Soulfull was established in 2011 and founded by Prashant Parameswaran who saw the rising popularity of superfoods such as quinoa during his stay in the United States. While in US, he realised the need to explore the power of Indian superfoods and smart food such as millets which are beneficial to the farmers, consumers and the ecosystem. In an exclusive conversation Parameswaran throws light on his expansion plans.
Kindly shed light on your entrepreneurial journey. What inspired you to launch Soulfull?
My entrepreneurial journey started with Soulfull, a business born out of my intent to leverage the goodness of millets, the Indian super grain. During my stay in the US, I witnessed the rising popularity of quinoa. This rising popularity ignited my curiosity to revolutionize millets, a homegrown grain with rich Indian heritage and nutritious value. With this thought as the brand ethos, we decided to create millet based snacks to extend our offerings to the 21st century consumers. Soulfull’s offerings include Ragi Flakes, Ragi Bites, Muesli, Loopies, Masala Oats, Desi Muesli and Smoothix. These snacks are not only revolutionary in nature but also strive towards building a palatable snacking food basket to suit the Indian taste.
Kindly also tell us about your business model?
Soulfull directly procures Millets from farmer cooperatives and coverts them into the range of the products. We have also established the first value added millet factory in India to convert raw millets into consumer products. The same are then taken across the country through our network of distributors into Modern Trade, General trade stores and ecommerce channels. Our marketing initiatives help generate demand for our products in the store. We have a loyal set of consumers which leads to repeat consumption and also positive word of mouth.
What were the initial challenges and how did you addressed them?
To bring back India’s ancient grains and make them relevant in the 21st century was a test since the knowledge of millet benefits was lost somewhere post the Green Revolution. Educating consumers about the benefits of India's ancient superfood was the need of the hour. To break the clutter with millet-based offerings was an initial challenge for us. However, Soulfull’s current market standing is a testament to the company’s ability in turning this challenge into an opportunity. Additionally, today, the primary challenge is to constantly innovate products to enhance likability, acceptability and relevance for consumers. Soulfull is confident in undertaking this challenge and converting it into an opportunity.
What are the current distribution points of Soulfull? Kindly shed light on your target group?
We are available in 32 cities across India and plan to be in 50k GT outlets by the end of 2021. Our Modern Trade presence is also very strong where we rub shoulder to shoulder with our competition. Our products are competitively priced thus providing value to our consumers. Our ability to turn around new products quickly, coupled with a very agile go to market strategy helps us counter and stay ahead of the competition. Additionally, we are also keeping an eye out for any interest internationally. In fact, we recently have gone international with LULU Dubai and will continue such strategic partnerships.
Soulfull targets wide consumer groups with offerings for every consumer segment. We reach out to the market with offerings catering to everyone, from children to older consumers. For instance, our product Ragi Bites are crunchy pockets of Ragi filled with vanilla, chocolate, strawberry is a hit with children. Similarly, Smoothix& Muesli, another on-the-go shake resonates well with working adults.
What is the USP of Soulfull? How does it stand out to contemporary brands?
Soulfull’s biggest USP and competitive advantage is the use of quality millets in our products that none of our competitors has been able to replicate. Millets not only bring nutrition to the consumer, it is good for the environment and the farmer, thereby creating a sustainable ecosystem. Additionally, with extensive market research initiatives, we are constantly innovating to offer the goodness of millets in revolutionary forms. We are helping create a chain of activities starting from farm to fork that is contributing towards a sustainable ecosystem of farmer, environment and consumers. There is a positive wave in the country on the adoption millets and Soulfull is leading the way in that movement.
Are you bootstrape or have raised any sorts of funds so far?
We worked with government institutes and research agencies to start the journey of Soulfull. We are a DIPP (Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion)-recognized startup which works in sync with major research organizations and government bodies to promote millets as a National Smart Food. Initially, our founding team along with friends and family had pooled in around 25 Cr to fuel the brand. Just last year, we received our first round of funding to the tune of $5.3million from Aavishkaar Bharat Fund in March 2018. Over the last decade, Aavishkaar has established a successful track record with over US$ 155 million under management and a diverse portfolio of high – impact businesses at various levels of growth. This spans a range of sectors, namely agriculture, dairy, education, energy, handicrafts, health, water and sanitation, technology for development, microfinance and financial inclusion.
Can you provide rough estimate of healthy snack market in India? According to you, what are the factors propelling growth in this segment.
The snacking market is witnessing accelerated growth as the consumer dynamics evolve over time. The Indian consumer today is no longer bound by the three-fixed meals a day. They are increasingly becoming health conscious, thereby driving the demand for healthier snacking options. Additionally, there is a rising demand for on-the-go healthy food for the fast-paced lives of urban Indians. This coupled with the increased consumption moments and growing awareness about snacking healthy have led to the Indian Snack Food segment revenue amounting to US$5,254m in 2019 with the market is expected to grow annually by 7.5% (CAGR 2019-2023). Soulfull is betting big to leverage this opportunity with a continual focus on enhancing our offerings.