew into India’s biggest nachos brand by market share.
You ventured into the processed food business which is very different from what your father had been doing. Was it a conscious decision to diversify or did the food business attract you?
The dynamics of the food business were constantly evolving. It had become highly diversified. You could call it both a conscious decision to diversify and also me being charmed by the industry, both given my thorough research before diving into it completely. My father has always taught me to be my own person but, in this day and age, it can take a lot to stand out in the crowd by doing what you love. There are so many things that you need to factor in that it can quickly become overwhelming. I was able to take this leap and believe in myself, wholly due to the constant support of my father.
It is now rather an in thing to talk about the ‘healthy snacks’ market now owing to the growing health conscious consumers. How was the market then in 2009?
Healthy snacking has developed to be a substantial trend in recent times. But back in 2009, the healthy snacks market was just dawning. Even though healthy food options were always available, consumers would refrain from them, given the Indian taste bud and these options being not so flavourful. Gradually that changed. Companies like us got into the business of creating and putting out tasty but healthy food products into the market. That helped the consumers enormously while they also simultaneously were beginning to realize the importance of ‘clean eating’ which encouraged them to adapt and incorporate some healthy and nutritious food options into their diets, thus aiding the healthy snack industry to boom.
How many SKUs do you have now and what is the future plan? Could you shed some light on the healthy snacks market in India and globally?
Cornitos is a Made in India brand, which started operations in 2009. Our portfolio includes nachos Crisps, Veggie nachos, Taco Shells, Dips, Mexican Delights, Nuts & Seeds, DIY Kits, Festive Packs, and Tortilla Wraps. Complete Range of Products available in Retail, E-Retail, and Modern Trade stores. Recently we have launched our e-commerce website
Cornitos Nachos Crisps is something that is for everyone’s tastes and has over 10 flavors of nachos which suit the Indian palate very well and Veggie nachos are with the goodness of quinoa, spinach, white bean, and beetroot. We also have a range of condiments. Cornitos range of Salsa Dips made from farm-fresh ingredients just like Cornitos Mexican delights. Cornitos Pop N Crunch range includes Premium Cashews & Almonds, Long Peanuts, Roasted Pumpkin Seeds, Natural Sunflower Seeds, SuperSeeds, Party Mix, Coated Green Peas, and Roasted Corn nuts processed in the latest technology, imported roasting line.
The dynamics of the snacks industry are evolving. Cornitos are bringing innovative snacks that are healthy yet flavourful. We hope consumers appreciate our new launch – DIY Kit, a product that is truly unique and has not been seen by the industry yet. We will be expanding our product range as well as capacity. We will be introducing a line of value-for-money products around healthy snacking. We are also planning to introduce a new category of under-baked snacks, as people would be working from home and we can make snacking tasty as well as healthy.
Healthy snacking has emerged to be a major trend in the past years and even during a pandemic, we could see a rise in the demand for healthy snack products. Consumers across the globe are health-conscious and keen to know all the details of the snack before consuming it. Superfood-based snacks like Superseeds, Cashew, Almonds have become consumer favorites across the globe, post covid.
As a brand Cornitos focuses on healthy snacking. Cornitos Veggie Nachos in four variants – Spinach, Beetroot, Melange & Quinoa, is made from natural vegetable extracts and super grains blended with Corn Masa & seasoned with delicious spices. Roasted Cashews & Almonds, Long Peanuts, Roasted Pumpkin Seeds, Sunflower Seeds, Coated Green Peas, and a range of super seeds that are flavourful healthy snacking options.
What are the steps you take to ensure food safety right from sourcing raw materials to finished goods?
The quality and safety of our product is our top priority. Our approach to food safety covers the entire supply chain, starting with farmers and suppliers. We follow rigorous procurement and auditing processes to ensure we select safe, high-quality raw materials. This includes defining specifications for the materials we use, and performing checks to ensure they always comply with the most stringent regulations and the latest scientific knowledge.
We follow certified cleaning and sanitation practices at every step of production, and our employees are trained to fully adhere to the principles of good food hygiene. Food safety is never static. Expectations shift, regulations change and our scientific knowledge evolve. That is why we constantly improve our procedures and share our expertise in industrial forums, with external authorities and our consumers. Manufacturing is done in environmentally friendly premises and hygienic conditions at a facility located in Roorkee, Uttarakhand. The products remain untouched by hand right from lime treatment to packaging. A team of well-qualified and experienced nutritionists and quality control experts ensure that food safety standards are met and nothing but the best reaches the table of our patrons. We do production as per FSSAI guidelines.
Do you use fully automated or semi-automated machines? Do you source them from Indian suppliers?
We are equipped with fully automated, state-of-the-art machines. Our processing techniques honor our commitment to provide superior quality products to our patrons. The entire production process is automated and controlled through computerized machines. We source our machines from both international and Indian suppliers.
What is the revenue ratio between exports vs Indian market?
The ratio of exports is around 12% as compared to total sales. It will increase slowly. Currently, we are supplying to over 30 countries.
How did you deal with Covid disruption?
This Covid-19 has created many disruptions for all sectors. When the lockdown started we saw a dip in sales of Nachos as supply was hampered due to the lockdown in place. Consumers prefer to stay home and buy what they need through digital platforms only and hence we have launched our e-commerce website . Due to that, our sales came back to normal levels. Home delivery and online ordering helped us to reach our customers.
Your message to healthy snacks start-ups?
Millennial today care more about fitness than any generation before and want convenient, tasty food that fits their healthy lifestyle while moms are constantly in search of ways to make snacking nutritious and guilt-free for their kids. While the clean eating trend is becoming global, I believe this is the best time for healthy snacks start-ups.
Here are some winning strategies that I would like to share for healthy snacks start-ups to surmount the challenges and steal the incumbents’ lunch. Product innovation and customer insight are key factors today. Indian consumers want to snack on lip-smacking but guilt-free food. And last but not the least, most importantly, manage your capital carefully. For all the excitement from the consumer, managing capital as a young company is critical to success.