Many home chef businesses are tasting success in India, but it's not a cakewalk

Advertisement
Many home chef businesses are tasting success in India, but it's not a cakewalk
Raw turmeric and cider hummusTarannum Sehgal
  • From inventory to delivery, the home chef business is fraught with many issues and uncertainties.
  • Finding a reliable delivery vendor requires a lot of patience and multiple attempts before honing in on one.
  • No longer is it just the biriyani or butter chicken, the sheer variety available often puts the best restaurants to shame.

Not so long ago, the only reason people ordered food was to take a break from boring old 'ghar ka khana' (homemade food). However, the pandemic brought with it a rekindling of love for the same items most of us wanted to get away from. That said, the past year has also seen an evolution of sorts of the kind of cuisines home chefs have embraced and have to offer. No longer is it just the biriyani or butter chicken, the sheer variety available often puts the best restaurants to shame. From homemade shepherd's pie to pork belly with tingmo to creatively decorated blueberry-vanilla in American buttercream cake, the offerings are beautifully varied.

The business models are diverse — from home cooks sharing their daily menus on their residential colony WhatsApp groups to operating entirely out of social media channels like Facebook and Instagram. Then there are those who are happy to get rid of the added burden of marketing, delivery etc., all together and prefer to outsource it to companies like Homefoodi or Conosh.

"For me, the moment you put numbers into something you love, it takes the fun out of it. I am lucky enough to be able to concentrate on the fun part of cooking while my husband helps to bring some method to this madness by taking care of everything else, for now. But given how painful the business and backend side of it can be, I would definitely be more than happy to outsource that part of the operations," says Tarannum Sehgal, whose full-time role is in a Michelin Kitchen in South of France, but she started her venture T-Pop! In Delhi to bide her time while she waits for her restaurant to open in April.
Advertisement

Conosh, a company co-owned by three friends Anshumala, Neha and Vaibhav, is basically a conduit between home chefs and foodies. Before the pandemic hit, the primary way they would do so was by setting up pop-up kitchens in the homes of chefs, but since that was no longer possible in 2020, they tweaked their offerings to include marketing and delivery services to home chefs as well as offering workshops with master chefs like Gary Mehigan, Sashi Chelia, Ranveer Brar, and Kunal Kapur to home chefs who were keen on sharpening their skills. Conosh now has over 800 chefs and has delivered to over 15,000 customers in Delhi-NCR and Bengaluru.

While the idea of starting a home kitchen sounds ideal, the journey is far from easy. From inventory to delivery, the home chef business is fraught with many issues and uncertainties. Some of which were either exasperated or even solved during the pandemic.

Many home chef businesses are tasting success in India, but it's not a cakewalk
Double cooked pork bellyMOOD

Advertisement

The kitchen-to-mouth conundrum

Delivery is a key element most home chefs have trouble negotiating. And while there were a plethora of companies who started offering delivery services at competitive prices during the pandemic, finding a reliable vendor requires a lot of patience and multiple attempts before honing in on one. Nicole Juneja and her mum Kusuma Juneja started their venture, Mood, back in 2018. Initially, they operated purely on the takeaway model, but the pandemic forced them to change their stance and start delivering food. "While the lockdown helped us grow our business, in fact, it was our best year ever, a key challenge we faced was trying to figure out the logistics, which is primarily the deliveries. It's hard to find a reliable partner," says Juneja.

Many home chef businesses are tasting success in India, but it's not a cakewalk
Vanilla fairy cakesShweta Andrews

Can't have your cake and eat it too


Advertisement
Business Insider spoke to Anshumala, one of the co-founders of Conosh, who tells us that while the pandemic saw a surge in both home chefs and consumers, the one thing the consumers often gripe over is the price. "Diners particularly talk about the prices and they compare it to restaurant food. However, it cannot be directly compared to restaurant food for a variety of reasons. The first and the most obvious ones are obviously because these guys are working on a much smaller scale, and they're making everything fresh so they don't have the economies of scale like restaurant kitchens. Also, as an example, we have a home chef called Sumitra who specialises in Andhra Brahmin food in Bangalore and she travels to Vishakhapatnam to get some of her ingredients in order to maintain the authenticity of the food she offers. So, of course, the cost of her offering will be higher than a restaurant's."

Recipe for growth limit your orders

"While the lockdown definitely helped us expand our business, increasing our scale makes you realise the limitations of a home kitchen. And you do have to set an upper limit for orders and things like that, just because there's only that much space and equipment," Juneja tells us. Along with that, there was the issue of little or no additional help in terms of staff, especially during the lockdown that made operations so much harder for home chefs.

Advertisement
Many home chef businesses are tasting success in India, but it's not a cakewalk
Christmas rum fruit cakeShweta Andrews

The not-so-palatable cost?

Touching upon the point raised by Anshumala, the mere fact that home chefs operate on a smaller scale, their cost of ingredients is also much higher. Plus, what sets them apart is the fact that they use the best and most authentic ingredients that don't come cheap. "While the cost to deliver items may have reduced a notch, the material and packaging costs have also shot up, which, in turn, has led me to charge more. Plus, earlier, I used to go to wholesale markets to get the raw materials that I can no longer do thanks to the pandemic, which has impacted my costs," says Shweta Andrews, founder of Bakes Ahoy, a business specialising in artisanal and premium baked goods.

Fill out a few forms before you do the filling
Advertisement

In November 2020, the government made it mandatory for all home chefs who have a turnover of ₹12 lakh and above to have a Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) registration number. Failure to do so could result in a fine of ₹5 lakhs or face jail time. But while most imagined this would be a huge pain, it really isn't. All you have to do is log into the website, submit a few documents, and pay a nominal sum and within 2-4 weeks, the job is done.

However, in June 2020, FSSAI launched a new cloud-based food safety compliance online platform called Food Safety Compliance System (FoSCoS), which will eventually replace the current Food Licensing and Registration System (FLRS). "FoSCoS is conceptualised to provide one point stop for all engagement of an FBO [Food Business Operators] with the department for any regulatory compliance transaction," according to the government press release. This system will be launched in a phased manner, and Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Goa, Delhi, Odisha, Manipur, Chandigarh, Puducherry and Ladakh are a part of the first phase. If you live in these states, it will be prudent to register with FoSCoS at a nominal fee of ₹100 per year even if your turnover is not as much under the 'Petty Food Business Operators' section.

Feeling the heat
Advertisement

With thousands joining the army of home chefs, the competition has multiplied, leading to everyone trying out new methods to woo clients -- from sending personalised notes to offering special Onam Sadya meal boxes with all the fixins' including a banana leaf and directions on how to arrange the food items. "Because the competition is so stiff, I continuously have to come up with new ideas and designs for cakes, which is a good thing because I learn more and improve my skills," however, Andrews adds, "now that there are thousands of home bakers in the market, I now have to put in money on Instagram and Facebook to promote myself."

{{}}