Born and brought up in Kolkata, Rukmini Banerji (37) is a lawyer by qualification who after the birth of her son decided to turn to entrepreneurship. In June 2018, she launched The Growing Giraffe, a brand that focuses on making healthy snacks for infants, toddlers, and even adults. “Becoming an entrepreneur was a complete accident,” she says to The Better India.
Having completed her law degree from Pune, Rukmini decided to move back to Kolkata and spend time with her family. She was working with a law firm for a while and eventually decided to pursue a Master’s degree in Banking and Finance from University College London (UCL). “Once I completed the course, I moved back to India, and this time made Mumbai my base,” she says.
Wanting to work in transactional law, she joined a boutique law firm in the city and continued her work. For almost a decade Rukmini worked at various law firms. “It was during my maternity leave in 2017 that the idea of catering healthy meals for children came to me,” she says.
But as a new mom, the thought of returning to full-time work seemed daunting to Rukmini.
Asked why she chose to start a brand focusing on healthy snacks for kids, she says, “I keep seeing people fall sick around me all the time. I don’t remember falling sick too much when I was a kid, and that’s largely because of what I ate. So, I’m very particular about giving Aarav, my son, the right nutrients that will help him grow and build his immunity.”
She adds here that while she was looking for healthy snack options for her son, she found that the claims being made and the actual product had a lot of gaps. “Many of the products make claims of being healthy but are actually laden with sugar and processed refined flour. I didn’t find any product in the market that I would be comfortable giving my son,” she says. And thus, started The Growing Giraffe (TGG).
About the venture’s name, she says, “As mothers, we all wish our children grow tall, and the first image that popped into my head was that of a giraffe.”
Hiccups and challenges
The idea was to provide wholesome nutritious snacks and meals for kids and with that in mind, Rukmini started from her own home kitchen. “The idea was to have parents place their orders online, which we would deliver. I started off with purees and healthy meals like beetroot idli, etc. However, we found that the market for such meals was rather small. With the kind of support system [grandparents, nannies] Indian parents have, we did not have too many orders being placed for these meals,” she says. While being listed on Zomato and Swiggy did wonders for the brand, the turnaround time was very quick and Rukmini realised that this was not the segment in which she wanted to be.
In order to further refine the food products that she wished to retail, she enrolled for a course on cookie making as well.
“I learnt how to bake the healthy cookies and nutrition bars and found that there were many more takers for this line of products. The products were so good that even I couldn’t stop myself from eating them,” she says. Rukmini, who is a one-woman army, says that she started TGG with an initial investment of Rs 2 lakhs. “A majority of that went into getting my company logo designed and to have a website created,” she says.
Rukmini had given herself one year with the business and it was around 2019 that she started seeing some sort of traction for her products. “I would have friends call and give me feedback – some wanted the cookies to be softer, while others suggested I use jaggery or honey as sweetening agents. In a sense that is how the business took off for me,” she adds.
Social media and pop-ups
In this day and age of social media marketing, Rukmini has so far managed to stay away from spending money on marketing. “I have had customers leave feedback and testimonials on Instagram completely of their own volition and that has helped the business grow. Along with this, I also participated in a few pop-ups across the city and that helped gain more visibility,” she says.
It was at one of the flea markets where TGG was present that a PR professional approached Rukmini and invited her to attend a boot-camp. “That provided me with some great learnings. I was asked to work on my packaging and certain other tweaks to be able to become a commercially viable brand,” adds Rukmini. The feedback that Rukmini got early on in her entrepreneurial journey helped her learn and recover quickly from her mistakes.
“The feedback from mothers is what helped me grow the brand. I am catering to exactly what they want for their babies,” she says.
With all the actionable feedback in place, TGG relaunched on 24 December 2020 with two types of cookies and two health bars. In the last quarter, TGG made a revenue of close to Rs 1.35 lakhs from selling on Amazon. Every month, close to 150 units of products are shipped out.
Shouger Merchant, mother to a 5-year-old and a client of TGG says, “Healthy, rich in fiber, and extremely nutritious – that’s exactly how I would describe the products of TGG. I carry them in my bag given how well thought out the size of these products are. The best part is that they are not just for my son. Even I love them. They are the perfect substitutes for the sugar-laden snacks available in the market.”
With celebrity patrons like Soha Ali Khan, Shilpa Shetty Kundra, Sameera Reddy, Seema Khan and Mini Mathur – this brand is on its way to make a mark for itself.
“The greatest validation for me was when during the lockdown I had mothers message me about how much they were missing the snacks. For someone who became an entrepreneur by chance, this has been a great journey,” she adds.
“Our ragi cookies continue to be a bestseller and the cacao peanut butter bars are also gaining popularity. The cacao is sourced from Kerala and is filled with antioxidants and goodness. While the ragi cookies are for children 8 months and above, the other snacks that contain honey and nuts are suitable for kids above 2 years,” says Rukmini.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)