I recall the time my colleague in Bengaluru was having intense cravings for bhakarwadi (a traditional sweet and spicy snack popular in Maharashtra), which lasted for months on end, till she finally managed to head home. Sure, she could have satiated her craving with sincere search on her part, but she knew the taste wouldn’t be the same. Nothing comes close to indulging in the soul-satisfying local cuisine we’ve all grown up eating.
No doubt, regional snacks have penetrated metro cities, but certain dishes remain hard to source and often don’t match the authenticity of their home states.
Observing this gap in the market, two friends, straight out of college, began The State Plate (TSP) in August this year. The bootstrapped e-commerce venture, started by 21-year-olds Muskan Sancheti and Raghav Jhawar, sources authentic snacks and condiments from various states and delivers them right to your doorstep.
From Gujarat’s lip-smacking Induben khakhras to Bengaluru’s Subbama’s nippattu, Rajasthan’s khichiya, West Bengal’s kasundi and Kerala’s kuzhalappam, TSP has tied up with nostalgia-inducing local brands and vendors to provide their customers with a variety of food from their home states. The business has also tied up with home chefs, who cook items like gunda ka achaar, puchka aloo masala, coconut barfis and chaklis, among a host of other snacks.
The best part is that all 500 products, which range from snacks to sweets, spices, staples, pickles and chutneys, are delivered across the country.
A sudden change of plans
The start-up was the product of the COVID-19 pandemic. Bengaluru-based Muskan and Kolkata-based Raghav headed home in March this year, and appeared for their final exams online. Like most of their peers at the Shri Ram College of Commerce, Delhi, the duo had secured jobs through placements and had plans in place — working in big corporate setups, and then opting for an MBA course.
So what changed these plans?
“It was the day we ran out of traditional Rajasthani papads,” Muskan recalls, in a conversation with The Better India, adding, “We had no way to source it from the state, due to imposed restrictions. Being marwaris, our meals are incomplete without papad. After great difficulty, we did manage to find a shop in Bengaluru, but the delivery charge was higher than the price of the product. The incident sparked an idea.”
Muskan discussed this idea with Raghav, and for the next couple of weeks, the two brainstormed the pros and cons of starting a business during the lockdown. They had mulled over a few business ideas before, but this one was seemingly the most feasible.
They conducted research by surveying their friends and acquaintances, and found that this market in particular was unorganised, owing to lack of demand. Since the idea catered to all age groups, finding customers wouldn’t be challenging. Besides, the initial capital investment would not be high (they started with Rs 5,000) and the timing of the venture could not be more perfect.
Initially, the aim was to utilise the lockdown period productively to learn business management skills. But little did they expect a steady growth rate of customers, which would eventually push them to scale activities.
The first version of the website was designed by Muskan and Raghav, and they launched their business in Bengaluru as a pilot project. They marketed the venture on social media and through word of mouth.
“For the first two months, we kept all the food at Muskan’s place, and she delivered it to customers. We tested all unbranded products before listing them on our website — a practice we follow even now. As soon as we crossed 100 products, I moved to Bengaluru and we decided to expand across India, and bring vendors from various states on board,” Raghav says.
A win-win model
If finding trusted brands, local vendors and home chefs was a tedious process, getting them to come on board was an even bigger challenge.
While both Muskan and Raghav had predicted that their business would take a dip due to the economic slowdown, assuring the vendors of a profitable partnership was not easy. So they decided to not keep a high profit margin, and made sure their products were sold only at MRP. They charged a fixed percentage on sales.
The products are either sourced directly from the brands, or through appointed dealers. This way, if the customer wants to order multiple items from different states, he will not have to pay as many delivery charges. Moreover, all samples are tested by them and their friends to ensure that the products are of quality, and if the feedback is negative, the item is delisted. The shelf life of all products is at least one month, so even if the delivery takes longer, the food doesn’t get spoilt.
“The founders take the quality of their food items very seriously,” says Indira, a Bengaluru-based home chef who has listed her food on TSP’s website. She adds, “My friends and I were already running a home-food business when we came across this venture a few months ago. We wanted to scale our business. Before they accepted our food, they tested our samples thoroughly. We found their dedication impressive, and now sell 17 of our items via their platform. We don’t even have to market our business anymore.”
While Indira quit her teaching job, her friends lost their jobs right before the lockdown was imposed. To gain an income source, they began selling regional dishes like shankarpali, merhi kodubale, and dry fruit ladoos.
Like Indira, many home chefs are happily onboarding their items on the website. Even the speed with which the number of customers is growing every month tells a success story. Since its inception, TSP has served over a thousand customers, and today, the team comprises 10 people.
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(Edited by Divya Sethu)