SoFood Pvt. Ltd. is a start-up initiated by three young entrepreneurs, Amita Shah, RishabhChaudhary, and Sumit Tated. The company aims to work with farmers to provide sustainable solutions to India’s agricultural & food industry. Initially, they were working with 200+ farmers, and post 2017, they started working on a healthy food range. The main target is to bridge the gap between technological shortfalls in the rural areas associated with on-field production and the busy lives in urban cities. They dehydrate fruits & vegetables thereby imparting longer shelf life using solar conduction dryers.

Today we have Mr. Sumit Tated, with us to share his journey with SoFood.

1. Give us a brief about you, your team and your start-up.

Team SoFood is a diverse and eclectic group of passionate individuals. Here, years of business experience reinforce enthusiasm and desire to make a difference.

Born and raised in the district of Vidarbha, Sumit Tated, a Green Technologist & Chemical Engineer from ICT Mumbai, always aspired to work towards making a difference in rural and developing India. While pursuing his degree at India’s renowned Institute of Chemical Technology (a.k.a. University Department of Chemical Technology or UDCT), he felt the time to be ripe to test his business skills by working different  

start-up ideas. With his batch-mate Rishabh Chaudhary, another of SoFood founders, Sumit has initiated several ventures like selling customized T-shirts to institutes or teaching school children in the vicinity or providing career counseling to students. What drives Sumit is his yearning to cater to the rural society which stems from his family which has actively worked for the cause of social advancement.

Mrs. Amita Shah is an enterprising business person who knows what it takes to run a business. A Computer Engineer by qualification, she started a venture dealing with the sale of computers by the name of Mayka Impex. Years later, with the support of key family members settled abroad she went ahead to found a firm dealing with the export of handicrafts to Africa. Apart from technology and export management, her experience also encompasses stock brokerage and investment management.

Mr. Rishabh Chaudhary hails from a family-based in Faridabad. Having inherited both academic and entrepreneurial genes in his family, Rishabh knew that his start-up would combine his zest for developing something new and his regard for the rural roots of his family. Also a graduate from the Institute of Chemical Technology, he aims to apply his engineering aptitude to agricultural practices. With the start-up experience built in the early days of graduation with his friend Sumit, Rishabh is now working towards his long-term goals.

SoFood aims to contribute to food sustainability, improved nutrition, and the use of clean energy in India and across the world. We aim to make Instant Healthy Foods not only affordable and accessible but also appealing to customers with great taste and convenience.

2. What is the story behind your Start-up?

I had been living in a college hostel for over 17 years. Eating a regular mess is food, not a great experience as one gets bored with it over a period of time. The healthy meal options available to students outside the mess are either unaffordable or super unhealthy in terms of hygiene and nutritional content. This was more applicable for meals like breakfast which needs to be healthy to maintain the right amount of energy for the rest of the day.

One thing that I used to miss the most was sprouts. It was a staple in our family home as my mother, a housewife, took upon herself the task of soaking, tying in a cloth and storing in the refrigerator when the sprouts were ready. The whole process took her 48-72 hours and the cycle was started again as soon as the jar in the fridge touched the halfway mark. I tried to buy sprouts from local vendors in the market and was very disappointed in the quality and hygiene. Their shelf life was also limited to one day at the most.

Being a research student in Green Technology, I came across the idea of dehydrating sprouts which can be stored for long and can be instantly prepared later. I could imagine the convenience and the super healthy meal choice it would offer to students. After more brainstorming and market research, it was clear that not just students, but a large section of the urban society – working couples, working mothers of school-going children, diet-conscious youth, etc would also be hugely benefited from such a product.

3. When did you start? How has been the journey so far?

SoFood was started in 2014 as a start-up in the Agri-processing domain. We train farmers on the processing of fruits & vegetables, its dehydration as a means to prevent post-harvest losses & value addition. We have worked with more than 200 farmers across India and have established dehydration facilities at farms and also help them market their produce.

In 2017, we also established our own R&D and production facility for more making high value-added dehydrated & healthy foods.  In 2018, we launched the first product line BROTOS Instant Sprouts in the Indian Market.

4. How did you fund your start-up? Also, list out if you have raised any funding so far

SoFood has been bootstrapped and has launched its’ D2C BROTOS brand in the market. We are looking to raise seed funds now.

5. How has the business scaled in the last one year? Please support with numbers, if possible.

In the last 1 year, we have launched 7 products in the market. We have built a presence online as well as offline market. We also got USFDA approval for BROTOS products. Very recently, the product has been launched in the UAE market as well. Product is available on our own website, Amazon, BigBasket, Flipkart, LBB, Seniority to name a few in the online market. It’s also available on shelves of Spencers’ retail chain &Haiko Supermarkets. We have sold more than 20000 units last year.

6. How do you differentiate from your competitors?

Our products are better than other ready-to-eat products in numerous ways. They are nutritionally superior as well as more natural. These sprouts offer food safe & hygienic sprouts to consumers. Further, dehydration retains the taste of foods much more than freezing or canning does! So, our food tastes great naturally. There is no need for any synthetic flavor or color to enhance its appeal. The goodness is real! Moreover, they are cleaner, cheaper, and easier to make. This ensures that our products are affordable and easily accessible without cold-chain or other advanced logistics features.

7. What impact has your product/service created in society?

There are several cases of sprouts borne diseases are reported in the market due to microbial contamination. We ensure food safety and ensures consumers get food safe & hygienic sprouts on the go without any hassles. Plus, these are vegan & gluten-free and are very rich in nutrients, protein & vitamins. Our products fit the busy and on-the-go lifestyle of younger generations. A delicious bowl of healthy sprouts needs only 5-8 mins to be ready!

8. What have been the key challenges so far?

The biggest challenge is customer awareness. Since it’s the first of its’ kind product, there is a huge need for customer awareness and knowledge. The process of sprouting is also challenging and we need to ensure hygienic conditions & no unsprouted hard seeds in the final product.

9. How did you overcome/handle the problems/challenges faced?

For the removal of hard seeds, we have worked for over 2 years in R&D to ensure processes at large scale ensuring the highest quality & consistency. For consumer awareness, we are reaching out via dieticians, nutritionists & influencers.

10. How did you build your team and how do you ensure they are aligned to the vision?

This is probably the most difficult part of the business. We have grown as a team giving each member a sense of responsibility and ownership. Also, the farmers’ network with whom we work also share the same vision of providing healthy & hygienic food to consumers.

11. How has COVID-19 affected your business and what measures are you taking to tackle the situation?

Due to COVID-19, we faced various issues starting from manufacturing to supply chain and distribution. We are operating at partial capacity. To tackle distribution issues, we launched our own D2C website to ensure consumers get the products.

We have seen a huge surge in demand from consumers due to increased awareness of eating healthy & hygienic food. 

12. What keeps you going?

What excites me most about our product is that it caters to a diverse set of customers in the market. It is easy to cook and consume, has a long shelf life, and is extremely affordabl-

-e. All these features make it a favorite amongst students and other people who do not have a lot of time to spend in the kitchen. The fact that it is 100% natural and without added preservatives reassures mothers who only want to use high-quality products for their family. It offers a low calorie, high protein, and gluten-free meal option without compromising on taste which is a common complaint about healthy food items. 

13. What are your future plans?

We are looking to raise funds for growth. We plan to launch products in all major cities aggressively and also plan to launch 2 more product lines of Flavoured Superfood Drink Premixes & Sprouted Protein-Rich Shake premixes.

14. Message for the Young Entrepreneurs.

Jump into the sea and you will learn to swim and survive. You will find away.

We thank Sumit for taking some time out for the interview and sharing his experience with us.