Steamed Snack Range, a Truly Healthy on-the-go-Snacks
Food Maketing and Technology magazine, India had an opportunity to interact with Janardhan Swahar, Founder of Y-Cook brand. He talks about his journey with the Technopreneur grant from the Government to vision of ‘Good food for all’. They work in partnership with farmers who are trained and comply to Global GAP (good agricultural practices) ensuring that produce is free from any pesticide residues.
1. Please briefly share the journey of your Company so far. What motivated you to start Y-Cook?
Our journey started with a simple vision “Good food for all” and with the continued obsession on “good” has helped us be the pioneers of the steamed snack space, a new category in the food space. Our technology is to naturally steam whole grains, without need of any preservatives or additives creating a shelf life of 1 year without need for refrigeration.
In essence our products are
We started our journey with the Technopreneur grant from the Government of India and this allowed us to understand in detail the process of thermal sterilisation and also all the latest advancements in Packaging. We started retailing our products in the market in 2012. We also realised when working with natural products such as ours, consistency is of paramount importance. Since we have not altering the natural product in anyway, say for example not flaking, not pounding, the quality of input = quality of output. This led us to focus on creating a strong backward integration with the supply chain. All what we pack for our consumers are exclusively grown in partnership with farmers. All our farmers are trained and comply to Global GAP (good agricultural practices) ensuring that our produce is free from any pesticide residues. We are now BRC, HACCP, FSSC22000 certified along with Halal, Organic and Kosher certifications, we are also USFDA registered.
We are currently available in 26 cities in India and 9 countries across the globe. We maintain the same quality standards for both domestic and international market.
YCook’s ‘Tadaa’ range of steamed products is now addressing needs acoss the chain of consumption.
For the consumer on the go – YCook offers a snack range that is not fried, not baked, just naturally steamed without any preservatives or additives. A snack that is convenient to carry on the go, because it is storable under ambient conditions and does not require any refrigeration. Our range of steamed snacks is also naturally gluten free, low GI, high fibre, and in many cases rich in protein. The current range includes Steamed Sweet corn on cob, Sweet corn kernels which come with 4 optional flavourings, steamed chickpeas, steamed peanuts with flavouring options.
For the consumers in the kitchen – Tadaa range of steamed ingredients offers consumers the ultimate cooking convenience without any compromise on health, taste or pride (of cooking).
For the retailers – The ambient storage with a one-year shelf life becomes easy to store and retail
For the farmers – Everything that is packed for consumers is grown exclusively for us in partnership with our farmers and hence we offer traceability to consumers as well. Our farmers are also trained and comply to the Global GAP ensuring the produce is pesticide residue free. The farmers have a sizeable marketplace for their produce along with assured buy back at pre-fixed prices.
2. You work closely with farmers, how do you select them to be your suppliers?
We work with small and marginal farmers, and all our new enrollment comes through our current farmer references. Our enrolment starts with soil testing. We then train the farmer on Global GAP requirements and our SOPs. Post the training the farmer is given saplings for his first crop cycle, and during the crop cycle he is mentored and monitored for Global GAP compliance. Post the first successful harvest of pesticide residue free produce, he becomes a part of YCook partner farmers.
3. Corn was your first product. What was the thought process behind this product?
With our R&D we were ready with a range of products, but the market immediately picked up on the sweet corn range. We were the first to introduce transparent pouches and the very fact that the consumers could see the product, we believe, was the first win for us. We started our retail presence through retail chains, chains by chain rather than region wise and that helped us build relationships for the subsequent launches.
4. What other products do you plan to launch in the market?
We have launched the following products in the market recently – more to follow
Steamed sweet corn on cob (2 SKUs); Steamed Sweet corn kernels (4 flavour options)
Steamed peanuts; Steamed Chickpeas; Steamed Brown Chickpeas; Steamed Green peas
Sprouted and steamed snacks
Steamed peanut sprouts; Steamed Chickpea sprouts; Steamed Brown Chickpea sprouts; Steamed Green Pea sprouts
Steamed Chickpeas; Steamed Kidney bean; Steamed Brown Chickpeas; Steamed greenpeas, Steamed black eyed bean; Steamed Sweet corn kernels; Steamed baby corn; Steamed baby potatoes; Steamed Tapioca; Steamed Sweet potatoes
5. What are your brand and marketing strategies to give your products a distinct identity?
In terms of the brand – Tadaa is an onomatopoeia, which is universally used to express an element of surprise. It is usually used in context of pure goodness and love, like a child making a surprise card for the mother and revealing it with a “Tadaa”. That is the same spirit we have maintained in our product, pure goodness and all our love.
We have in the past worked entirely on building strong roots in terms of product quality, backward integration with farmers and state of art production facility, technology that allows us to work with varied texture in cooking etc and in terms of sales we have built a good distribution network. We have done minimal marketing and most of our growth has been organic.
6. How important is the question of traceablility of farm products? Can you elaborate its importance to farmers and consumers alike?
Since we have been growing all the produce we pack for our consumers, traceability has always been a part of our system. We have from 2019 have made traceability a part of all our sweet corn range of products. While traceability is still a new concept to majority of Indian consumers, it may not be yet a pull factor but as a food processing company we feel it becomes our responsibility to have traceability.
Also, introducing traceability has given visibility to where it is due, our farmers. Imagine being known for the good produce they grow, our farmers are thrilled about it.
7. How do you see the growth of the fresh ready to eat market in India?
We have two product lines – the steamed snack range and the ingredients range. In terms of the snack range, the snacking occasions are on the rise and there is a growing need for meal replacement snacks, in addition there is a rise in health consciousness more so among the younger population. This is opening up a huge need for truly healthy on-the-go-snacks to which our steamed snack range currently caters.
With Indian consumers, we have seen that there is an uncompromising element of taste that every cook brings into a dish coupled with the sense of pride. When we decoded cooking as a process, our consumers loved to have the convenience but also wanted the flexibility of bringing in their taste and keeping intact the pride of cooking. Our ‘steamed and ready’ range offers consumers just that, convenience without touching the taste and pride of the cook. Imagine, with our steamed Kabuli chana, you can toss out any dish of your choice – chana chat, sundal, kadala curry, chana masala, ghugni and much more and that too in the matter of minutes; the offering of ultimate kitchen convenience will open up a huge market for us.
8. What is the role and significance of processing and packaging in your plant and how does it affect the quality of the final product?
We have leapfrogged levels in terms of our processing. It is a set of micro processed that allow up to steam and pack the products without the need for any preservatives or additives, not even acidity regulators. Our unique and differential thermal sterilization process enables us to retail the peak harvest freshness, texture, colour, taste and nutrition. Our steam sterilization process also allows us to give consumers steamed food in a pack which can be nibbled upon as finger food.
Our custom packaging enables us to retain the product in ambient temperature for 1 year.
9. What is your leadership mantra?
When your intentions are true and right, the world will conspire and make it happen.
10. Covid-19 and the lockdown……… what was the impact on your Company? What are your learnings?
to keep our factory running with minimal staff and that has made us more efficient. We were a modern trade focused brand and covid taught us to move GT. It also put us on a fast tract on our R&D efforts and we were able to launch our steamed sprouts. Every dark cloud does have a silver lining.
11. What is your message to young entrepreneurs? What are the blind spots they should stay away from?
Take the plunge, it is definitely worth it.
Some blind spots –
Never ever lose track of why you started it in the first place.
Too many ideas can be counterproductive – take a few and learn to fast track.
Create a team of people who are passionate and always hire people who can compensate you lacunas.