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How Kavya Krishnamurthy fired up her family biz with pesto sauce and instant rasam

By Sindhu Kashyaap
July 20, 2022, Updated on : Thu Aug 11 2022 11:34:10 GMT+0000
How Kavya Krishnamurthy fired up her family biz with pesto sauce and instant rasam
Kavya Krishnamurthy, Executive Director, Veekes & Company, talks to HerStory about her journey of building a brand vertical for her family-owned company—by blending food science and culinary art to create packaged foods such as instant soups, pasta sauce mixes, and ready-to-eat South Indian foods.
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For Kavya Krishnamurthy, getting back into the family business wasn’t just about taking the reins. It meant turning things around and launching a whole new vertical for SKUs and products for the family-owned company, which originally ran a chain of budget continental restaurants under the name ‘Veekes and Thomas’.


After graduating from Manipal University with a degree in culinary arts, Kavya went to Dubai to work as a chef at JW Marriott Marquis. Here she specialised in French and Peruvian cuisines, working with some of the best chefs from these countries. She also represented the UAE in international culinary competitions as part of the junior national culinary team.


But her desire to work in her family business drew Kavya back to India in 2018. Upon her return, she created 12 SKUs for Veekes & Company and launched products such as cilantro pesto and pepper alfredo pasta sauces and aglio olio dry toss in the market.


Kavya talks to HerStory about her journey of building a brand vertical for Veekes & Company. She throws light on the challenges she faced and the learnings during the pandemic.

HerStory (HS): How did you go about building SKUs for Veekes & Company?

Kavya Krishnamurthy (KK): I work closely with food technologists; so this marriage of food science and culinary art (which is my strength) is what makes our product so tasty. I also used to oversee business development and sales.


The learning curve has been immense. Multi-tasking, being involved in every minute detail right from packaging and logistics to managing my small team and working with vendors, suppliers, retailers and distributors, has been challenging but it became a regular day in life. In early 2021, I decided to pursue my master’s in food science from Manchester Metropolitan in the UK, which is where I currently am.


The business is being managed on the ground by my father, who runs his own corporate advisory practice, and our able team, while I manage certain aspects remotely now.

HS: What got you to get started in this space, and why was it important? What problem is it addressing and solving?

KK: Back in 2009, my father started a chain of budget continental restaurants under the name ‘Veekes & Thomas’. We were known (and are still remembered by many) for our great food, great music, and good portions, all at a price of Rs 180 to Rs 280 per dish. Given the challenges a restaurant faces, we started looking at standardisation and consistency, even while running the restaurants … exploring a central kitchen as well as standardised mixes.


We decided to morph into a packaged foods business, taking the same sauces and soups that were loved there and turning them into affordable products that anyone can make at home or in a quick-service restaurant.


Our range of international flavours, adapted to the Indian palate, today comprises:

Soups: mulligatawny, French onion, and minestrone

Pasta sauces: pepper alfredo, cilantro pesto, tomato primavera, masala de inde, and aglio olio (dry toss)


We then wanted to expand the concept to uncomplicate a cuisine that traditionally is a labour of love—grinding the masala, soaking tamarind, cooking dal, and so on. With our south Indian range, you can make a 4-course South Indian meal in around 10 minutes.


2-minute South Indian: Tamil sambar, rasam, morukozhambu (a buttermilk-based preparation), and Andhra paruppu podi (dal powder)

Veekes & Company

Veekes & Company

HS: Tell us about setting up the process of manufacturing, sourcing of raw materials, and productising.

KK: Our first step is to develop these products in my kitchen, where we decide what kind of product we need (dry/wet) and the direction the flavour needs to go in, as well as basic application. We then further develop the products, the IP and recipe of which are ours, at one of India’s top food production companies, who then manufacture these on our behalf.


This was primarily to retain our asset-light model, while retaining flexibility to scale rapidly and suddenly as well as to ensure our products are subject to safety and quality standards that are comparable to the best in the world. We are also able to utilise the advantage of economies of scale.


Our packaging was designed in-house by my brother, Athreya, who is a graphic designer, and then produced by a local business in south Bangalore, who has been extremely supportive of us from our inception.

HS: What are the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?

KK: The biggest challenge is getting retailers and distributors to agree to keep our product amid the many VC-funded players out there who have really deep pockets.


Initially, we approached stores where we knew the owners personally — stores where we have been customers for years. They are some of India’s top supermarkets and even today they continue to be our biggest supporters, for which we are deeply grateful. Later, once we had these stores under our belt in a few cities, other parties were at least willing to give us a few minutes of their time and we grew from there. We’ve found that what works for us is to approach stores and chains directly rather than via distributors.


Currently, we can be found in select retail supermarkets in 25 cities across 150+ very select outlets such as Reliance, Big Basket, Nilgiris, Delfinos, Dorabjees, Pazhamudhir, Magsons, The Organic World etc, and are available on e-retail platforms like Amazon.in and Flipkart. Listings on Amazon, Instagram and Indiamart really help as well, as some of our retailers got to hear of us from one or the other.


Developing our products is also a challenge as it must pass our dining table at home to be launched! And we are an extremely picky family when it comes to our food. The most recent challenge was developing our two-minute South Indian range.


To get the product to a level where one can feel proud of it and confident that it is the real deal took nearly a year, in part due to the delay caused by the pandemic, but I’m happy it was finally launched last year. However, this process doesn’t end once it (the product) reaches the market. If we receive common feedback, we constantly try to improve the formulations as we go along.

Veekes & Company

Veekes & Company Products

HS: What was the impact of the pandemic and how did you work around it?

KK: The pandemic was naturally a shock. Being a small brand, we found that we didn’t qualify as an essential item. It was ideal for consumers who could no longer eat out and needed something different yet easy to make at home; so we did see a huge take-off on Amazon and soon this equalised.


The pandemic also forced us to streamline a lot of administrative operations as we had to work within restrictions, and we became more efficient at managing operations remotely. This switch to remote working and optimising and streamlining is perhaps the only good thing to have come out of the pandemic. We are also ever grateful to our retail partners who stood by us and continued to keep our products on their shelves during and after.


Our MRP is at two price points — Rs 60 and Rs 99. The price per portion ranges between Rs 15 and Rs 33. While developing our pricing, we kept in mind that an authentic pasta and soup meal would cost Rs 40 per head with all the ingredients and would take 4 minutes to make. A 3-course authentic South Indian meal would cost Rs 100 with all accompanying ingredients for one and would also take 4 minutes to prepare. A meal at the cheapest Darshini, a ‘meals ready’ type restaurant in the south, costs Rs 150 these days. We have tried to make it a compelling purchase for any shopping cart.


We sell Rs 3000 per month per store across the 125 stores we are present in at 120 units per month. This is achieved amidst intense competition across the best counters in the country that include Reliance, Big Basket, Nilgiris, Delfinos, Dorabjees, Pazhamudhir, Magsons, The Organic World etc.


We don’t believe in up-stocking and returns. We therefore do not have a MOQ (minimum order quantity) with our retailers. This consequently leads to sustained, weekly orders from every single counter. But four years into our history, we are still debt- and external-equity-free, do not have an ‘outstandings’ problem, and operate at break-even. This has always been our focus. The journey has been slower, but sure! Our inspiration has never been the funded operator, spending someone else's money on reach and marketing.

Veekes & Company

Veekes & Company products

HS: Tell us about your future plans.

KK: Focus on R&D, new product development, and small batch manufacturing is key to sustained consumer interest in what we have to offer. The idea is to set up a small factory that enables this by 2023. This will allow us to grow our range, engage with our customers, and gauge consumer offtake without burning money on large MOQs, sampling, and sales returns. This will be entirely self-funded from the internal accrual of group operations.


Revenue growth has been steady, and while COVID did see the closure of the HoReCa business for us, we are in the midst of onboarding our product across a wider reach within the network of our existing customers and onboarding it across a couple of large South India-based retail chains. As we operate profitably, every additional outlet added at the stage we are in today leads to a growth in the bottom line.


For a brand our size, everything we look at can only be oriented towards growth at a pace we are comfortable with and enjoy—be it reaching out to the Indian diaspora across the Northern American, UK and Middle Eastern markets (or) growing our Indian footprint through distribution and increasing our product range.


There are a couple of well-known PE seed funds speaking to us to take an equity stake in our business. There is also a proposition from one of India's biggest distribution houses to grow our business to 5000+ outlets across India for equity in our company. These discussions are still at a very preliminary stage.


Edited by Swetha Kannan

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