How this expat is taking Indian cuisine all over the US with its ready-to-eat meal kits
‘Ghar ka khana,’ has always been associated with home sickness, and more so, if you happen to be living abroad. Many times, even if you try out your favourite dishes from YouTube, it does not come out as you envisioned.
This led Ragoth Bala to start The Cumin Club that delivers easy-to-make Indian food meal kits across the US, in June 2019.
An Indian who had moved to the US in his early 20s, Ragoth, a vegetarian, had always found it difficult to eat healthy food. It is not uncommon for restaurants and office lunches to 'feature' vegetarian options such as a sandwich with just cheese, tomatoes, and a potato-patty burger.
Why meal kits?
“It wasn't easy to make all my meals either. I was working full-time and attending school in the evenings and weekends. Time was the most precious commodity, and preparing a meal from scratch was impossible. My parents came to my rescue by sending curated ingredients to me, that I could make a meal out it of in five to 10 minutes,” Ragoth says.
He soon realised these home recommended meal kits were not just healthier, but also cheaper than the other available options.
“I realised that what benefited me could benefit thousands of Indian students, working professionals, and dual income households, who all have a busy lifestyle and find it difficult to eat healthy. I truly believe that 'hasty, yet healthy' meals are possible, and started The Cumin Club,” Ragoth says.
Building the team
Ragoth floated the idea among friends, classmates, and ex-colleagues. Soon, his friend from India - Anand R liked the idea and joined as the Co-founder of The Cumin Club.
While Anand is an electrical engineer with an MBA degree in operations from SP Jain College, Ragoth, an electronics engineer, holds an MBA degree in Entrepreneurship and Strategic Management from Chicago Booth. The team currently is five people strong.
The US-based bootstrapped is both a product and a service. The platform offers meal kits with an assortment of over 25 vegetarian dishes from five different regional cuisines of India. The main ingredients include lentils, millets, vegetables, wheat, and rice. They also have recipes for popular Indian dishes such as poha, pongal, kichdi, pav bhaji, bisibelebath, and dal makhni.
Customers can fully customise their meal plan by picking a cuisine and adding their favourite dishes to the plan. With just 5-10 minutes of effort, customers can turn these meal kits into authentic dishes, using just the appliances and utensils that are commonly available in Indian households.
What does it do?
Explaining how The Cumin Club works, Ragoth says,
“The Cumin Club meal kits are different from frozen food or instant food brands whose products are preserved for several months, sometimes years. Our business model is direct-to-consumer, with a turnaround as short as 10 days, from meal kits being curated in our chefs' kitchens to meals being served at dinner tables, around the world. We have achieved a shelf life of 4-6 weeks for our ingredients, using advancements in food science (such as cryogenic freezing), instead of relying on harmful preservatives. We provide an easy and healthy alternative to restaurant food and packaged instant meals.”
While still a new concept in India, the concept of meal kits is picking up fast. Being Chef, a Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) recognised startup, also follows a similar model.
Japan-based platform Cookpad also began its operations three years ago. It enables close to 58.8 million users to share and find over 6.8 million recipes to cook at home. The company went public in 2009 and has reported a profit of $19 million. Blue Apron, a US-based platform, is also known for its meal kits.
The Cumin Club follows a subscription-based model. The meal kits cost $5.5 to $7 each, with free shipment. Each pack of 5 or 10 meal kits is marginally profitable, and the team is looking to spend more on marketing to grow the subscriber base further, to gain economies of scale in different areas of its operations.
“Since our launch in June, we have served over 4,000 meals to customers across 30 states in the US. We have also evolved our offerings from two cuisines to five cuisines from across India. The subscriber base has grown 200 percent month-over-month since launch and continues to grow as our early customers are helping us spread the word,” Ragoth says.
It takes a deep understanding of the customer base, especially for the Indian expats around the world, and a ton of experimentation with different menus from across cuisines, to see what fits the meal kit model, Ragoth explains.
Speaking of the future plans, he says, “We are planning to expand our offerings to include dishes from two more Indian cuisines and we are planning to add desserts, as well. We are also planning to expand to three more countries soon, and plan to serve a total of eight countries by the start of next year. We hope to be the go-to place for all things Indian, for Indian expats around the world.”
(Edited by Suman Singh)