A regular visit to the grocery store gave Mumbai-based Soumyadeep Mukherjee his startup idea. He along with his two friends created ‘Spice Story’, which sells a variety of chutneys and aims to be a household name soon.
Often sitting at the side of our thalis, this food item might often feel ornamental to the main course but try excluding it, and the platter loses its charm. Can you imagine eating piping hot samosa without the green chutney, or North India’s papdi chaat without the tangy, sweet and spicy saunth?
As diverse as India is in its culture, heritage, and landscape, one thing that binds all of us together is our food. And for every 100 km that you travel in any direction, you are likely to encounter a new taste of chutney, modified to suit the region’s climate and people’s taste palate.
Capitalising on an Indian’s love for food and their undying loyalty to chutney, 40-year-old Soumyadeep Mukherjee has managed to build a chutney empire. His startup ‘Spice Story’ recently raised Rs 70 Lakh for 5 percent equity on Shark Tank Season 2, and here is his story.
Deep dive into an entrepreneurial journey
In 2018, on a regular trip to the grocery store, Soumyadeep saw people buying green chutney from the store. So, he decided to try it too and bought some.
“When my wife saw it, she said, ‘Oh let’s make pani puri to go with this chutney. It looks fresh’. That is when it hit me that there is no brand in India that sells chutney,” Mukherjee recalls to The Better India.
Hailing from Indore, Mukherjee had moved to different cities because of his job. Before starting Spice Story, he had a 20-year-long career in distribution and marketing, where he worked with companies like Coca-Cola, ADF Foods, etc.
While the idea of building a chutney brand seemed brilliant in Mukherjee’s head, saying it out loud did not get the kind of reception he hoped for.
“When I talked to my friends about this idea, they simply said ‘chutney can be made at home easily, why would anyone buy it from you?’. This was a good argument, but I had a simple answer to that. Indians love convenience. Every household has ginger and garlic at their home, but still, ginger garlic paste sells like hotcakes at grocery stores. So, I had a strong feeling that this will work,” he says.
Belonging to a middle-class family with two kids to care for, leaving a 20-year career to follow his dream did not come easy.
“I sold my home to get started on the business. I told my wife that I’m going to leave my job and start a business. Thankfully she did not leave me saying that I had lost my mind!” he shares, adding, “I told her ‘I’m 40 years old, and if I don’t do this now, then I would not be able to do it again. If I fail, someone will hire me at 45 but not at 50. So this is my window’.”
‘Side of the plate is as important’
“The first sauce the brand launched was a sriracha sauce, but it didn’t take off very well. I realised that Indians love their desi food. Among all the popular fine dining restaurants in the country, most of them serve Indian cuisine. A person from Gujarat will eat Gujarati food every day at home, but still go out to eat at Govardhan Thal [which serves Gujarati cuisine]!” he says.
He continues, “I realised that there is no organised market for chutneys. If we want pickles, we say Mother’s Recipe; if we want papad, we say Lijjat. If we want to buy packaged water, we say Bisleri. If we want to cook Chinese at home, we ask for Ching’s. But there is no such go-to brand for chutney. I wanted to tap into this opportunity.”
He adds, “The side of the plate is as important as the centre for Indians, so I thought ‘why not give them a chutney brand?’”.
A spicy slope to success
With hope in his heart, Mukherjee started by manufacturing only three chutneys initially.
“We made three basic products — imli chutney from Gujarat, Bombay sandwich chutney, and mint chutney from Delhi. In mint chutney, we had a variant without onion and garlic. These products were a hit, and we realised that people are buying what they already know about. So, I decided to go fully desi after that and became sure not to venture into sauces from other countries,” he says.
As the chutney brand’s popularity increased, so did people’s faith in his idea.
In 2020, he was joined by two of his friends with similar ambitions — Gayatri Gogate, who was a marketing lead at Nykaa and is now the CMO of Spice Story, and Vibhor Rastogi, who was a chef and now handles quality control for the chutney startup.
Explaining the process of bringing new recipes into the menu, Mukherjee says, “All three of us are foodies; we love to travel and experiment with food. Whenever I find a chutney I like, I collect samples and give them to Vibhor, who then does his magic. The chutney then goes to a food testing lab called Equinox, where the shelf life and nutritional values of the product are determined.”
With a team of 11 people, the brand now has 14 variants of chutneys — including Dilliwali Spicy Mint Chutney, Kolkata Mango Mustard Adventure, Mumbai Schezwan Mayhem, Agra ki Saunth, Indori Lemon Chutney, and The Original Kolhapuri Jhatka.
The shelf life of all the products is up to 12 months, and they are available to purchase on the brand’s website and on Amazon, Flipkart, Flipkart Grocery, Swiggy Instamart, Bigbasket, Reliance Mart, and More retail.
“The name truly justifies the taste. It is absolutely mindblowing, and anyone who loves spice is going to love them,” says Antara Roy. Yet another reviewer said, “The packing is so good and easy to carry wherever we want, at any time. Loved the chutneys too.”
After winning the hearts of people around the country with his chutneys, Mukherjee was able to capture the attention of the sharks in the second season of Shark Tank India.
“It is like clearing a CAT exam. Some 30,000 people pitch their ideas and to be selected among them is encouraging and humbling. But pitching is not just to the sharks but to the hundreds of people watching the show on TV. It does not matter if I raised money or not, but meeting these iconic people and telling them about my business is amazing,” he says narrating his experience on the reality show.
Mukherjee’s zeal for bringing convenience to people’s doorstep does not end with making chutneys. He wants to venture into other untouched areas of the Indian food industry.
“We are ready to launch a range of Indian gravies in the market. Another area we want to explore is hand-pounded spices. We want to go beyond the Indian market and become a global brand. We wish to be a household name as far as chutneys are concerned,” he informs.
Edited by Pranita Bhat