Freshly made hot rotis or a bowl of oats and milk pudding topped with fresh seasonal fruits?
Offer the two choices to children in urban Indian homes and you will most likely see the scales weigh heavily towards the pudding.
A modern day parenting challenge - getting children to eat better
“Be it a toddler or a school-going kid, they are no longer happy if you dish out the same recipe week after week. With most children being ‘picky eaters’, parents say even getting them to eat a plate of freshly cut fruits is increasingly become a chore. Children want variety. And, to top this, there is a growing preference for western foods like cheese, dips and breads among children. At the same time, not all parents have the luxury of time to cook or experiment to cater to the children’s changing dietary preferences. That’s why you see many parents resorting to off-the shelf packaged food,” says Harshavardhan, a father to a two-year-old toddler and Co-founder of Lil Goodness & sCoolmeal, a Bengaluru-based kids food and nutrition startup.
Practically, it’s not possible for parents to innovate and experiment with new recipes and wow their kids every day, just because you simply want them to have a nutritious meal. Helping (parents) tackle this modern-day household challenge is Lil’ Goodness with its fresh school meals offering and a range of preservative-free packaged foods.
A 1000-hour investment of on-ground research and numerous experiments later...
The startup announced its arrival in the happening kids food scene in early 2018, initially as a baked food venture. Investing more than 1000 hours, talking to mothers and experimenting with recipes, saw Lil’ Goodness pivoting into a kids’ food and nutrition startup offering delectable and nutritious meal options. “We realised there was a market for preservative free convenience snack and in the last one year we have worked on experimenting with recipes and iterating them based on feedback from the trials. In November, we will launch three products --Fruit cereal snacks, fruit cereal snacks with milk and fruit yoghurt mixes -- which we believe is a great option for kids as a late evening snack or something to rely on while travelling. We believe it could be a great option for parents when they want to give their children something healthy to munch on but don’t have enough time to prep for one.”
How the brand arrived at the recipes is a story in itself.
Harsha, the ex-corporate leader who was at Tata Health before becoming an entrepreneur full time in June this year says,” When I became a father, I often picked up preservative-free packaged food made for my little one during my travels abroad. These then became great references for Lil’ Goodness. But, that said, we had to experiment and iterate the recipes multiple times before we could arrive at our current product line. For instance, we experimented with 40 recipes before we could arrive at the Fruit Cereal recipe. You will see that in our fruit yoghurt mixes we use guava, a fruit that is typically not used in yoghurt mixes. The decision to use guava in a mix was one that was done on a whim but worked for us. It is not only a fruit that scores on the nutrition quotient but is also a local fruit hence works wonderfully well for the Indian palette.”
And, this experimentation and innovation at Lil’ Goodness is backed by the science of nutrition. “While my inputs are taste centric, Pariksha Rao, my co-founder is a nutritionist and ensures that they fit in the nutritional requirement. As parents ourselves, we believe that our kids need to experience the optimum balance of different aspects of food growing up- taste, texture, nutrition and natural colours. And, this is exactly what Lil’ Goodness does.”
A new strategy on the cards
During the phase when Lil’ Goodness was experimenting with its recipes and trialing the products, they realised they would need to revisit their marketing strategy if they wanted to achieve what they set out to. “We realised that for a new brand to break into the packaged kids food segment, you either had to be an established brand or had to burn at cash to establish yourself. Taking the second route was a big no for us.” While the team was revisiting its current market strategy, Bengaluru-based foodtech startup, sCoolMeal, was looking for further investments to grow. “sCoolMeal was already doing well in Bengaluru. We believed sCoolMeal in itself had a great potential for growth and getting them onboard would also help to springboard Lil’ Goodness”
In September, Lil’ Goodness started the acquisition process of sCoolMeal. Today, its founders-Sukanya Trivady, an educator with two decades of industry experience and Swaminath Trivady, an Ex-Corporate leader are coming onboard Lil’ Goodness as Co-founders. Today, sCoolMeal is catering to 37 schools and 8 daycares in the city, averaging about 800 meals a day. The menu consists of delectable options such as whole wheat pancakes, sweet potato vada pav, soy garlic vegetables, Lucknowi Veg Biryani,peas kachori, mini pizza, mix veg uttapam, and other equally enticing options from North Indian, South Indian, Chinese and Continental cuisines.
All of this gets cooked at the centralised FSSAI and ISO-certified kitchen and transported in sterile vehicles. The menu changes every week and uses fresh and natural raw materials bought just a day before. The food gets cooked in the morning by 7 am and is out for delivery by 8:30 am. This ensures that the freshest meal is offered to the kids with no compromise on safety, hygiene and taste. The co-founder and CEO says,” We are in the process of making the entire process technology-driven in the next 45 days. Right now a lot of the planning happens on Excel sheets, which we are in the process of automating for scale.
The excitement continues to brew
Clocking a monthly revenue run rate of Rs 15-20 lakhs, business for Lil’ Goodness has been on the upswing. The startup takes a dual B2B and B2C route for the sCoolMeal part of the business, while the preservative-free packaged food is entirely B2C.
That said, the journey is anything but easy. “For a parent, food is a tricky part. Many confess about feeling guilty about not being able to provide a good home-made meal to their children, be it occasionally or daily. This, despite the fact that mothers understand meal and snack option like ours are as good as home-made. On the other hand, there are mothers who chose to send a packet of biscuits or chips for their kid’s lunch. Here again we cannot tell mothers that they are not supposed to be doing that. These psychological barriers are our biggest challenges at the moment, especially when we are on a fast lane to growth,” explains Harsha.
Having established itself as a growing brand in the school meal segment, the team is excited about the launch of its preservative-free packaged food products in mid-November. “We will be retailing through our website as well as online marketplaces,” adds Harsha.
The startup believes that its real journey has only begun. “The India market size for kids food market, considering the top 8 cities, is USD 3 Billion. The market opportunity in the city of Bengaluru is alone USD 250 million for the two businesses combined. There are over 550+ schools with over 7 lakh students and over 2,000+ daycare centres with over 2 lakh children, who fit into our target audience.”
While Lil’ Goodness and sCoolMeal will be the key focus areas for the next few months, the startup is also exploring venturing into kids meals and bites on food aggregator platforms like Swiggy. “We believe that there’s an opportunity, especially in fresh kids’ food, that no one is catering to exclusively. And, with the expertise and knowledge that we have developed over the last two years, we believe we can crack the success code there too. But that said, we will continue to do what we aim to do best -- empower moms to provide the best of foods to their lil’ ones.”