In an interview with BW Disrupt, Deb Mukherjee, Founder & CEO, Moi Soi – a Ceres Foods brand, talks about the company, funding and more
Brief us about your business model. How did you get the ideas of this business?
It all begin in 2014, we started with running our own restaurants then moved to cloud-kitchens format at one point we were running over 45 locations. Today, we are facilitating and working with chefs and restauranteurs across India and countries beyond. The aim is to minimize effort and do away with repetitive and mundane processes. Moi Soi range of products bring Consistency, Cost Control and enhanced Efficiency in the daily operations of kitchen. It empowers chefs to further upgrades in the offering or other innovations, which make their cuisine stand out.
The ‘India Ready-To-Cook Market Outlook, 2021,’ suggests that the total market for ready-to-cook has grown at a CAGR of 15-20 per cent during the past five years. And there seems to be no ebbing this trend. Rather the pandemic has been a further trigger to this segment. Ceres Foods distils our cumulative experience as foodies, restaurateurs and servicing the hospitality industry and brings to the consumer a range of Ceres liquid masalas and Moi Soi oriental sauces that ensure authenticity of the cuisine while simplifying the cooking process. Making it speedy and convenient.
How are you different from the existing competitors?
If you look at the product portfolios of the companies operating in this segment, they seem to have 70 to 80 per cent overlapping products.
We have decided on day one that the only way we can make a mark is in two ways:
1. Innovate products on two fronts – taste and quality with no compromise – our products are sometimes expensive vis a vis the competition but when consumers use they realise they actually save much more with our products as they are more complete. Our products have withstood the test of restaurant and hotels. You can call them Chef-grade as many chefs are using them. And these very chefs and restauranteurs have been involved in their development or innovation at Ceres Foods.
2. Focus on products that are not catered to by the competition – we started focusing on products which no one effectively does . For eg everyone in this country does this product called schzwan sauce – we also do that albeit a far far superior product which even Chinese consumers will enjoy but also extended the portfolio to include 8 more specialised sauces . Similarly within the Indian curries we looked at difficult to execute dishes especially focusing on the non veg curries which the large players rarely do beyond butter chicken – our Laal Maas with compare well or better that any Laal maas available in Rajasthan and that’s not us saying but the market does.
We aim to consolidate all our products into the Moi Soi brand which we aim to take global. This’ll be the first brand out of India, in the segment, which will be meant for the global and Indian consumers both.
What is the funding status and monetization model?
At present we are bootstrapped and self-funded our own resources and internal accruals. And we are currently looking out for funding. Be that as it may, you can expect a wider range of products. We will soon feature Mughlai, Thai and even vegetarian offerings in the product portfolio. We already have ready range of 150 products that are being offered to the hospitality industry. We would selectively add from these to our retail offering. This will cater to a wider and varied India and international palate. And as we move forward, special products developed exclusively for the retail segment will also be introduced.
What challenges are you facing in running your business?
The experience of servicing the hospitality industry has come in pretty handy! With an objective to bring in restaurant class food into home kitchens, we had to do some basic tweaks to the SKUs and select the products from our readymade repository of 150 products and introduce into the retail markets. The product part has been taken care of but distribution, logistics and marketing are the key and they are very different from the segment we have been operating in. Moi Soi is modelled on a digital first, direct to consumer strategy. We have had a very favourable response till date, with 80% repeat customer rate. Our Instant Liquid Masalas and Oriental Stir Fry sauces are currently live across multiple groceries platforms such as Flipkart, Amazon Pantry, Instamart, Jio, Big Basket etc.
The winning strategy is to have the right portfolio of products at the right place i.e. offer what the consumer wants and be there where the consumer is. So the winning strategy is omnichannel. We will be making available our products in more regions in India and the world. We will increase product penetration via offline retail formats the process of distributors for individual territories is already underway. We are also working towards making the product available through offline channels viz. retail chains, mom & pop stores, select meat shops etc. In a nutshell you will be seeing more of Ceres products offered at more places!
How do you look at expansion?
We look at expansion in 3 fronts. One Product range, second Online availability and third Offline geographical availability (in India and Overseas) We are working tirelessly on all 3 fronts.
On the Product front, you sure can expect a wider range of products. You will soon see more Mughlai, Thai and even vegetarian offerings in the Moi Soi Portfolio. We have developed over 150 products for the hospitality industry and wish to roll-out select products in the retail segment in a phased manner. Our objective is to cater to a wider and varied India and international palate. And as we move forward, special products developed exclusively for the retail segment will also be introduced.
What are your marketing plans?
I have already explained about product and placement part of our strategy. Now we come to the communication and customer engagement. To reach out to the target consumer, we are leveraging Social Media, Emailer, Direct reach outs and our network. We will be participating in offline events to showcase our offerings. Also, placing the product in Modern/ General Trade stores in Mumbai/ Pune/ Goa/ Delhi. Influencer marketing has also been a key part. The high repeat purchases have generated a lot of positive word of mouth amongst our customers. We believe that with a wider range and availability this would only grow, as we are very confident about our offerings. Another tool we are deploying and with enhanced vigor, is visual cookbook. Content is a big play; so there will be a series of videos that with actual cooking done using Moi Soi range of products. And we will also keep value adding, offering users useful tips and add-ons to enhance the cuisine. We feel that this would attract food enthusiasts and initiate discussions amongst consumers, keep them engaged, triggering a virtuous cycle that will significantly enhance our brand equity.
What has been the biggest learning so far?
Consumers enjoy restaurant style food but may not necessarily enjoy the complex and time consuming cooking process. They want a quick fix from a brand on which they can rely and relate with, to make their life simple. A brand that can make them Heroes while creating that WOW factor.
Our biggest learnings have been:
We can’t satisfy everyone!
And food is an underlying requirement of living and hence everyone has an opinion on it.
We want to play in the already crowded Dal Makhani, Butter Chicken space. We want to stick to our core of creating and simplifying complicated dishes that consumers will ordinarily not make at home. And do a great job of it!
What is the market size and opportunity?
We fall under Ready to Cook which is a new segment and is growing rapidly. The market in India is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 20% during the 2019-2024 period, to generate revenue of INR 70 Bn by 2024. However our Liquid Masalas potentially is targeting the much larger Masala Market which is almost 5 x larger.
The oriental products under Moi Soi have been a big hit across consumers as we are playing a gap in the market. For these sauces like Ceres Liquid Masalas are fully equipped to deliver the final dish, just add main ingredients to it and follow the instructions in the ‘Little Moi Soi Cookbook” The Ceres Food Liquid Masalas are also picking up pace and we are averaging around 10,000 packets a month (in retail) with a projection of hitting 100,000 units in 6 months.
Both the product categories have also found a high levels of acceptance from the institutional market and we are in discussion with several 5 Star and fine-dine chains to introduce our products in their restaurants. The low dependency on skill is becoming the biggest draw for our entire product range. As we speak, we are working overtime to manufacture and deliver special product batches to service some of cities experiencing huge demand surge. Our aggregator partners have asked to ramp up production as they risk stock-outs.
How did you manage your services during lockdown? How has your company been adjusting to the new-normal? Have you witnessed any major changes in the business/sector in the post Covid scenario?
Ceres Foods is one of the few companies that have experienced enhanced sales during the pandemic. It may have restricted the consumer’s movement i.e. going to restaurant but not the desire to consume restaurant food. And this is exactly what we at Moi Soi are offering – restaurant style food prepared at home in a hassle free, and speedy way. This is exactly what the consumer is looking for – to enjoy restaurant style food in the safety of her home. As I mentioned in my previous response that our aggregators are experiencing stock outs and have urged us to scale up production. Even in the hospitality space, we are surprisingly experiencing a significant surge. Due to pandemic it is becoming increasingly difficult for hotels and restaurants to retain staff. Many who left for their hometowns have not returned or have been out of action due the virus. And Moi Soi products offered just the solution that is cost effective, easy to deploy, safe and offer excellent dining experience to the clientele.
Source: Business World