Decoding the makings of India’s ace homegrown brand, Slurrp Farm, we get talking to co-founders Shauravi Malik and Meghana Narayan. Armed with childhood memories of Ragi mudde (steamed Ragi balls) and chocolate peanut chikki with jaggery, the duo kick-started their journey to bring about a change of healthy & delish eating. Swapping their careers in finance at Sir Richard Branson’s Group Holding (Shauravi) and public health policy at McKinsey (Meghana), for cereals and cookies, they’re stirring up a storm in the packaged food industry. Using traditional recipes and superlative local ingredients, organic when possible, they believe change starts at the nucleus, “with children and families.”
Emphasising the importance of natural flavours, preservative and stabiliser free products, and diversity of ingredients in daily diet through their products, the duo have gone from strength to strength. Helping folks snack healthy on airlines and at hotels too now, they share, “Interestingly, adults love our cookies as much as kids,” and everyone at DSSC (gobbling the cookies) concurs. With their pancake and dosa mixes on the cusp of hitting shelves and 12 new products for adults & kids, including millet drinks, millet based breakfasts, ready-to-cook meals, and a wide range of on-the-go snacks in the pipeline, we are already in works to hoard up at the HQ. As we flip some pancakes and chomp some cereal, the entrepreneurs get talking about their journey with Slurrp Farm.
Well established in your careers in London, what prompted you to shift gears and explore food entrepreneurship?
Shauravi: Our friends in India would constantly ask us to bring back children’s food products and it surprised us that despite the tremendous variety and diversity in our traditional way of eating, people wanted to import food. Around the same time, I began reading up voraciously on food and stumbled upon the movie – Food Inc. It is the single most seminal documentary on the food sector and a must watch.
Meghana: She everyone we knew watch it! And it sparked a journey where we researched and evolved the way we ate in our own homes, adapting more healthy and mindful cooking.
Shauravi: While we realised the definite gap of healthy eating options in children’s food market in India, it was only when we had our own children that we truly understood the trials and tribulations of feeding kids right. We spent a lot of time studying, sourcing, and understanding the several problems with the food chain today and eventually we set out to start Slurrp Farm.
What inspired the conceptualisation of Slurrp Farm and incorporation of indigenous millets into the brand?
Shauravi: We want to drive an inflexion or a real change in the health food market and revive traditional superfoods, like the vast varieties of indigenous millets. We believe that the society needs a fundamental change in its eating habits.
Meghana: Millets had been the major staple food in India for centuries and were part of our grandparents’ daily diets, as they were well aware of its nutritional benefits. However, due to a mix of several economic and social factors (Green Revolution), they were forgotten. The desire to return to those simpler times is a huge motivation for us. The current disarray in the way people are eating has led to several problems, including childhood obesity, diabetes, and cancer, which are often linked to the quality of food. Both Shauravi and I have grown up eating millets like Ragi, and they can benefit everyone. So, we made the conscious decision to incorporate them in all our products.
How have your educational backgrounds in economics and computation helped shape Slurrp Farm?
Shauravi: Coming back to work in India has been ‘the’ school of life for both of us. The degrees just mean we are both nerds in our own ways! All the academic institutions and the (approx) 15 years each of solid corporate careers across different sectors have given us two things – a fairly structured way of approaching things and a rigorous standard that we hold ourselves up to. However, we’ve learnt a lot on-the-go.
Meghana: The umpteen number of organic food farmers and companies, food technologists, scientists, machinery and equipment manufacturers, small and large food companies; not to mention the moms and babies along the way, taught us a lot! This crisscross journey that spanned across all over India has truly shaped our vision for Slurrp Farm.
How was the journey of creating recipes that walk the fine balance between nutrition and satiating the palate?
Meghana: It’s not been easy! The conventional food chain has so much junk – dalda, maida, sugar, and you cannot change habits overnight. To create a real shift towards healthy eating for a majority of people, food needs to taste good, be convenient, and showcase good ingredients. We realised this early on. People want solutions, a simple ‘Eat ragi’ will not yield results, it needs to be made a mainstream ingredient. We made sugar-free cereals, and cookies with apple puree but no one except our tree-hugging friends ate the cereal (their babies outright refused) and the cookies were commercially unviable. So we corrected it and learnt to differentiate between theory & reality.
Shauravi: Ever since inception we have focussed on creating nutritious and delicious recipes. It takes about 12 months from the drawing board to shelf, but it’s also very enjoyable (once you learn to not be impatient). We always start at home with the basic recipes from our mothers and grandmothers. Mandakini Gupta of Smitten Bakery was our go-to person for cookies and she created six smashing recipes. We wrote to about 100 parents at Anand Play School, asking permission for their children to try our cookies and put it to the ultimate taste test. The kids were very honest and that’s how we picked the current flavours. It then evolved to suit dietary regulations and nutritional needs based on input from people like Sheela Krishnaswamy, who has been the very best nutritionist we could hope for.
How was the process of setting up production and what goes into sourcing the ingredients?
Shauravi: It’s a lesson in patience. We looked at working with people in both India and abroad, and what we can get done in 3 months elsewhere, often takes years here. It also took us longer because at every step we would be these persistent plodders who showed up at factories wanting to change the way of doing things, use far better ingredients which are not always suited for “scale”, remove preservatives, make the sugar 1/3, etc. However, we met the most wonderful and kindred people along the way.
Meghana: We spent a lot of time and effort sourcing raw materials following very strict quality control and food safety standards. For cereals, we source organic whole grains from a personally whetted aggregator who possesses USDA, EU, and Indian Organic certification. Similarly with cookies, we only use real butter. It surely impacts the price, but we strongly feel there is no price on quality.
Slowly the perception towards food is evolving in the capital city and with increasing awareness, the trust on packaged products is depleting. What is your perception on the issue?
Meghana: It is true that some parents today fear giving their children anything that comes in a packet. Knowing the kind of packaged foods available in the market, we don’t blame them. This is the primary change we want to bring about through Slurrp Farm. Our products are made just the way you would make at home. We are trying to get it across to people that there should not be any “Science Lab” ingredients (like additives or preservatives) in packaged foods. You cannot have a product which is priced at Rs.10 and is healthy. So, education is important on both ends to create consumers who demand better products, and eventually eliminate the distrust about the packaged food, by bringing about much needed change. We want people to read labels!
Having gathered an avid following in the short span since its genesis, where do you see Slurrp Farm in the next five years?
Shauravi: In your kitchens, homes, and hearts – we hope! With lots of storybooks, cookbooks, and yummy food that bring the Slurrp Farm family characters to life, and tickle your palate at the same time.
As we slur(r)p yet another bowlful of their delish cereal, the duo bid adieu, but not before they share their food philosophy that keeps them running, “Keep it yummy and simple.”
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this feature are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of DSSC & its affiliates.