Anyone who spends time in a kitchen knows the importance of having a pantry well-stocked with a variety of spices. Indian cuisine is known for its love for spices, and they can make or break a dish.
Sneha Sirivara is someone who loves her spices. Belonging to a south Indian household, she spent time in the kitchen trying traditional recipes to replicate dishes like sambar, rasam, puliyogare, and bisi bele bath among other dishes. But Senha started noticing that these traditional spice mixes which give each dish its authentic taste weren’t widely available.
“Although spice mixes for north Indian dishes are something that one can find with ease, finding good quality spice mixes for authentic south Indian recipes was rare. So, a lot of my relatives who were living abroad or in other regions of India would often carry spice mixes from home. Often, I would make these spice mixes for them. Their appreciation is what first led to the birth of an idea,” explains Sneha.
Sneha owns ‘Sambar Stories‘ which she started in 2013. The brand manufactures spice mixes, chutney powders, coffee, pickles, ready-to-eat mixes and snacks. A one-woman army at the time of launch, Sneha would make different spice mixes in her kitchen, and as operations grew, she converted her home garage into a small unit.
Here, she carried out all the processes from grinding the spice mixes to packaging them for her customers.
Seven years down the line, she now sells over 2000 units of her products. The brand sells over 50 completely natural products containing no artificial colours or preservatives.
The Bengaluru-based entrepreneur shares with The Better India (TBI) how she started her venture all by herself in a garage into a successful business.
Entrepreneurship was her Calling
Although Sneha did not pursue an education in business, she was sure that she always wanted to start something on her own. She has a degree in Computer Science Engineering from People’s Education Society University (formerly PES Institute of Technology).
“I decided to work in an IT company and secured a job at Wipro, where I was working as a Project Engineer. But, within a year of working in this field, I just knew that is not my passion,” says the 29-year-old.
While working as an IT professional, she began mulling over the idea for Sambar stories.
“I have enjoyed food and cooking all my life. And to get the right taste of each dish, you need the right spice mixes. Often, I would call my relatives and other members of the family to collect information on the ingredients. And this continued even after I found Sambar Stories,” states Sneha.
She says she gets all the spice mixes tried and tasted. Only after the family approves of a particular dish cooked with a specific blend of spices does Sneha decides to add it to their product range. A website and social media presence helped her develop a client base.
When Sneha first began the operations, her parents were supportive of her and helped her out from time to time. Now, she has about three additional members in the team who help out with different aspects of the manufacturing process.
She no longer makes the spices in her garage. She has the spices ground in a unit. Also, snacks like chakli/murukku, appalams, nippat/thattai are made by women from villages like Kallakurichi in Tamil Nadu.
Customer relations is something that Sneha pays a lot of attention to, and she oversees almost all different operations like processing orders, maintaining supplies, inventories, attending to customer support and social media.
While initially most of the spice mixes were for dishes which are Karnataka-centric, owing to her heritage, her product range has diversified since 2017.
“I happened to get married into a Tamil family, and my mother-in-law is a great cook. Mixes for dishes like Mor Kolambu (or Kuzhambu), a dish similar to the North Indian Kadhi, was an addition that was inspired by her. Gradually, we also launched ready-to-eat mixes for those who did not want to slave in the kitchen,” she says.
Some of the best selling products of Sambar Stories include sambar powder, chutney powder, gun powder and their special filter coffee with 15 per cent chicory which a lot of people bought during the lockdown.
Pune-based homemaker Vidya Venkat is one such person. She came across Sambar Stories on Facebook towards the end of March.
“I decided to try the coffee, and it was amazing. Slowly, I also started ordering the sambar and rasam powders, the rava idli mix, and curry powders, among others. I like the fact that the spices taste and smell so fresh and it is free from preservatives. I tried the mix for bisi bele bath just yesterday and loved it!” says the 42-year-old.
Another customer, V Satya Prasad, too came across Sambar Stories on Facebook. The retired bank employee decided to check the products out of curiosity.
“I have ordered the chutney powder three to four times in the past few months. The best part of the chutney powder is that it has the right blend of peanuts and spices. The Puliyogare powder was also good, and I like their prompt service,” he says.
Overcoming Hurdles and Sailing Forward
Though Sneha has been running her business for seven years, she still faces challenges every day.
“Although I had the support of my parents, I was managing most of the operations myself. And, being a one-woman army is hard! Also, I had minimal background in business; hence everything from managing boxes for couriers to sourcing raw materials and figuring out what products to, I did it all by myself,” she says.
Another challenge she mentions has to do with visibility and creating brand awareness, where drawing in the interest of people is paramount. But, from her own experiences, she shares a few words of wisdom.
“When I started, I was young. I thought being a woman in the world of business can be challenging because it wasn’t so common then. But the environment is encouraging if you have a clear vision. There will be challenges, but they are only part of the journey,” she says.
Now, Sneha says that Sambar Stories is going to add more products to their existing range. After launching the Mor Kolambu last month, she is working on introducing a mix for a traditionally homemade drink called Kashayam which comprises spices and herbs like pepper, ginger, coriander etc. They have also been speaking with customers who regularly provide suggestions for new products.
“When I started, I wanted to make it easier for people to cook food that reminded them of home. The idea was also to record all the recipes for these spices so that they do not forget authentic flavours. I hope that in the future, people find it easy to replicate food that was perhaps cooked in their granny’s kitchen. Apart from that, I want to empower many more people as my business grows,” she says.
*An entrepreneur you admire.
Ans: Steve Jobs
*New tech that can transform the future of small businesses
*One value that can help small businesses thrive
*Your favourite book
Ans: Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda
*In my free time, I ____…
Ans: am usually busy with household chores or I read
* Before this interview, I was ____…
Ans: eating my lunch
* A message for your past self about small businesses
Ans: You shall overcome
*Best advice you ever got is ____…
Ans: to be more patient
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)