Food Marketing and Technology Magazine (India) engages in an depth interview with Rohan Mirchandani, an astute businessman turned food entrepreneur brought

together Greek and Indian cuisine culture to create Epigama’ – the first ever Indian Greek Yogurt. With an agenda to transform health food consumption into habit he ensured no compromise on taste and no use of preservatives whatsoever resulting in an elegant and nutritious fresh food option. Epigama has stormed the fresh health food market as availability meets demand in all food store formats across the country.

1. Please share the journey of Epigamia in brief so far, and the story behind this brand.

We initially launched Greek yogurt as a complementary business to the highly seasonal ice cream space. However, we received immediate traction and keen consumer interest. We believe the reason for this success is that today’s consumer is discerning with his/her choices, especially when it comes to food. There is a perceptible shift towards a healthier lifestyle.
Epigamia Greek Yogurt envisaged being a lifestyle product for daily consumption. More importantly, it needed to be a no-compromise blend of health and taste.

The initial days were about canvassing a large number of retail stores to convince them to stock Epigamia. While the pitch to retailers was clear and convincing about a healthy, fresh food option with no preservatives, the stricter task was to manage the short shelf-life due to the same reason. The existing chain of distributors was not equipped to handle a product with just 15 days shelf life from manufacturing to shelves to consumption.

This inefficiency, along with limited refrigerator space, made distribution quite a challenge for Epigamia. All of this together led to the inception of Epigamia’s very own cold chain distribution capabilities, which took up a significant chunk of investments in the beginning.

Shoppers traditionally go to a big box retailer once a week or once a month. But when they want a product, they go to a neighbourhood store. We made it very clear that we have to be at a neighbourhood store – whether it’s a kirana or a small-format supermarket – they’re more discoverable. We identified these stores in key pockets of the country and pitched to them, telling them about our products and then placing them there. To convert shoppers in a store, we got them to taste our product first. We did sampling in some of these stores, and that’s where we started. We created demand and awareness that our product was available, and that’s how we built up our business, brick by brick, in these neighbourhood stores.

Launched in June 2015, Epigamia is currently available in 30 SKUs under Greek Yogurt, Artisanal Curd, Snack Pack, Mishti Doi, Smoothies Spreads – made with Ghee, Plant-based Coconut Milk Yogurt Almond Milk, Probiotic Yogurt and High Protein Paneer. The brand retails across approximately 12,000 touchpoints in 25 towns, including modern trade chains like Reliance Fresh, Godrej Nature’s Basket, Future Group, Foodhall, Big Bazaar, and Hypercity; e-commerce platforms including Big Basket and Amazon; and numerous general trade retailers. Additionally, the brand recently launched its Direct-to-Consumer online platform in Tier 1 and 2 cities in the country.

2. Epigamia sounds really attractive, eye-catching word. How did you come to choose this name? 

In 500-400 BC, ancient Athens designated the legal right of inter-marrying into another city-state; it was called, ‘Epigamia.’ This term was used to formalize relationships between people of different nations. The marriage of two different civilizations is the essence of our product, as it has a very Indian DNA despite being Greek yogurt. This is the reason why we decided to name India’s first Greek yogurt, Epigamia.

3. Epigamia is into products like yogurt and artisanal curd. What made you launch these products when there are already established players in the market? 

Epigamia was responsible for bringing Greek yogurt to India. It has always been a no-compromise solution to the ‘health and taste’ aspect, our products are being consumed as a ‘mid-meal snack’.

In 2015, consumers started moving towards healthy, fresh foods, and we saw people seeking out and having the ability to purchase aspirational products. Our commitment to producing high-quality products that don’t compromise on health or taste allowed us to take advantage of this emerging trend and our product seemed to be a perfect fit.

While there were a plethora of products that claimed to be “healthy,” most were not faithful to their core. the belief that something non-negotiable and non-debatable, when it comes to health in the Indian context, is “Fresh.” So Fresh and No Preservatives is something Epigamia Greek Yogurt decided to be rooted in.

Keeping in mind the protein content of our yogurts, many consume them as a pre-or post-workout snack. The good thing is that consumers who never had yogurt in their consumption basket are now consuming this daily.

4. How products of Epigamia stand out in the existing market/ What are the key features of Epigamia that attract customers? 

At Epigamia, we love food and we are always finding ways to unleash the best out of these foods. With innovation as fuel, we have been constantly pushing boundaries by crafting contemporary versions of traditional foods:

With our first launch, Greek Yogurt, we managed to bring out curd’s full potential by straining it to boost the protein content and infusing it with real fruit to stimulate the taste buds.

Since then, we have been challenging the boundaries of what is possible by launching products that are fresh, tastier, preservative-free, and most importantly – with no compromise on taste:

– Epigamia Snack Pack, a convenient on-the-go snack of Greek Yogurt and chunky granola

– The first-ever lactose-free range of Curd, Mishti Doi and Greek Yogurt Smoothies in India

– Epigamia Spreads made from Ghee, without Palm Oil, zero transfat and a rich source of Omega 3

– Epigamia Zero Added Sugar Greek Yogurt, has high protein, infused with real fruits and no added sugar

– India’s First Plant-based Coconut Milk Yogurt

– Epigamia Almond Milk, rich in calcium and a great source of Vitamin A and D

– Epigamia High Protein Paneer, low-fat and loaded with 17 gm of protein

– Epigamia Probiotic Yogurt, filled with 100 million live and active probiotics

5. What is your view on the dairy product market? 

We’ve come a long way from being paranoid to prepared and positive about fighting this battle that this crazy year of 2020 has brought us. Our lives were turned upside down in a year where our eating and drinking habits have also changed accordingly. And with health at the forefront of the conversation for the foreseeable future, foods that enhance immunity and keep us healthy rule the day. Now that one-third of the population is working from home, there has been a significant increase in the demand for larger packs too.

6. We all know that the Covid-19 spread has had a drastic impact on every market. So how has this pandemic affected your company? 

We realised that despite the restriction imposed on the movement of people and goods, we had to resume our supply lines to ensure the availability of food in the retail stores. We re-engineered our operation and resources to ensure that the workplace, be it our factories or depots, were safe places for our team to work in. We executed remote ordering, multi shifts, social distancing norms, good hygiene habits, and the likes to ensure our team was well taken care of while they resumed supply lines. We worked closely with state authorities to gain the requisite permission to run our supply infrastructure to service the stores.

The consumer has always been at the heart of what we do and since a lot of them reached out to us to get supply lines going, we worked overnight to set up a direct to consumer platform. Our consumers in the top 5 metros can now order online and we will have it delivered to their doorstep.

As a commitment to the resuming supply lines, we also worked very closely with some NGOs and helped them with our supply infrastructure to contribute over 7.5 lacs cups & bottles of yogurts to the homeless and migrant workers who have been impacted the most during this lockdown. We are committed to keeping this going and have energised our ecosystem through our outreach program called Epigamia Step-Up, with a mission to provide food and water to communities impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

7. Could you share your company’s plan to launch (if any) a new health-based product in the market? 

We recently launched Probiotic Yogurt and our take on Paneer. In addition to this, we’re working on Coconut Milk-based Beverages and a few surprise one’s are coming soon.

8. In this era of the pandemic, how has lockdown fuelled FMGC in e-commerce, in your opinion? 

The pandemic has changed consumer habits. The curbs put in place to contain the spread of coronavirus and consumer worries about venturing into physical stores are fuelling online retail growth, with a lot of people ordering goods online for the first time. We feel D2C customers will increase and more brands will soon become omnichannel.

9. As the CEO of Epigamia what is your message to the food start-ups? 

Fire a bullet, see where it goes, and course-correct along the way. There is a good time, bad time to start; the risks are the same at any time. The food business is very challenging, so as entrepreneurs, we must keep moving forward, focus on delivering the best product, and constantly innovate.

10. Finally, what made you switch from finance to the food industry? 

My passion for food and wanting to pursue a career I loved and wanted to be part of everyday.