Nayana Jhaveri (82), a resident of Mumbai, has been an entrepreneur for over four decades now. There was a time when her home had a constant stream of customers dropping by to pick up her handmade mukhwas (traditional mouth fresheners) and puffs. For the octogenarian, this was the way of life.
It was her daughter-in-law Bhavi Jhaveri who, in 2016, saw a potential business idea in her mother-in-law’s talents, and decided to form a company.
“After spending almost 15 years in corporate communication, events, and PR, I wanted to bring the women in my family together and market their products effectively,” Bhavi tells The Better India.
Like Nayana, her sister and Bhavi’s aunt Yamini Mehta, too, had been an entrepreneur selling mukhwas for years. In their social circle in Mumbai, they duo have a rather impressive clientele — including the likes of Ambanis, and corporates that place frequent orders with them, Bhavi says.
Based on recipes shared by their mother Sadgunaben, the sisters had been in the business of making mukhwas and other Gujarati delicacies for over 40 years.
Before Bhavi sowed the seeds of formal entrepreneurship, both had been content with running the business from home.
Bhavi says that given how well the women were doing, she wanted to create a platform that would help scale the business and introduce processes with the ability to reach a wider client base. “Every house has its own way of making a particular product. The aim is to bring them all together under one roof,” says Bhavi. “All I did was bring them all under a banner, which we called Nanee’s Flavour.”
Entrepreneurs before social media
Bhavi says that for her mother-in-law and aunt, being entrepreneurs came very naturally. “Armed with traditional recipes passed on from their mother, both had started doing what they were best at. They enjoyed the conversations with customers, and the money and name just followed,” she recalls.
In the early 90’s, an era before social media and when there was no scope of placing an advertisement, having an online presence, or creating a page to garner subscribers, the women conducted their respective businesses purely by word-of-mouth.
Meanwhile, after quitting her corporate career in 2016, and in putting this company together, Bhavi says she learnt a lot from scratch. “From how to package the products to where to market them and the licences one needs while operating a food business — all this was new to me, and had to be learnt. I was motivated by the enthusiasm with which my mother-in-law and aunt supported me,” she says.In fact, the business also expanded to include Bhavi’s mother Harshada Zaveri, and her nani (maternal grandmother) from Jabalpur.
Speaking about her nani, Bhavi says, “She is famous for her paan in the area, and would send it to us in Mumbai, where we would package them and ship them out. Even though she is over 80, her zest to work and contribute to the business is phenomenal.”
“She never shies away from sharing the recipe to make paan, and feels happy when someone uses it and is able to sell and make money from it.”
Adding to this, Saroj Mehta, Bhavi’s nani says, “I have been making and selling paan for as long as I can remember now. The recipe was passed down by my mother. I do this not for the money, but for the joy it brings me. In fact, I set aside a substantial amount of the money I make towards a charity. I am also glad to be a part of Bhavi’s venture.”
With this, Bhavi aims to provide traditional family recipes of various products under one ambit, while promoting the talents of the women who have deeply influenced her.
A family doing business together
From a business that began from various home kitchens, Bhavi decided to take a step forward by partnering with Candor Foods in 2020. “Since we wanted to expand and reach more customers, we decided to take this leap of faith. This has helped us streamline many of our processes and also bring in very strict quality control parameters,” she says.
Thus, from Nanee’s Flavours, the company was rebranded to Handful of Health. “Even though the name changed, the products and what we stand for remain the same. We now have a larger kitchen, more time to do research and development on new recipes, and the ability to hire many more women,” adds Yamini.
Until the business was being run from home, the investment was on an individual level by the women making the products. However, Bhavi says that in 2020, she invested close to Rs 25 lakh in getting the machines and factory up and running. “I was clear about not wanting to get the older generation to make any financial commitment to this. That was what I was bringing to the table. Yamini joined me in this with her rich background in product making.”
For Yamini, the business was not just something she started on a whim. She used the money she made to run her house for over four decades. She says, “I have seen rather difficult times in life. The one thing that always helped me was my business. I have used the money I made to pay my daughter’s school fees, get her married, and take care of so many other family responsibilities.”
Yamini’s husband wholeheartedly supported her. “From helping me pack the orders to tasting and giving me feedback on each product, he has always stood by me,” she says.
Meanwhile, for Bhavi, who works with so many of her family members, the one thing that has worked is the “willingness to adjust from both sides”. “I have utmost respect for my mother-in-law. There is so much to learn from her — whether it’s her artistic bent of mind or her love for literature. We have had a beautiful personal and professional relationship.”
With shipping over 200 kg of mukhwas and earning a revenue of a few lakhs month-on-month, Bhavi has now set her eyes on acquiring more clients and adding more products. Their venture also sells dry fruits, snacks, dates, seeds, and more.
Currently, one can buy eight varieties of mukhwas and surti jeeralu (a kind of salt used in traditional Gujarati cooking). The products are priced at Rs 99 onwards.
To place an order, you can click here.
(Edited by Divya Sethu)