Cookies for Flat Tummies: former PayPal employee is making snacking healthy
The junk food culture is finally taking a backseat with more youngsters adopting healthy eating habits. However, there is a general misconception that 'healthy' foods are boring.
Breaking this stereotype is Bengaluru-based Flat Tummies that makes snacks with the exact nutrition required per serving - using natural ingredients. Founded by couple Yash Ponnanna (35) and Monica Muthappa (29) in 2016, the startup currently offers nutrition bars and cookies.
"We replace unwanted junk ingredients such as vegetable fats, maida, sugar, and chemicals, with 100 percent natural and nutritious ingredients like chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, millets, dry fruits, and coconut," says Yash.
Moreover, products by Flat Tummies do not contain any preservatives, artificial ingredients, dairy, or gluten.
A graduate from IE Business School in Spain, Yash formerly headed International Payment for Asia at PayPal. Monica, on the other hand, is a scientist who worked for a pharma company.
It all started when Yash was diagnosed with gluten allergy. "It was extremely difficult for me to find healthy snacks. Brands that I tried thrived on false claims with no focus on nutrition," he says.
Unable to find a solution in the market, the duo decided to close this gap. They started up from a tiny home kitchen in Mumbai, introducing their product for the first time in a small farmers’ market.
It was an instant hit. "We managed all of this - sourcing ingredients, making them, and delivering to the customers’ doorstep - ourselves," says Yash.
And there was no looking back.
Not a cake walk
Starting up in the already overcrowded food sector was not easy. Initially, consistency was a challenge since all products of Flat Tummies were handmade.
"To solve this, we built specialised machines, which reduced human touch and enhanced quality," Yash adds.
However, the founder adds that one of the biggest challenges was to prove scalability with longer shelf life. Once demand started increasing, they shifted base from the home kitchen to a unit in Sion. "Soon, we ran out of capacity. This is when we shifted to Bengaluru and started working with a contract manufacturer," says Yash.
At the beginning, Flat Tummies’ products had a shelf life of only one month. Today, it has been increased to six months with process improvements and by adapting new methods of manufacturing. The company has a team of 20.
For over two years, the startup was bootstrapped. The founders managed all their marketing expenses from the profits that they made. "It was mainly word of mouth that helped us scale," says Yash.
An omnichannel approach
"We even reached a time when our bank balance was only Rs 2,000, and I had to opt for freelance consulting - doing three jobs at a time to ensure we have sufficient funds," recalls the co-founder.
Finally, Flat Tummies raised seed funding from a group of angel investors.
"It took us nearly one year to build four products and the challenge was to make sure each product had the right nutrient content. The costs are minimal as the brain behind all our products is Monica," says Yash.
Flat Tummies follows an omnichannel strategy with equal focus on online and offline consumers, retailing through Godrej Nature's Basket, Bigbasket, Healthifyme, Foodhall, Flipkart, Big Bazaar, Amazon, HyperCity, etc.
The founders claim that the company has been profitable since inception. It serves more than 10,000 customers, and is present in at least 500 stores across Mumbai, Delhi, and Bengaluru. The nutrition bars are priced at Rs 50, whereas, the cookies come in 70 gm and 135 gm packs, priced at Rs 145 and Rs 180, respectively.
Since the last three months, Flat Tummies has clocked 250 percent growth in revenue, claim the founders.
The market overview
"Many consumers are confused whether ours is indeed a protein bar or a chocolate," says Yash. He claims that taste sets Flat Tummies apart from the likes of Yoga Bars, Healthy Buddha, Mojo Bar, and Unibic.
According to a 2017 IBEF report, the Indian food and grocery market is the world's sixth largest with retail contributing to 70 percent of the sales. On the other hand, the organic food market is expected to increase three times by 2020.
"Our focus on specific nutrients such as protein, vitamin, and fibre allows consumers to get the exact nutrients as per their recommended daily allowance," adds Yash.
Flat Tummies is now looking to expand to newer markets and build an even bigger basket of snack bars and cookies.