This healthy cookie brand empowers rural women while also helping to save the planet

Maharashtra-based brand Kivu makes the world’s only sun-baked vegan and gluten-free cookies that promote overall health and sustainability, while also employing rural women.
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Do you feel guilty while indulging in snacks? What if you snacking means helping to provide employment and sustenance to rural women as well as doing your bit for planet Earth? That is the differentiating factor of Maharashtra-based cookie brand Kivu – Kingdom of Good Food. Founded in 2019 by Dr Minal Kabra and Vaibhav Dugar, Kivu claims to be the world’s only sun-baked vegan cookies foodtech startup. 

 

“Kivu has a holistic approach towards health. Weaving the consumer, the producer, and the environment in a symbiotic relationship, we aim to empower rural women to bake our exclusive vegan and gluten-free cookies using specially designed solar ovens. This simple divergence from traditional factory-based manufacturing helps create a sustainable livelihood for rural women and prevents five grams of CO2 per cookie from being released into the atmosphere, as would otherwise have happened from traditional fuel-fired ovens,” explain the founders in a chat with YSWeekender.

Women sunbaking cookies at Kivu

The idea

Dr Minal is a professional dentist turned social entrepreneur. Her husband, Vivek Kabra, an alumnus of IIT Mumbai, conducted rigorous research and designed the solar oven technology for Kivu. It was conceptualised to help rural women who suffer the consequences of consuming wood smoke.

Vaibhav Dugar, CEO of Kivu, is an electronics and telecommunications engineer. He has worked in the media and organic food industries for over 12 years, and brings his expertise in this field on board.

Dr Minal says, “As a practising dentist, I had first-hand experience of the impact of junk food and excessive sugar on oral health and the overall immune system of children. It is a strange paradox – on one hand, there are rural families barely that have been barely surviving, while urban families are suffering from excessive consumption of bad food. I wanted to find a solution for both these problems that would create an impact on society and contribute to the well-being of our planet. Kivu was the answer to that.”

Women from rural areas in and around Jalna, Maharashtra are provided training and raw materials for production and manufacturing. Dr Minal created recipes without refined sugar, refined flour, artificial preservatives, or chemicals and kept the process simple. The goods are hand-baked based on these recipes, and Kivu buys the products from these women after ensuring quality standards are met. This makes the ladies entrepreneurs in their own right – responsible, independent, and in control.

Solar baking has the distinct advantage of being a gentler process that helps in retaining more nutrients as compared to traditional baking. It is environmentally friendly as there are no emissions, from fossil fuels. Further, it is highly conducive to a rural setup as the ovens are modular, require no external fuel or electricity, have zero maintenance cost and need no special skillset to use.

With a core team of six people, Kivu’s manufacturing takes place in the Jalna district of Maharashtra and their sales and marketing team is based in Pune.

Women sunbaking cookies at Kivu

The products

Currently, five types of Kivu cookies are on offer across categories of vegan and gluten-free options. These include Choco Oats, Rajgira Coconut, Cinnamon, Ginger Lemon, Coco Choco, and several combo packs. The cookies range in price from Rs 135 for 120g and go up to Rs 580 for 570g combo packs.

Vaibhav shares, “The average sales are similar for all the variants we offer, but Kivu Coco Choco Vegan Cookies lead the pack. This is probably because of its unique combination of coconut blended with dark chocolate. Also, the solar baking yields a distinctive crunch that is enjoyed by consumers of all ages.”

Kivu cookies are retailed both online and offline, with the majority of online sales taking place on their website – kivu.in. They are also present on several ecommerce platforms and over 80 modern retail outlets in 20 cities across the country.

“We wanted a name that would reflect our core beliefs of making a positive difference by channelling our inner energy. After a lot of research, we found two words that really resonated with us – Ki, which in Japanese means inner energy and Vu, which in French means to see. And that’s how the word Kivu was born,” shares Dr Minal, with a smile.

She highlights that Kivu’s products use no artificial preservatives, additives, flavours, refined sugar or refined flour. “Consumers perceive healthy to be tasteless, however, our products taste good and that is why we have seen steady growth in repeat customers who have also become our brand ambassadors. Several such customers have taken spoken about us on social media helping us grow organically,” she adds.

As Kivu is one amongst few companies that directly incorporate sunlight in the baking of their products, the team asserts they are one of the most sustainable food brands on the planet.

Vaibhav adds, “Having a setup in a rural space has helped us bring more value to rural communities. On average, the ladies who support us earn approximately Rs 15,000 per month. This has brought them joy and happiness both for their family and homes. The impact is still small due to the immense challenges our planet is facing, but we are content with the little that we are able to do on all fronts - consumers, planet, and communities.”

Kivu Choco Oats Vegan Gluten-free Cookies

The growth

According to a report published in grandviewresearch.com, the global healthy biscuits market size was valued at $2.2 billion in 2018 and is expected to expand at a CAGR of 5.0 percent from 2019 to 2025. The market growth is attributed to rising awareness about health and fitness and growing preference for healthy snack products, especially among working professionals and millennials. The report also states that rising demand for healthy snacks, coupled with high per capita food consumption, especially in developing countries such as India and China, is contributing to the growth of the global market.

The team at Kivu invested close to Rs 6 lakh to kickstart operations. They made sales of Rs 3 lakh in the first year (December 2019 – March 2020) and Rs 33 lakh in the previous financial year.

“The pandemic brought back the focus on health and we could see people yearning for healthy food options. Also, being available on multiple ecommerce platforms helped us reach various cities in the country, which we would have never been able to reach through traditional retail,” explains Dr Minal.

When asked about competitors, Vaibhav responds with, “We are presently the only brand in India in the sun-baked healthy snacking space. Globally too, we are the only ones using the sun’s heat to bake our products. Our products are hand-baked by rural women, and this USP makes us stand apart as being an eco-conscious, health-focused brand that is uplifting rural families.”

Riding on the confidence of repeat orders placed by several customers, the team at Kivu now intends to scale from one cluster to 10, empowering over 200 women by 2024. They also want to explore other categories of savouries and snacks while sticking to their core principles of using healthy ingredients and empowering rural women.

Edited by Kanishk Singh