Kusum Bhandari, Director & CRO, Bhookha Haathi Hospitality
Right from plant-based proteins to sustainable alternatives for existing food products, the trend of alternative foods has gained significant popularity among Indians. Currently, the market in India is witnessing the active presence of over 65 alternative protein startups, collectively known as smart protein, operating in the domains of plant-based, fermentation-derived, and cultivated protein technologies. Bhookha Haathi is one such startup making waves in this space. Recently, the company introduced Caffeine-free Chickpea Coffee under its Alt Health brand. nuFFOODS Spectrum had the opportunity to speak with Kusum Bhandari, Director & CRO of Bhookha Haathi Hospitality Private Limited, to discuss the latest developments and innovations by the startup. Edited excerpts:
Bhookha Haathi recently introduced a noteworthy addition to its product lineup with the launch of Caffeine-free Chickpea Coffee under the Alt Health brand. Please update us on this development.
Coffee is known and enjoyed worldwide as a beloved, go-to beverage. Many people rely on this renowned pick-me-up to start their day. While moderate amounts of caffeine can be safe for everyday consumption, excessive intake can cause serious problems. It can cause a person to become anxious and jittery, elevate their heart rate, worsen their high blood pressure, and even disrupt sleep patterns. Worst of all, drinking too much coffee can leave individuals feeling lethargic and sluggish, contrary to their desired effects.
Recognising this need to break away from over-dependency on coffee and its caffeinating effect led us to establish Alt Health. Our aim was to develop a range of coffee alternatives powered by chickpeas. Alt Health is India’s first caffeine-free coffee alternative that uses a proprietary method to replace coffee beans with fibrous and nutrient-dense chickpeas. Although devoid of caffeine, this superfood contains all the essential nutrients necessary to deliver a substantial and sustainable dose of energy, surpassing the fleeting effects of caffeine.
The outcome of this substitution is an energy-rich, caffeine-free beverage delectably close to traditional caffeinated coffee in taste, without any of the adverse side effects or jitters. It also provides a range of naturally occurring health benefits associated with chickpeas, such as improved digestion, enhanced nervous system function, blood pressure management, and diabetes control. It is also a vegan and healthy option, free from additives or preservatives. Packed with antioxidants, it helps in reducing the risk of various ailments and is safe for consumption during pregnancy and lactation.
Alt Health’s Chickpea coffee is available in a variety of flavours, including original, cinnamon, turmeric and the popular Date Seed & Chicory. Currently, our chickpea coffee is offered in a filter coffee format, but we are actively working towards introducing it in various other formats, such as decoction, ready-to-drink mixes, instant coffee, and more in the near future.
What are your insights on the alternative health food market in India?
The alternative food market in India is experiencing rapid growth, driven by increasing awareness of the health benefits associated with plant-based diets, concerns regarding the environmental impact of animal agriculture, rising disposable income, and the increasing availability of alternative food products. It is projected to grow at a CAGR of 10.9 per cent from 2022 to 2028. The North Indian region currently holds the largest market share while the South Indian region is witnessing significant growth due to increasing awareness of the health benefits of plant-based diets. This dynamic market is expected to continue expanding in the coming years as the demand for healthy and sustainable food options increases.
In our case, we have observed that approximately 14 per cent of coffee and tea consumers in India are actively seeking reliable and healthy alternatives to their current beverage choices. This trend is projected to grow to 19 per cent by the end of the current financial year.
How well-prepared is your R&D department to explore the alternative health food market in India?
Our R&D process incorporates regular in-house developments and consultations with food scientists and experts. Backed by our proprietary food technology, we have achieved a milestone where new product launches can be accomplished within a short turnaround time of 20 to 30 days. Additionally, we are able to introduce new flavours to our existing products in just 10 days.
What challenges does Bhookha Haathi face in the Indian nutraceutical health food market?
As the Indian nutraceutical health food market is still in its nascent stage, there is limited awareness among end-consumers, due to the scarcity of players in the market. Bhookha Haathi, being a part of this sector, regularly encounters this challenge. To address this, we have brought on board renowned actor Shree Mukesh Rishi as our brand ambassador, aiming to promote our products and raise awareness among consumers.
How do you overcome supply chain-related issues?
Despite being an early-stage startup, we have successfully established multiple alliances with super stockists, distributors, and satellite warehouses across the country. To guarantee a seamless supply chain experience for both ourselves and our partners, we collaborate with various e-commerce logistics service providers, transporters, and quick commerce partners who act as our clearing and forwarding agents. These efforts are geared towards ensuring timely delivery of our products to end consumers.
What, in your opinion, is the government’s role in addressing regulatory issues related to dietary supplements?
The role of the government in regulating dietary supplements is crucial for safeguarding public health. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is responsible for overseeing the regulation of dietary supplements in India. The FSSAI has implemented a number of regulations to ensure the safety and quality of these products. These regulations include aspects such as ingredient safety, product purity and accurate labelling. Additionally, dietary supplement manufacturers are required to register their products with the FSSAI before they can be sold in India.
The FSSAI’s regulatory framework plays a vital role in promoting the safety and efficacy of dietary supplements, discouraging the sale of unsafe or ineffective products.
Could you provide an update on the funding raised by Bhookha Haathi and how it is being utilised?
To date we have successfully raised Rs 1 crore in funding, which has been utilised to grow our capital expenditure, strengthen our market position/dominance and achieve sales excellence. We have plans to raise another Rs 16 crore in funding over the next few months, which will be utilised to support our growth initiatives.
What was your revenue in FY22 and what are your expectations for FY23?
We have crossed Rs 5 crore in FY22 and are looking to grow at least by 9 times in FY23 with the support of our Indian and international sales efforts. Currently, our international business accounts for around 35 per cent of our overall revenue, and we anticipate that this contribution will increase to 50 per cent in the near future.
Apart from the coffee alternative, do you have any other alternative food products in the pipeline? What are your future plans for new product development and business expansion?
By leveraging our existing patents, we are dedicating ourselves to launching 40 new SKUs within the next year, utilising chickpeas as a key ingredient. Once this has been completed, we will continue to develop and introduce new products featuring various health-promoting ingredients. While beverages will remain our primary focus, we are open to exploring different categories and products to better cater to the needs of our customers.