Have you ever wondered what the world would be without ice creams? Served in a cup or cone, ice cream is one thing that can bring instant happiness to most of us. We can enjoy them with our families and friends or even in solitude.
For Aravindan V, finding vegan ice creams became extremely difficult. He had become vegan in 2013 and discovered a few brands which were not always accessible and also expensive.
Six years later, the Coimbatore man founded his brand of vegan ice creams called, ‘Cocolicious’. These ice-creams are completely natural and do not contain any preservatives.
“These ice creams were born when my wife and I began experimenting with combinations of plant-based milk like pearl millet milk, ragi milk, and coconut milk. We were pleasantly surprised with the great taste and decided to explore this further,” he recalls.
To see if the flavours would impress vegans and non-vegans alike, the couple decided to serve the ice cream in their zero-waste and vegan wedding.
“There were about 1,500 people at the wedding party, and the food was vegan. We also got ice cream churned at a factory and served it to our guests. We could see that the guests loved it because they were going for second and third helpings. This made me believe that it was an idea worth pursuing. But, we were certain that the ice cream should be affordable, natural, and free from preservatives,” recalls Aravindan.
Now, this ice cream is being sold at his family-run sweets brand in Coimbatore, ‘Vijay Sweets’.
Aravindan took over his 30-year-old family business in 2017 and converted it into a 100 per cent vegan establishment in six months! None of the sweets served use dairy-derived ingredients like ghee or milk.
Now, Cocolicious ice creams are available at an affordable price of Rs 50 per scoop! The flavours are developed based on the seasonal fruits that are sourced within a 100 km radius. Made using key ingredients like coconut milk and almond milk, Cocolicious manufactures in batches of 1,000 kg per month to retain freshness!
Vijay Sweets serves at least 15 different sweets, and a crowd favourite is the vegan Mysore Pak, which is made using a secret recipe where coconut milk is an essential ingredient.
Following the vegan principle
If you ask Aravindan why he turned vegan, he shares that the choice stemmed from the love for animals. Since childhood, the young entrepreneur had been involved in rescuing animals, and volunteering with several animal rights organisations.
After learning about animal cruelty and the unethical practices involved in sourcing milk, he decided to do away with dairy and any other products derived from animals. Thus, his vegan journey began in 2013.
During this time, Aravindan was also a student with entrepreneurial dreams. He pursued a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Sri Krishna Arts and Science College in Coimbatore.
In 2014, he joined Larson and Toubro as a site accountant in Kolkata. But, he quit in six months and came back to Coimbatore to pursue a Master’s in Business Administration from the same college.
Armed with all the business acumen, he took over the family’s sweets business in 2017, but a realisation hit him.
“Although I was a vegan and would encourage others to consider this lifestyle, I felt like a hypocrite because I was managing a sweets business where ghee and milk were used to make sweets. So, I decided to give myself six months to make the sweets vegan,” he recalls.
He decided to research alternatives like coconut milk, wheat milk, almond milk, cashew paste among others, to develop sweets that did not compromise on the taste. The hard work spanning six months paid off and developed sweets that were well-received.
“We even sent out free samples for people to taste and no one could make out that these sweets were vegan. In fact, we had a vegan customer who asked us to deliver some sweets in regular packaging. He wanted to share these with his colleagues and see if they could taste a difference. They didn’t and he proved his point that vegan food doesn’t taste any less delicious,” smiles Aravindan.
In addition to the popular Mysore Pak, they also make halwas and laddoos using ingredients like seeds and nuts.
Later, the love for ice-creams urged Aravindan and his wife (also a vegan) to experiment in the kitchen. Once the ice cream was well received at their wedding, they went into commercial production in May 2019.
Enjoy ice cream guilt-free
When Aravindan came up with the first few batches of the coconut-milk vegan ice cream, he was undecided about the pricing.
For this, he employed a simple solution. He got an opportunity to set up a stall, showcasing Cocolicious’ products at ‘Gourmet Bazaar’ in Coimbatore.
“Here, we asked our customers to pay us whatever they liked. They liked the flavours but wanted it to be affordable. We priced our ice creams accordingly,” he says.
This meant that the production costs needed to be kept low, without compromising on quality. To achieve this, Aravindan decided to source seasonal ingredients that were locally available. Doing this also allowed him to ensure the freshness of the ice creams.
“The coconut milk used in our ice creams is freshly extracted from coconuts sourced from Pollachi about 45 km from Coimbatore. Coconuts are abundant there, taste delicious, and are affordable,” informs Aravindan.
All the ice creams are churned in a factory unit. An employee prepares the mix based on their recipes, after which, it is turned.
Initially, the ice creams were prepared only using coconut milk but this reduced the product’s shelf life. With limited resources during the lockdown, Aravindan realised that it was important to ensure the longevity of the ice creams.
So now, they use a mix of coconut and almond milk, and the final product must be consumed within three months of manufacturing. Presently sold only at Vijay Sweets, Aravindan is hopeful of approaching other retail stores for a wider reach.
In addition to all the fruity flavours, other combinations have been developed to evoke a sense of nostalgia.
“You know when you go to the beach here, stalls sell freshly cut guavas with a sprinkle of red chilli powder. We serve a scoop of guava ice cream with a sprinkle of chili powder and have named the flavour, ‘Beach Koiyaka’, where ‘Koyaka’ means ‘guava’ in Tamil,” he says.
Another unique flavour is ‘Christmas Cookie’, which has a nice gingery taste.
To ensure the quality of the ice cream, Aravindan gets it tested in a local laboratory every month.
Overcoming challenges to win over customers
Dr Gayatri Anand is a general practitioner based in Coimbatore. She made the decision of converting to veganism about seven years ago. Although she was a sweet tooth, there would have to be restrictions on what she could consume. Ice creams and Indian sweets (which are loaded with ghee and milk) immediately became a big no-no.
But, her love for food remained. The doctor has been a part of a community of vegans who meet, share recipes, and food. Aravindan attended to these potlucks and shared his vegan ice creams and sweets.
“Last Diwali, I ordered their Mysore Pak, eating it for the first time in seven years. I was blown away and just couldn’t stop eating it. Then, I tried some of their ice creams and couldn’t pick one as my favourite because I love them all. The flavour of coconut milk is really nice. I feel lucky to be in Coimbatore right now because there are such amazing alternatives for vegans now,” she says.
Despite all the love and adoration from customers, the journey has not been a piece of cake. Aravindan says that running a vegan business in an affordable manner is a challenge.
“Since most of our customers are scattered, the demand sometimes tends to be lesser than our capacity to manufacture. Another challenge is the preconceived notion that vegan ice creams don’t taste as good as the conventional ones. These are big hurdles in our aspirations to scale our operations,” he explains.
Additionally, the absence of food scientists and recipe developers for vegan products takes longer to develop products through trials and errors. Regardless of these challenges, Aravindan is confident in the taste and quality of the products. He shares some advice for other small business owners.
“When the business gets tough, a lot of people compromise on quality. But even if your business is closing down, never compromise on quality. Listen to what your customers have to say and use their feedback to improve your products and services,” he says.
Aravindan is now looking to develop unique and funky flavours of ice creams which are also healthy. He is also experimenting with the recipes so that the shelf life of products can be increased naturally.
“We want to become an affordable, vegan, and healthy brand in the ice cream industry. The idea is to make people realise that vegan products can taste delicious. In the long run, affordable vegan products can create a future that saves the planet,” he says, signing off.
*An entrepreneur you admire.
Ans: My father
*New tech that can transform the future of small businesses
Ans: Affordable cold storage and shipping
*One value that can help small businesses thrive
*Any app/software that helps you manage your work
Ans: Zovo and Shiprocket
*Your favourite book
Ans: Boys & Girls be Ambitious by C Sylendra Babu
*In my free time I ____…
Ans: like to play video games
* Before this interview I was ____…
Ans: gardening at home
* A message for your past self about small businesses
Ans: Never give up
*Something they don’t teach in college but is important to run a business
*Best advice you ever got is to ____…
Ans: Stay humble always
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)
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