At the beginning of this month, Happy Jars tweeted a picture of World Boxing Champion Mary Kom buying a jar of their good ol' peanut butter. Having a celeb as a customer is a high point for any startup. For Happy Jars, it was a dream come true.
For its founders Vikram Sekhar and Surabhi Talwar Sekhar, the idea of Happy Jars began with a personal need. Like anyone who follows a strict diet regimen, the duo was making protein-rich foods for themselves. This turned out to be a hit with family and friends, after which there was no looking back.
How it all started
“There wasn’t any particular thought or idea of starting out in the FMCG sector. We just would experiment with the basic recipe, try adding honey and other natural ingredients. One day, we decided to call our friends for blind-tasting sessions, and they liked the taste. And quite out of the blue, Surabhi got an invite for a fest, where we decided to take 25 jars,” says Vikram. At the event, in just two hours, they sold out all the 25 jars.
Back then, both Vikram and Surabhi had regular day jobs. Vikram was working at Team Marcom, a company that hosts international events in Bengaluru, while Surabhi was working in Marketing at Wildcraft, an outdoor gear brand.
After tasting success at the event, the couple realised they wanted to take this forward. While Vikram got into it full-time in 2016, Surabhi worked part time at their new venture. With Team Marcom, Vikram also understood how startups work and what it takes to establish a company.
From just 25 jars of nut butter at the event, they have scaled to producing a few thousand jars a month. The founders say they set up the manufacturing and production facility using their personal savings, and have invested nearly Rs 10 lakh into the setup.
Today, Vikram takes care of production, and Surabhi still holds a job at Fabindia but also handles sales and marketing for Happy Jars.
The market for quality nut butters
After they decided to set up Happy Jars, it took the couple three days to set up the website and get their business plan in place. They realised that there was a market for nut butters, and there weren’t many players in the natural peanut butter space.
“We wanted to create something that can be eaten straight out off spoon, as if it was made in your own kitchen,” says Vikram.
Talking about the challenges, Vikram says: “I had realised that while it is difficult to get a product in the market, what is more challenging, especially in a product like ours, is getting people to come back and buy the product. For that, the product should have the same taste and quality every single time.”
In the beginning, the duo would go to kirana stores, where they would buy the nuts at wholesale rates. “Initially, when we worked with the wholesalers, we realised that it was a gamble. Every lot would be a hit or a miss. We had a loss, and had to liquidate our stock,” says Surabhi, adding that this was how they realised the importance of quality supply: "It affects the taste of the end product.”
Setting up the space
The duo initially set up a small factory in Bengaluru, which was basically a 650-sq ft shared office space. In 2017, after registering the company, the team shifted to Gurugram. Today, the team has a 2,000 sq ft production space in industrial suburb of Okhla in Delhi-NCR. Vikram says they chose Okhla as there are several businesses around the area.
“This helped us a lot in getting the right vendors for packaging, suppliers for labels, and other things,” says Vikram, who works on the product with the help of two other people.
Currently, the team has six SKUs (stock keeping units) of different flavours of peanut butter and a few of almond butters. Each day, there are variations, and the team has worked on keeping the quantity adjustable, basis the demand in the market. Currently, they produce a "few thousand jars in a month" is all they say, declining to get into specifics.
Commenting on this, Vikram says, “The market is unorganised, where different kinds of equipment and raw materials need different kind of distributors.” Some of their equipment is even imported from France.
When the team started operations in Bengaluru, they initially focussed on online sales and informal sales through WhatsApp groups, social media, and stalls at events. “This helped us keep up the initial buzz,” says Surabhi.
Vikram did the first 100 deliveries himself. It helped him understand the logistics and the time it takes. “We didn’t want to start with a logistics partner without understanding how it works,” he says.
After moving to Delhi, they tied up almost immediately with different logistics partners. They also partnered with niche ecommerce players like Qtrove to help with distribution. Apart from that, Happy Jars is available on Amazon, Little Black Book, and other online portals. They have also tied up with close to 40 retail outlets in Delhi-NCR like La’Marsh, Needs Supermarket, and other specialty stores.
The average price for Happy Jars’ peanut butter is Rs 250, and its almond butter is priced at Rs 480. Online orders contribute to 30 percent of its revenue, with an average basket size of Rs 1,300, across 300 orders in a month. Offline, they get 700-1,000 orders in a month.
The Indian food market is expected to touch $540 billion by 2020, according to a report presented by Union Minister Suresh Prabhu. Investors too have renewed their interest in the food sector. Matrix Partners recently invested Rs 5.6 crore in &Me food and beverage (F&B) brand. Ready-to-cook food startup Fingerlix raised Rs 31.2 crore from Swiggy. Matrix Partners also invested Rs 70 crore in premium fresh milk brand, Country Delight.
Currently, Happy Jars is looking to add more SKUs, increase its team size and ensure it has a retail presence pan-India.