Difficult times often help us put things into perspective. Now more than ever we know that shelter over our heads and nutritious food on the table, it is a privilege. However, access to safe, fresh and healthy food is unequal across the country.
In 2016, this difficulty in accessing nutritious food items by the underprivileged and the malnutrition that it caused got entrepreneur Japna Rishi Kaushik thinking. Reports released indicated that India had one of the worst cases of stunting among children under the age of five.
With expertise and experience in the field of food technology and nutrition, Japna determined to bring about a change.
“A lot of us can buy a packet of almonds, but this is not affordable for people who aren’t as economically prosperous. But that does not mean that they shouldn’t be able to access nutritious food and snacks,” says the 39-year-old based out of Gurugram.
Vivek Kaushik, her husband, had also founded his own NGO called the Edwell Society in 2008. The NGO works with grassroots communities on financial inclusion projects, livelihood and skill development, and the education space. The interaction with these grassroots communities further strengthened Japna’s will to bring about a change.
Birth of Hungry Foal
This understanding of nutrition deficits experienced by low-income groups led to the birth of ‘Hungry Foal’ in 2016. The Gurugram based startup sells nutritious (yet delicious) snacks starting at Rs 10!
“When we initially began, we were working out of a 6-foot by 4-foot room. Our target audience was mainly children, which is why we needed to make our products tasty in addition to being healthy. Ensuring that it is affordable was one of main focusses too!” informs Japna.
After one year of managing operations, Japna was soon joined by Vivek who began managing the sales, marketing, business strategy, partnerships and fundraising.
Now, the startup has grown leaps and bounds after it’s humble beginnings. Hungry Foal manufactures 30,000 units every day to meet the demand. Their healthy snack options are prepared using a high concentration of oats, among other grains and nuts. One can choose from oats choco-chip muffin, kheer muffin, nut mixes etc.
The startup also worked in collaboration with the Society of Applied Sciences and the Centre for Health Research and Development (CHRD), where they have developed healthy snack options like choco-coconut biscuits (among six other products) for pregnant and lactating women from low-income groups.
Additionally, in collaboration with Edwell society (Vivek’s NGO), Hungry Foal launched Project Garbh.
Under this initiative, a portion of Hungry Foal’s earnings gives snacks to pregnant and lactating women (from low-income groups) for 1000 days for free!
Initially operating in the northern parts of the country like Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan and UP, they have also started selling their products through retail partners in Karnataka, Telangana and Gujarat. Currently, they are in talks with channel partners from Goa, Kolkata and the Middle-east who could make Hungry Foal’s products available across different cities in these states. The startup is also seeking out partners across India and globally for further expansion.
In conversation with The Better India (TBI), entrepreneur Japna talks about her entrepreneurial journey and the fight against hunger and malnutrition.
Life before Hungry Foal
The confidence to start an organization in the food sector came because Japna had experience in the sector. After completing her BSc from Punjabi University in 2002, she set out to pursue a Master’s in Microbial Food Technology from the same university.
“The reason why I decided to pursue a career in this sector is that the food industry was growing at the time, and it meant several opportunities lay ahead of me. Moreover, this was something I was interested in. So, it was an obvious choice at the time,” she says.
Japna then went on to work in companies like Coca Cola as a quality executive, at Nestle assisting in the pathogen lab, and at Britannia as a Production Officer. In 2009, she got married to Vivek and continued to provide her expertise as a freelance consultant for different companies in the food and beverage sector.
Vivek, on the other hand, is also a BSc graduate and later pursued his MBA from The Institute of Chartered Financial Analysts of India (ICFAI). He then started his career at a Gurugram based infrastructure consulting firm. Over the course of his career, he has had the experience of executing strategic business plans, fundraising, growth planning and leadership. He also has the experience of managing and leading non-profits and for-profit social enterprises.
In 2017, he joined Japna at Hungry Foal, and the two have been working together, relentlessly. His knowledge and experience working with grassroots communities as well as his experience of setting up new ventures have been crucial for the growth of Hungry Foal.
Recalling the first time Hungry Foal set up a stall to sell their products, Japna remembers that all the products (200 units) sold out within an hour. And, there has been no looking back for Hungry Foal ever since.
Going about the operations
Although they started from a tiny space, they soon set up a 10,750 sq feet unit in Manesar. Gradually, their employees also increased, and they have about 35 people in their entire team now who look after different aspects of production like research and development, production, managing the vendors, inventories, sales etc.
Initially bootstrapped, Japna informs that support received under the Startup India programme among other government bodies helped them scale operations for Hungry Foal. Moreover, funding from GAIL (India) Limited and a Pre-Series A round of funding led by Singapore based Madison Capital have further helped the startup to take off.
When it comes to developing the recipes for the snacks, Japna followed the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) guidelines.
“The nutrition composition of the products are developed with the needs of someone as young as 10 to that of a person who is 50 in mind. We have ensured that all the ingredients used are of top quality. Whey protein and soy protein we use in our recipes are from the US and UK,” informs Japna. FSSAI has certified all of these products.
Some of the best-selling products for Hungry Foal include the choco-chip muffins, orange muffins, classic energy bars, chocolate energy bars and the Kheer muffins. “It was imperative that we healthily develop the recipes without compromising on taste. So, we use oats flour, milk protein, peanuts, honey among others,” states Japna.
This focus on taste and health, while also ensuring affordability is what has helped Hungry Foal maintain it’s a steady inflow of orders.
Gurugram-based corporate employee Mridula Singh is one of Hungry Foal’s earliest customers. Having lived in the same area, she had been trying, testing and ‘loving’ the product since the very beginning.
“The products are nutritious and filling, while also being super affordable. My family loves the chocolate chip muffins, kheer muffins and the orange muffins. My son is 16, exercises and plays sports. So, he likes the energy bars. The best part is, in Rs 100, you get a pack of delicious, healthy muffins. Where else would you get that?” she asks.
Overcoming hurdles for a better future
Although Hungry Foal’s sales touch lakhs of rupees monthly, the journey has not been a piece of cake. When they first began, Japna explains how she would herself prepare all the snacks by herself in a tiny room.
As they scaled with the unit, they did not have so much capital to invest in machines needed for the manufacturing processes. “So, for this, we developed our own designs and got our machines fabricated. This helped us save a lot of costs as we did not import our machinery nor did we spend lakhs of rupees in buying expensive ones,” states Japna.
Other challenges relate to packaging and logistics, but soon, over time, they sailed over these as they developed a good network of vendors who provided these services.
Now, Japna informs that there is a lot in store for Hungry Foal.
They are currently developing four energy bars that are purely protein-based and have anti-oxidant properties. Like their Kheer muffin, Japna expresses that she wants to explore more of these traditional flavours as they go on adding more products to their existing range. Hungry Foal also wants to provide personalized nutrition in the future that could perhaps be powered by Artificial Intelligence.
“In the future, I hope that Hungry Foal becomes the household name and the go-to brand for healthy snacks for both children and adults. I want us to cater to the masses globally. The hope is that one day we become the best-known name in the nutrition industry while doing our bit in solving the problem of malnutrition,” says Japna signing off.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)