Two brothers add a sixth stage to grief — starting upRadhika P Nair
Chandigarh-based brothers Ajay and Chetan Pal Singh launch a health food startup, AG Taste, as a tribute to their late parents.
When life gives you a sucker punch in the form of death of a loved one, what do you do? Isolate yourself, turn to friends and family or travel in search of life’s meaning – each of us deals with grief in our unique way. Some channel their grief to create something new. Like brothers Chetan Pal Singh and Ajay Pal Singh who decided to start up when their parents died within months of each other.
Their food venture, AG Taste, is multiple things in one for the siblings. The company, launched in January 2016, is a tribute to their food-loving parents. By creating preservative-free, healthy nutrition bars it is aimed at making people healthy, which is understandably a pet theme for the brothers. By working together, they are also able to help each other through their grief.
Family, food, and tragedy
Their mother Ajinder loved cooking and was able to recreate complex dishes, according to Chetan, after just a tasting. Their electrical engineer father Gurbir was born with muscular dystrophy, a degenerative disease that results in the weakening of muscles over a period of time. He loved exotic foods like stilton cheese and prosciutto but also used holistic food to manage his disease. The brothers inherited their parents’ fascination with food, with younger brother Chetan even becoming a trained chef.
Chetan, after completing his course at The Taj Group of Hotels (run by The Institute of Hotel Management, Aurangabad), moved to San Francisco to work at Michelin-starred Gary Danko and then at the Ritz-Carlton in Dubai and Four Seasons at Langkawi. Elder brother Ajay followed his dad’s footsteps to become an engineer and worked in advertising in Delhi, which allowed him to travel often to visit his parents in Chandigarh.
Life for the Pal Singh family was filled with food and travel, despite dad Gurbir’s condition. However, fate dealt a body blow when mom Ajinder was diagnosed with late-stage cervical cancer in 2014. She lost her battle with cancer in September 2014. Even as they were left reeling from the loss of their mother, their father’s condition deteriorated overnight and he passed away in January 2015.
Grief as inspiration
“My dad’s younger sister, who we are close to, suggested we all take a trip together to put the past behind us. The two of us, our aunt, and her family travelled to Turkey in April that year. There during one of our discussions, she suggested why not Ajay and I start a company together,” recalls Chetan, a state level shooter during his school days.
Food was a natural choice. In the US, I used to munch a lot on energy bars, so that was what I wanted to do. I had a clear vision of what the company would do then itself.”
Chetan, who along with his brother relocated to Chandigarh, began product development in 2015. “With my background at innovative restaurants, I had a fair idea of what flavour mixes would work,” says the 30-year-old. “We tested out few of the flavours with friends and placed them at a few stores in Chandigarh to get customer feedback.”
The duo zeroed in on three flavours – Berrylicious, Le Chocolat, and Nutcase. In January 2016, AG Taste or All Good Taste was set up. The name too is a tribute to their parents, as the ‘A’ and ‘G’ in AG Taste also stand for Ajinder and Gurbir. The bars are retailed under the brand name All Good Bars and are priced at Rs 50.
With production being done out of an industrial park unit in Mohali, the company makes about 500 energy bars daily. AG Taste bars were first launched across Chandigarh and are now slowly making a presence in stores in Delhi, Mumbai, and Jaipur. The energy bars are also sold online across 30 sites, including Amazon, BigBasket, GourmetBox, and Shophop.
Challenges and opportunities
Chetan and Ajay have now got the supply chain in place by sourcing high-quality ingredients from a handful of exporters and importers. “But we are always looking for better sources as we want to keep the quality of ingredients high even as production increases,” says Chetan.
The bigger challenge is educating retailers about the product. “People are still getting used to energy bars. Since we use only natural ingredients and do not use preservatives, the shelf life of ours bars is around three months. Supermarkets are looking for products with longer shelf lives,” says Chetan, whose unit employs five people for production and packing.
The last couple of years has seen the launch of numerous energy and nutri bar brands. RiteBite, YogaBars, On The Run, and MojoBar are a few of the brands in this space. Now, big food brands are also entering this space, drawn by the mainly young group of consumers. Kellog’s, for instance, has launched K Bars.
Competition, says Chetan, is good. Chetan says:
It will make all of us focus on product differentiation. Also, all the brands are working at evangelising this segment and the growing awareness will help all of us."
The overall market is large – sales of health and wellness food products crossed Rs 10,000 crore in 2015, according to a 2016 report by Nielsen.
Miles to go
Chetan and Ajay are focusing on a few specific areas as they target growth. Chetan is working on new flavours for the energy bars. The company will launch other health food brands once the energy bars are well established. Expanding to other cities, most importantly Bengaluru, is on the cards. “In offline, we will target only a few stores that fit our brand and cater to our target segment of young customers,” says Chetan. He is also in talks with corporates for creating co-branded products but declined to share further details as talks are still on. “We will reach Rs 3 lakh per month revenue run rate by mid-2017 even if we do not get into new partnerships and stores. So the potential growth is much higher,” says Chetan.
But it is not just all business for the brothers. Once the business stabilises, they intend to give a part of the net revenue to the Indian cancer Society and the Muscular Dystrophy Foundation. For, finally, their goal is to ensure other families are not devastated by disease as theirs was.