From a one-room set up to a 7,000 sq ft factory, this startup is keeping tradition alive with its ready-to-eat Sankethi cuisine

Meet Nagaratna Ravindra and Malathi Sharma, co-founders of Adukale, a brand that offers blended spices, namkeens, and instant foods based on the traditions of Sankethi cuisine.
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Malathi Sharma and Nagaratna Ravindra - co-founders of Adukale

Anyone conversant with any aspect of South Indian cuisine will know that sambar is not just an important food item, but an intrinsic part of the region’s lifestyle. But here is where the similarity ends. Sambar in Tamil Nadu is made with sambar powder that includes freshly ground spices and coconut in Kerala, with a chunk of jaggery in Karnataka, while many other places add their own special ingredients to the mix.

The Sankethi community make sambar differently - by adding cinnamon in the mix of spices.

The cuisine, like the community, has its antecedents in Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu, which makes it unique when it comes to food. Legend says that the Sankethis form a community that moved out of Sengottai (on the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border), following a woman called Nacharamma and settled in Kaushika near Hassan, Karnataka, and Bettadapura in Mysuru district.


From the Sankethi kitchens to the shelves

Gojuavalakki and Groundnut Chutney Powder - part of the range at Adukale

Popular brand Adukale (meaning kitchen in Sankethi) brings this unique cuisine to the discerning palate. A range comprising ready-to-eat foods (pohas, upmas, gojuavalakki), blended spices (chutney powders, etc) and namkeens (savouries), Adukale products are free of preservatives and artificial colours, and are available in more than 100 outlets in Bengaluru alone. These include upmas, varieties of pohas, kodubale (a savoury), sambar and rasam powder, and all kinds of chutney powder.

“And that’s not all,” says Malathi Sharma, Co-founder of Adukale. She adds,

“The blend of different cultures makes our food unique. When we talk of sambar powder or rasam powder, we are not just talking of the spices that go in to make them, but also the temperature at which they are roasted and the consistency in which they are blended."

The other co-founders of Adukale are Malathi's brother Ravindra and his wife Nagaratna.

From a small room to a big factory

The family’s “Adukale” did not spring up any new surprises. It revived traditional Sankethi recipes to suit the needs of modern times – a dash of asafoetida, an addition of methi in dosa batter – the little things that affect the taste big-time.

Adukale had its humble beginnings in a small 10x10 room in Malathi’s house in Bengaluru. At that time, Ravindra had quit his job at General Mills and had taken up agriculture as a full-time occupation.

“It was a chance conversation between the three of us that led to the setting up of Adukale. My husband had travelled all over India but Sankethi cuisine was ‘taste of home’ for him. And he was passionate about taking it forward. Both Malathi and I were working full-time then, but warmed up to the idea. We started off with a small kadai and a stove and made our first batch of rasam powder,” recalls Nagaratna.

This was in 2009 and the first batch of rasam powder was packaged and distributed to family and friends. Soon, through word-of-mouth, the powder became popular and enquiries started coming in from stores.

“We were guided by my mother-in-law’s principles when it came to cooking. The ingredients would be freshly ground and powdered without the addition of any preservatives. This kept the traditional taste intact and people started appreciating our products,” she adds.

From the small one-room, Adukale moved to a 3,000 sq ft facility with a capacity of 30 tonnes. Last year, it shifted to an even bigger premise in South Bengaluru, with an area covering 7,000 sq ft with a capacity of 100 tonnes.

“Even though our capacity has increased multi-fold, our processes remain the same. One of the partners supervise each stage, and also tests the product so that quality is maintained at every level,” says Malathi.

High on tradition and taste

Founding team of Adukale - Ravindra, Malati Sharma and Nagarathna Ravindra

Apart from 100 outlets in Bengaluru stocking Adukale, the brand also opened an 'Experience Centre' in Malleshwaram in the city for customers to get a taste and feel of the products before they buy them. The company also plans to open more experience centres in the future.

What started as a simple family venture of foodies has now grown into a huge food brand, popular all over India and abroad. “When we began, it was self-funded. When we realised the acceptance rate of the products was high, we decided to expand. We received assistance from nationalised banks, and closed a funding round last year with 72 Degrees Consultancy Services and also received investment from an investor who was formerly with Sequoia,” informs Malathi.

The founders claim that Adukale has been profitable right from the start and the company hopes to clock Rs 7-8 crore at the end of FY20. At present, it ships to the US and UK markets and plans to launch in these countries soon.

“With the comeback of millets as a superfood, we are planning to launch a range that is millet-based, which will have pongal, bise bele bath, etc,” says Nagaratna.

The women agree that while competition from big brands like Maiya’s and MTR will always be there, Adukale’s focus is on the traditional taste. “The consumer has accepted us and our commitment is to maintain the quality without compromising on the Sankethi taste,” she adds.