Home Inspirational IIT Grad ‘Unjunks’ Snacks to Construct Wholesome Meals Biz; Rs 100 Cr Turnover

IIT Grad ‘Unjunks’ Snacks to Construct Wholesome Meals Biz; Rs 100 Cr Turnover

IIT Grad ‘Unjunks’ Snacks to Construct Wholesome Meals Biz; Rs 100 Cr Turnover


As an MBA pupil at Harvard Enterprise College, Ahana Gautam’s mornings began with two cups of espresso and two croissants. She frightened about why she wasn’t dropping pounds regardless of understanding on the gymnasium when a good friend identified that she was having bread and butter for breakfast day by day. This opened her eyes to the significance of a very good food regimen and the necessity to have wholesome meals, particularly snacks.

Ahana, raised by a single mom in Bharatpur, Rajasthan, typically loved ghevar (a Rajasthani disc-shaped candy created from ghee, flour, and sugar syrup) and bhujia (deep-fried besan sticks) as her routine night snacks after college. As she began studying in regards to the significance of a nutritious diet, she grew to become conscious of the unhealthy meals she had been consuming since childhood.

In the meantime, Ahana’s niece in India was identified with Kind 1 diabetes at 15 months, and Ahana’s sister-in-law struggled to seek out nutritious snacks for the kid as she started attending playschool.

In March 2019, Ahana began her personal snacks model known as ‘Open Secret’ to supply more healthy alternate options. The model provides over 30 snack varieties created from elements like dry fruits and millet. She asserts that their merchandise include no refined flour, trans fat, palm oil, or synthetic preservatives.

The model is on observe to realize a gross income of Rs 100 crore this 12 months.

How a mom’s unwavering assist sowed the seed of entrepreneurship

Ayesha credits her mother as her inspiration
Ahana credit her mom as her inspiration.

Ahana’s first objective when she was in class was to get into IIT Bombay, following within the footsteps of her brother. Her mom was a professor at a school and at all times instructed Ahana and her brother that schooling ranges the taking part in discipline. This was etched in younger Ahana’s thoughts as she labored onerous to get into the celebrated establishment — in a state with one of many lowest feminine literacy charges.

“I may see clearly how alternatives weren’t the identical for each genders. My feminine classmates weren’t given the identical schooling as their brothers. The truth is, many households have been okay with a mediocre schooling for his or her daughters. However my mother didn’t pay heed to what everybody mentioned. She spent all her time working, as a single mother or father, to supply each of us with a very good schooling,” Ahana tells The Higher India.

When she gained admission to IIT-Bombay, some “well-wishers” questioned her mom about why she was sending her daughter to Mumbai, contemplating her dream (of getting a baby finding out at IIT) was already achieved. In response, her mom merely mentioned, “Let her do no matter she desires. Each my youngsters are equal.”

It was at IIT that the entrepreneurial bug took delivery contained in the chemical engineer. Moreover, being a part of the entrepreneurship cell and the theatre group in school modified her outlook in direction of life. “I knew someday I wished to create a model from scratch. Storytelling, to me, is highly effective, and I wished to share my story by means of a model. I made a decision it must be within the shopper items business, although I hadn’t found out the specifics,” she provides.

Even whereas finding out at IIT, Ahana’s consuming habits remained poor as she resorted to junk. She would fall sick typically, be it in school or school, with out realising that one of many causes was the meals she consumed. It will be 4 years later at Harvard when she would come to the realisation.

‘Why does India lack wholesome packaged meals?’

Open Secret's factories are run by women
Open Secret’s factories are run by girls.

Earlier than heading to Harvard Enterprise College. Ahana labored within the product provide division at Procter & Gamble (P&G) for 4 years. She went to Entire Meals Market to buy wholesome snacks. This American grocery store chain, as per its web site, gives meals with out hydrogenated fat and synthetic colors, flavours, and preservatives. She considers her first go to to the grocery store as her ‘Aha’ second.

“I used to be blown away by the choices in entrance of me. I puzzled why we didn’t have entry to such wholesome choices in India,” she shares.

As Ahana started operating and choosing more healthy meals, she seen an enchancment in her well being. Reflecting on her childhood sicknesses and weight points, she realised that if such merchandise had been accessible in India, it will have been less complicated for moms like hers to supply more healthy snacks to their youngsters.

On the identical time, her sister-in-law in India was dealing with the identical conundrum as her mom as soon as did — the best way to pack nutritious meals for her daughter (who has Kind 1 diabetes) going to high school. Two generations of moms have been dealing with the identical downside, and now Ahana knew what her enterprise could be.

“India is an innovation hub, and but, there was nobody fixing the issue of constructing more healthy biscuits, cookies and chips. Mothers nonetheless needed to give their youngsters maida biscuits and deep-fried snacks. My sister-in-law had the identical choices from the identical manufacturers as my mom did, virtually 30 years in the past!” she provides.

To supply improved merchandise to households and dealing professionals, she got here again to Mumbai in 2018. She started conducting surveys to grasp individuals’s meals preferences and what elements would make them belief a brand new model.

“Everybody mentioned that they wished to eat wholesome, however nobody wished to compromise on style,” says the now Mumbai resident.

Women packing Open Secret products at their factory
Ladies packing Open Secret merchandise at their manufacturing facility

Having labored at Procter & Gamble (P&G) and Normal Mills, Ahana gained data throughout varied points of the patron items business, spanning provide chain, finance, advertising, and manufacturing. In 2019, she left Normal Mills and based Open Secret.

Her mom, the second director, offered the corporate with a paid-up capital of Rs 2 lakh. Following the corporate registration, Ahana devoted the subsequent 9 months to crafting the best ‘unjunked’ snack.

Upon securing funding, her preliminary precedence was discovering an appropriate manufacturing facility. “I used to be certain I wished the shopfloor to be run by girls. Once I checked out manufacturing items in Bhiwandi, Maharashtra, there was a giant downside — there have been no bathrooms for ladies as there have been solely males in all these services,” she shares. After many visits, she determined to arrange her personal manufacturing facility in Bhandup, Mumbai, which might be operated by an all-women workforce.

The following and largest problem was, cracking the right recipe and establishing an meeting line for it.

To deal with the primary problem, Ahana revisited her previous experiences at different firms. Throughout her time launching new merchandise for a earlier model, she extensively visited prospects in metro cities, gaining helpful insights into their snacking preferences. Drawing on this data, she performed focus teams to determine buyer favourites in snacks, cookies, biscuits, and extra.

“Within the focus teams, we requested individuals what they appreciated and disliked within the snacks they have been consuming. The uniform response from everybody — be it working professionals, college students or mothers — was the maida. I then requested them what they discovered wholesome, to which most mentioned dry fruits,” she provides.

Based mostly on this suggestions and with the assistance of an in-house R&D workforce, Ahana labored on formulating the right ‘unjunked’ cookie. “We unjunked the standard cookie by changing maida with 40 to 50 p.c dry fruits and millet utilizing much less sugar. Most of our merchandise have simply 1 to 2 grams of sugar,” she says.

She additional concerned a bunch of 100 moms, dubbed by Ahana as the corporate’s ‘Chief Innovation Officers’. Ahana despatched them varied flavours and samples, utilizing their suggestions to enhance the merchandise. “They helped us crack the suitable product,” says Ahana.

She asserts that they’ve taken measures to ensure the snacks stay delectable even after substituting sure elements with their nutritious counterparts. This ensures that prospects not solely benefit from the style but additionally reap well being advantages from their consumption. Therefore, 9 months and 1,000 cookies later, Ahana was prepared with the primary product — the nutty cookie, which thus far is their bestseller.

The following problem was studying the best way to manufacture the product. “It’s a one-of-a-kind product with no benchmark. I had to make use of my engineering abilities to arrange the suitable meeting line. We additionally needed to work on extending the shelf life with out including preservatives,” she says, including that she makes use of aluminium within the packaging to increase the shelf lifetime of her merchandise.

Ahana lastly launched ‘Open Secret’ in January 2020 by means of on-line and offline channels.

Open Secret has over 30 categories of products

So, how does a brand new model attract prospects and persuade them to buy? Ahana utilized her MBA data, utilising the idea of customer advertising to advertise Open Secret. She and her workforce visited shops, offering free samples of their merchandise. In accordance with the CEO, everybody who tried the product ended up making a purchase order.

“We made Open Secret seen on the level of buy in supermarkets and shops. We did many free trials of the product, as as soon as they fight, they are going to purchase. We additionally incentivised prospects utilizing reductions,” says Ahana.

She mentions that additionally they employed blind tasting to evaluate their merchandise with shoppers. In accordance with Ahana, their Distinctive Promoting Proposition (USP) lies in the truth that their product replicates the style of junk meals, fulfilling individuals’s cravings healthily.

As they slowly began constructing their presence, they confronted their first roadblock two months later as COVID-19 hit India. Not one to bow down throughout a disaster, Ahana labored on changing it into a chance. They centered on on-line channels and have been capable of function through the lockdown as they fell underneath the important classes listing.

“We hustled by means of COVID-19. As soon as, the cooling refrigeration system on the manufacturing facility stopped working through the lockdown. We couldn’t get any technician however wanted a fridge to retailer our sweets and merchandise. I introduced my fridge from house and that’s how we averted a serious disaster,” laughs Ahana.

To make themselves seen on-line, they used banners and reductions, and positioned their merchandise throughout on-line channels.

The founder states that they grew multi-fold amid the pandemic and offered over 10 lakh cookies. Since then, there was no trying again. Open Secret sells over 30 merchandise, together with cookies, biscuits, chips, dry fruits, snacks, sweets, brownies, cereals and extra.

They’re current throughout on-line channels together with Amazon, Flipkart, their very own web site, and fast commerce chains like Zepto, Blinkit, Huge Basket and extra. Additionally they promote by means of supermarkets offline. By way of their platform, additionally they accomplice with and promote merchandise from over 100 wholesome manufacturers. 

Ahana states that they are going to obtain product sales of Rs 100 crore this 12 months and needs to develop into a Rs 10,000 crore firm within the coming years.

‘An ode to my mom’

Ahana studied at Harvard Business School
Ahana studied at Harvard Enterprise College.

Open Secret’s USP, apart from its snacks, is its girls, says Ahana.

Their factories are run by 200 girls and over 50 p.c of its staff are girls. Why? Ahana believes that girls leaders like her, who’re privileged, should present alternatives to girls. In any case, it was resulting from her mom’s perception that this woman from Bharatpur went to IIT, and Harvard, and launched her personal model.

“Folks nonetheless deal with a single girl with a variety of judgement. Once I returned to India, everybody assumed that it was both due to visa points or marriage. Why can’t a single girl comply with her passions? Why is getting married the one solution to quiet down?” asks Ahana.

She provides that an important factor for ladies is to have a very good schooling and be financially unbiased. “You’ll be unstoppable,” she says, including, “I used to be fortunate as a result of my mom gave me that chance, however not everybody will get it. Ladies leaders have the accountability to supply jobs to different girls. Let’s create an equal world for younger ladies.”

Open Secret, actually, is Ahana’s love letter to her single mom, who confirmed her daughter that nothing is unattainable. “It’s an ‘open secret’ that we’re who we’re due to our moms,” says the proud daughter dedicating her model to all moms.

Whereas Ahana’s mom noticed her daughter open her wings and fly, she handed away through the second wave of COVID-19 in 2021. Ahana needed to make a tricky alternative the subsequent day as she had an investor assembly to attend.

“I may both pause and grieve, or pitch to the investor for our Collection A spherical, and I selected the latter, as I needed to construct this model and hold my mom’s legacy alive.”

Edited by Pranita Bhat



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