Siddharth Ramasubramanian, with over two-decades-long experience in the global hospitality industry, has always worked closely with food. In India, he observed that the majority of people eat vegetarian food, yet there are not many options for them to choose from, while satisfying their nutritional needs. It was in mid-2019 that he, along with Rajit Malhotra, a food, health and wellness investor and entrepreneur, founded Vegolution to address this homogeneity and the glaring nutrition gap in the Indian vegetarian diet.
Vegolution is a Bengaluru-based food-tech startup company that works on developing vegetarian protein-rich food. On what led him to embark on this journey, Ramasubramanian says, “It was based on some subtle instincts we had about the market in India, where people who mostly consume vegetarian food were beginning to see a lack of variety to fulfil their nutritional needs.”
He says there is plenty to eat when you are a vegetarian but the choices narrow down when you are looking for protein, iron or vitamin B12. “We thought there is an opportunity to address an audience that is becoming more conscious about their food but still wants to eat what they enjoy.”
The startup has recently introduced its plant-based protein food ‘Hello Tempayy’, ‘a bean-based, easy-to-cook food that can be adapted across cuisines, meal occasions and cooking styles’. It is made by fermenting non-GMO soybeans in a custom-built facility in Bengaluru. Hello Tempayy products are fortified with Vitamin B-12 and iron and are priced between Rs 130 and Rs 150 for 200 gram packs.
Talking about the new product, Ramasubramanian says when he discovered Tempayy, he began to fall in love with the ingredient in the kitchen because of its diversity. “One day I would make Tempayy Upma, the other day Tempayy kebab or tempayy curry. As it’s a natural product, a fermented soybean, it absorbs flavours. In that sense, it is very different from Paneer or Tofu where the flavours coat the product but not seep into the product.”
“When it comes to nutrition, Tempayy is the penultimate ingredient-- it has all the nine essential amino acids -- which are rarely found in vegetarian or vegan food. It’s naturally high in fibre and low in carbs,” he adds.
Hello Tempayy is currently available in four variants: Natural, Simply Sriracha, Peppery Szechuan Chilli and Spiced Tawa Masala.
Studying food habits
The founders of the startup spent close to six months studying the market - understanding what people are shopping, what people are talking about to nutritionists, chefs etc.
They gathered three key insights. One being that the majority of Indians are consuming vegetarian food most of the time. “This was a key insight for us because it’s a common understanding based on published reports that 70% of Indians are labeled as non-vegetarians, while only 30% as vegetarians. From an online survey to speaking to consumers, we found out that over 75% of consumers are eating vegetarian food most of the week,” he says.
The second key to the puzzle was that people were getting more conscious, trying to figure out how do they add more protein or fibre to their diet while also taking care of the wholesomeness of the food, he adds.
The third key insight, says Ramasubramanian was that while people are experimenting with food in the country, there’s a very strong foundational taste element that cannot be ignored.
Ramasubramanian says the idea was not to just bring products that were available in the West, assuming they will work in India. “We explored a variety of plant-based products and thought Tempayy would deliver on the needs of the Indian vegetarian market.”
The company has raised capital of $1.5 million including the founders’ seed capital (Founder investors: $500,000 and external investors: $1,000,000)
Hello Tempayy product would be available digitally on the company’s website and other ecommerce platforms in Bengaluru before it moves to retail stores.
He adds that the idea is to offer an ingredient in ready-to-eat and ready-to-cook formats that can be embraced as a staple. “We have also partnered with a cloud kitchen company and are expected to go live with them in March. The goal is to bring Tempayy to people’s consciousness, so you will find it at familiar places -- whether you are getting a beer at a pub or ordering a healthy meal from a cloud kitchen.”