Kusum Bhandari is the co-founder of BhookhaHaathi, an alternative foods-based B2B2C health and food techstartup. Read on to know howthe advertising veteran is employing unique marketing strategies to turn the brand into a success story.

Indians are famously known to be gluttons. With food playing an integral part in all aspects of our culture it is next to impossible for us to not be ‘foodies’. Up until a few years ago, Kusum Bhandari was no different. A seasoned advertising professional, Kusum relished all kinds of good food. But an unexpected bout of allergic reactions transformed her perspective on food and eventually nudged her towards becoming an entrepreneur in the alternative & health food sector.

In 2016 Kusum co-founded BhookhaHaathi, an alternative foods-based B2B2C health and food tech company along with Abhimanyu Rishi. The company recently announced that it raised fund-raising of an undisclosed amount of equity capital from Zera Ventures LLP - an Indian subsidiary of a USA-based Venture Fund.

Finding a Healthy Relationship with Food

“Till a few years ago, I used to be a foodie. However I wasstruck by a slew of allergies. After getting my tests done I realised that I was allergic to several foods. There was hardly anything left for me to eat.” Kusum soon realised that western medicine was not the answer to her problems since it didn’t offer a long term solution.

Thus began her personal tryst with understanding nutrition and food. “I began researching and taking courses on nutrition, food, and using food as medicine, as well as naturopathy,” adds Kusum. She gradually healed herself of those allergies by adopting healthier eating habits. “Now, I adhere to certain naturopathic concepts, such as attempting to consume only plant-based foods and avoiding dairy. I abstain from both white and red meat. As a result, my relationship with food is now much more pro-health than it was previously,” she further says.

It was during Kusum’s journey of dealing with her food allergy issues when she realised thatthere was a dearth of brands that promote truly healthy eating. “I noticed that there were hardly any brands that advocated clean eating or had products with zero preservatives or were entirely natural.” Kusum reasoned that if she didn’t want to eat food riddled with preservatives, chemicals, and sugar, then she wouldn’t offer it to her consumers too. “From there the concept for our products began to take shape, and this is how we developed our brand, BhookaHaathi. The intension was to provide clean food options”.

BhookhaHaathihas developed a range of dry fruits, nuts and herbs-based healthy refreshers that not only boost energy, help in getting rid of unhealthy and harmful chewing habits but also work well as digestives.

Riding the Mounting wave of Mindful Consumption

Natural and health foods & snacks are gradually turning into a mainstream product category in India. According to a report by Statista the retail value of India’s natural & healthy food market in 2018 was approximately $3.8 billion. This figure is slated to reach close to $8.5 billion by 2023. BhookhaHaathi fits perfectly into this fast growing product category. Kusum explains the underlying cause behind this trend, “There is a new wave of healthy eating, especially in the aftermath of COVID 19. Consumers in general are becoming more aware of healthy food as a result of easy access to information at their disposal. I strongly believe that the health food industry will continue to grow in the days to come”.

This comes as a win-win situation for the consumers and industry alike. “I believe this industry’s growth is great news for people like us who are cognizant about what they consume and how it impacts our bodies.” East access and widespread availability of credible information about nutrition and food has played a key role in the industry’s growth says Kusum. “Consumers today don't want any additives or preservatives added to their products. They are also uber aware these days and know exactly what is going into their food. This gives them the opportunity to choose a healthy brand like ours over another products”.

Building on Industry Experience

Kusum’ssound entrepreneurial instincts and ability to gauge consumer preferences is courtesy a solid foundation of over two decades of diverse advertising and marketing industry experience. “Over the years I have worked with several advertising companies, including Beats India, Dentsu, Images Bazaar, etc.”This wealth of experience is what pushed her further towards taking the plunge as an entrepreneur. She further adds, “I reasoned that if I could do so much for other businesses, I could very well start something of my own as well. I then dedicated myself to building the company from the ground up by using all of my previous learnings. I also found a great partner who is also a brilliant marketer to accompany me on the journey. That's how BhookhaHaathi came to life.

Effective Brand Building 101

An experienced advertising specialist, Kusum also tells us about how the entire industry has evolved over the years. “As opposed to being brand-centric in the past, the world of advertising has become more consumer-centric now. The market has become cluttered with too many brands and the space has become rather intrusive for consumers.”

Social media now plays an integral role in marketing & advertising. Every other brand is jumping on the bandwagon with most companies chasing numbers of likes and followers. Kusum stresses on the need to connect with consumers beyond social media as well. “The digital space has become saturated with advertisements which has resulted in no or low brand recall. Only a handful of brands are attempting to achieve something meaningful through their social media.”

Taking a page from her own book Kusum ensures that BhookhaHaathi maintains a human-touch along with its digital presence. “Although we have a presence on social media but we also connect with our consumers through various physical touch points. We receive feedback from them in real about the products. We believe this human touch/real feedback is integral for a brand’s success,” says Kusum.

BhookhaHaathi products are being made available through local kirana stores and even roadside ‘pan shops’. Other than creating a physical connect with consumers this approach is also helping the brand make healthy food accessible to every consumer. Kusum further says, “Making our products available at various touchpoints makes it easily available for an average consumer to buy. This marries well with our core intention of making health food available to all, irrespective of their economic or social background”.

BhookhaHaathi has also employed the effective ‘price packarchitecture’ approach to make its products more viable to the average Indian. “The products we offer, such as the BhookaHaathi Refresher were first sold in a larger pack. But we are now selling them in smaller packs for as low as two rupees. It becomes a healthier alternative to all tobacco, non-tobacco products and mouth fresheners in the market, explains Kusum.

With a clutter breaking and unique name BhookhaHaathi is building a strong consumer base in the Indian market. And Kusum being the brand custodian is playing a pivotal role in the startup’s gradual growth.