To make authentic South Indian snacks available throughout the country, G D Prasad started VS Mani & Co using his grandparents’ recipes. Recently, he, along with his team, impressed the ‘sharks’ and were able to bag a sizeable investment.
Grown-ups can sometimes go to lengths to relive their childhood. G D Prasad’s (GD) way to capture his childhood tastebuds was to start VS Mani & Co, a South Indian food startup.
“I wanted to introduce people to authentic South Indian coffee and my favourite traditional South Indian snacks, which some may have not even heard of yet,” the 34-year-old tells The Better India.
Bengaluru-based VS Mani & Co recently charmed the “sharks” and bagged a deal of Rs 19 lakh for 1 percent equity and Rs 41 lakh debt at 10 percent interest on Shark Tank India Season 2.
Selling not just food, but rather nostalgia in packets
Growing up in Chennai, GD was always surrounded by delicious South Indian snacks and coffee. When he moved away from his hometown for education and then for work, he often felt homesick for these snacks.
Recalling his childhood memories, he shares, “I lived a good part of my life with my grandparents. I distinctly remember how my thatha (grandfather) had a coffee routine in the morning. He would fill a full flask with the beverage and have it in small cups, one after the other, till breakfast was ready.”
“My grandfather was V Subramaniam, fondly called Mani. He is the inspiration behind my idea, including the company name. This company is like a homage to that quaint house on ‘#20, 1st Main Road’ and my grandfather,” he says.
“Everything from the proportion of chicory used in the coffee to the spices used in the snack is done the way my grandparents did. The only difference is that we do it on an industrial scale now,” he adds.
GD was working with Dentsu Webchutney when he met his co-founders — Yashas Alur and Rahul Bajaj. The trio would discuss plans of starting their own business, and the idea of a dedicated South Indian snack brand was tossed around.
“It was in 2021 that I decided to give all my energy to VS Mani & Co. Yashas and Rahul joined me six months into the business. Initially, the business did not do as well as it is now. For the first year, we only made close to Rs 5 lakh,” GD says.
He continues, “For a South Indian, our snacks may tickle their nostalgia, and for the rest, our brand is a true representation of South Indian snacks and spices that they can try and relish.”
Apart from the motivation of childhood memories, there was yet another driving force behind the idea.
“My North Indian counterparts can easily walk into a store anywhere, and buy a namkeen or aloo bhujia. But the same cannot be said for Murukku. I want to take these South Indian snacks to every household and make them readily available everywhere,” he says.
VS Mani & Co has a range of products from coffee and spices to snacks. They have instant coffee, filter coffee, and snacks such as chilli banana chips, pepper banana chips, ribbon murukku (round spiral-shaped fried snack), bitter gourd chips, peanut chikki (Indian brittle), and onion vadam (traditional South Indian snack that is prepared using onions, rice, salt and other spices).
All the products are available in online stores such as Amazon, Flipkart, Superdaily, and Jio Mart and 200 retail stores in Bangalore. The brand has been receiving orders from cities like Mumbai, Pune, Bengaluru, Chennai, the NCR region etc.
Winning over “sharks” and people’s hearts
Talking about landing a deal in Shark Tank India, he says “We approached the whole pitch very consciously. We knew this was our chance to tell the world that we exist. A larger part of India sort of discovered us overnight after the episode aired. From choosing our attire to deciding how the products need to be represented, we tried to keep everything in line with our aims.”
He continues, “Sharks will look at the pitch and understand what the business is, but it is the people sitting behind the screen that needs to be tapped. It was important for us to showcase our brand correctly and make them understand what we as a company are trying to do here. Funding aside, it was a great experience and huge exposure for a small brand.”
The brand got an overwhelming response after Shark Tank, GD informs. “Our orders went up 20 times on Amazon the same night, and there was four times more traffic on our website,” he shares, adding that people seemed to love their products and many took to the internet to express this.
“The first thing that I do every time I land in Chennai is to order a filter coffee. Now, I can have the same coffee sitting anywhere. All thanks to VS Mani & Co,” said Dinesh K on Twitter.
“Officially obsessed! My absolute favourite product from VS Mani & Co. So authentic,” tweeted Meghana Srinivas about their Peanut Podi (spiced powder).
Sharing his future plans, GD says, “We want to have more stores around the country. We also want to go global and try selling our products in the US via Amazon. We also want to experiment with decoction coffee and our snacks too.”
“A few years ago, people from North India wouldn’t be aware of South Indian culture until they lived here. Most of them knew Kerala and hence, Banana chips. But in recent years, people are developing a liking for what South India has to offer the country — especially on OTTs where Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada movies are making a mark. So, I feel like this is the right time to tell people, ‘Hey! We’ve got some great snacks too!’,” he says.
Edited by Pranita Bhat