You can meet the conscientious shopper in the aisles of grocery stores — picking up an item and reading the packaging before deciding on their purchase. Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, such shoppers have increased.
A report by UK-based market research firm, Euromonitor International and PepsiCo India, titled ‘Impact of Covid-19 on the nutrition choices of urban Indian consumers in 2021’, released in December, reveals that almost 90 per cent of the urban consumers were willing to pay more for healthy alternatives in food and, when it came to breakfast cereals, 53 per cent of urban consumers were ingredient-conscious.
The pandemic has changed attitudes towards food and the market has responded by filling shops with products that claim to be ‘healthy’, leaving a buyer confused about the different definitions of the word.
Now, a Pune-based breakfast-and-snacks startup True Elements helps solve the problem. One of India’s market leaders in putting clean food on the table, True Elements, which had an Annualised Rate Run (ARR) of Rs 70 crore in June 2021 and aims to push it up to Rs 300 crore in 18-24 months, enables consumers to trace the antecedents of their product through its traceability feature. If you enter the name of the product and the batch code on the company’s website, you can find out the journey of the product from the farm to the shelf.
“In the next few weeks, a customer will also be able to find out the name of the farm where the product was procured with the farmer’s photo. We believe in complete transparency because our version of clean food is absolute, not relative. Every item is 100 per cent whole grain, zero per cent preservative, zero per cent additives and zero per cent sugar,” says Puru Gupta, co-founder of the company with Shreejith Moolayil.
In December, True Elements signed an agreement with cooperative societies and entered contract farming in Maharashtra to source clean grains such as wheat, jowl, flax and chia, straight from farmers.
“Previously, we did not have the scale to go to a farmer and say that we would buy their entire year’s produce but, today, we can. We have started to educate farmers from the basics, such as sowing seeds. They stand to have a better output and better returns. We are also working to enable them technologically,” says Gupta.
Currently, True Elements’ offerings come in 13 categories such as western and regional breakfast, seeds and their mixes, OTG (on-the-go), RTC (ready-to-cook), RTE (ready-to-eat) snacks and RTD (ready-to-drink) drinks, and 65 products, such as gluten-free rolled oats, dark chocolate granola, whole oatmeal and chocolate pancake mix. The focus is on clean, chemical-free food that also tastes good, says Gupta.
A typical consumer falls into one of the two segments — the health-conscious person who finds that True Elements products are tasty and comes back for more and the taste-conscious consumer who, after the first bite or sip, realises that it is healthier than most other brands, and repeats the purchase. Both segments grew during the pandemic and drove True Elements’ sales.
“If we have to grow, we have to go mainstream. We don’t believe in the word ‘niche’, which means small. We have to get into every single space in the customer’s kitchen. We plan to do this while remaining true to people, true to our word and true to the planet,” Gupta adds.
The company has responded to the demands of the pandemic with innovations such as Jowar Cereal Cake — a biscuit-like cake which when added to milk, dissolves and becomes porridge, with the sweetness coming from sorghum, which is the stem of the jowar plant — and a dessert mix called Chocolate Icecream Indulgence, which is without chemicals and sugar.
When it realised that people were ignoring breakfast in their rush to start working in the work-from-home world, True Elements came up with an oats-almonds-jaggery shake that is quick to make and, according to feedback, keeps one full till lunch.
“There will be five to seven product additions every month of 2022 on the Indian food side but we will continue to focus on our stronghold of western breakfast. We are covering the consumption points of 8 am breakfast, 11 am snack and 4 pm snack time. An increasing number of people are getting discerning and believe that they should eat healthy in the morning and the evening,” says Moolayil.
In December, the Delhi High Court instructed authorities concerned to fully disclose all ingredients that have been used in a food item, not by their code names, but by clearly-mentioned sources, irrespective of quantity present in the product.
“We welcome the court’s decision. These are the principles we have been anchored to from the day we started. Our packaging has been devoid of jargon. The fundamental reason for what we do is to ensure a more preventive healthcare mindset in people,” he adds.