India may be progressing rapidly across sectors, standing shoulder to shoulder with the superpowers of the world, yet it is one of the unhealthiest countries in the world when it comes to packaged food. “Despite being a $15 billion industry, Indian families don't have access to healthy and tasty options,” says Ahana Gautam, Co-founder, and CEO, of Open Secret.
Growing up in Bharatpur – a small town in Rajasthan – and raised by a working mother, Ahana’s struggle stemmed from her own childhood. “I used to come home from school and binge on junk food. I was thrice my current size and I would fall sick all the time. Back then, I did not know my food habits were impacting my health and well-being,” she recalls.
The desire to do something in the snacks segment was triggered when she was at Harvard Business School. Unlike foreign supermarkets that had aisles full of healthy snacking options, Ahana realised how its Indian counterparts lacked the same when her sister-in-law would struggle with finding healthy snack brands for her daughter. “That reminded me of my childhood,” she says. This led Ahana and co-founder Udit Kejriwal to launch the healthy snack brand Open Secret in 2019.
Mothers at the centre
Ahana says that Open Secret is a purpose-driven company that aims to ask ‘why’ and challenge the norm in the sector with its own twist. “And our Northstar was right in front of us - mothers! Several mothers have guided us on this path to achieve our potential as a brand. Our aim is to un-junk every family’s favourite snacks for India and Bharat,” she says.
The team went on to un-junk some of the most popular snacks like cookies, chocolates, chips, etc - all using ingredients that mothers love and approve of. In chocolates, refined sugar was replaced with jaggery. “We leverage nuts to do a lot of un-junking because mothers say that kids like nuts and they have immunity-boosting properties. We have shake mixes, where we remove refined sugar and add jaggery and probiotics for healthier drinks,” she adds.
Another reason that led Ahana to startup was to prove to girls in her hometown – which has the lowest female literacy in the country – that anything is possible. Currently, more than 50 percent of Open Secret’s leadership team consists of women. Ahana also wants to bring back mothers to work, because we need to empower the other gender for India to become a $5 trillion economy.
Towards an ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’
As a consumer-first brand, Open Secret follows an omnichannel approach. “Online sales have given us nationwide visibility and more than 80 percent of our sales come from online channels. Offline channels on the other hand have given us deeper penetration in areas where we were seeing good online traction. And today more than 50 percent of orders belong to these very pin codes,” she reveals.
Ahana says the team has always resonated strongly with the belief of an ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’, and this reflects in their operations as well, where they manufacture their own snacks by employing women from local communities.
“So when you see .in, you know we want to build a brand for Indian families, made in India. Gone are the days when Indians would source high-quality products from abroad. We are building a brand where Indian families do not have to look at international brands for quality,” she says.
The National Internet Exchange of India (NIXI) has helped hundreds of businesses like Open Secret to distinguish themselves as a brand with its .in or .Bharat domain — which is India’s Country Code Top Level Domain (ccTLD). It’s among the few internet exchanges in the world to offer a ccTLD in multiple languages.
“A .in extension has only helped in amplifying our intention to give back to society in the kind of work we do and the initiatives we run for mothers. Our website helps understand the customer better and e-commerce gives a budding business like ours a pan-India presence,” she adds.
The journey ahead
Open Secret made the most of the pandemic and thought it was a good time to scale. And it paid off. “In the past 12 months, we not only grew our cookie business and expanded our presence in six more categories but also launched nuts, cereals, and shake mixes,” says Ahana.
Their B2C website was also a major growth channel through which the team received feedback from customers on the launch of new products. Ahana credits their rapid growth and new launches to the feedback of their customers that helped them with insights about new innovations. “It took us six months to launch cookies. We moved extremely fast,” she adds.
In the past year, Open Secret has grown 10x. Ahana says that the huge growth trajectory is due to families snacking more and realising the importance of eating better. Today, Open Secret’s customers range from across the country – from Mumbai to Bharatpur. And Ahana is further looking at expanding its distribution process to reach more people.
As Open Secret gears up for growth in the next few years, Ahana insists that the vision remains the same – the need for every Indian family to snack better with tasty and healthy options. “We have five more launches coming up in the savoury categories - something which customers wanted,” she signs off.
The ‘Shaping India Inc's Online Growth’ series chronicles the journeys of startups and SMEs in India and how creating an online presence on the .in or .Bharat domain powered their success stories.