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Shift in food trends and growing awareness gives us an opportunity to excel: Ashmi Chari

Ash & Li Co is a food-tech startup founded by two women entrepreneurs, Ashmi Chari and Lisha Da Costa, of Goan origin. The company has developed healthy food products under the brand name “Wonder Bean”.  INCUBEES finds out its aim to give healthier food options through its plant-based, vegan, lactose-free, protein-rich food products to the Indian population by improving accessibility, alternatives, and awareness about food choices.

INCUBEES:  Tell us about your product?

WONDER BEAN:  Wonder Bean range of products are health inspired. We believe that healthy and ‘good for you’ foods do not have to be unpalatable or boring, Our purpose is to make foods fun and easily accessible at the same time we want to deliver plant-based foods that are wholesome, nutritious, and vegan friendly. Our first product is Wonder Bean haleness breakfast cookies which are made with the goodness of Oats, Ragi, Soy, and whole wheat. A complete power-packed meal making sure your daily value of protein, calcium, iron, and fiber is met with every serving. These have zero refined flour, lactose, cholesterol, and trans-fat making it a guilt-free snack. The next products in the line are Wonder Bean tofu and protein isolates. Tofu is an excellent replacement for meat. It has a high protein and low-fat content. The texture and flavors of this product makes it highly versatile for use in various cuisines. Wonder Bean protein isolates are pure plant protein. This produces an exceptional amino acid profile consisting of all the essential amino acids. This product is specially curated for people with a busy lifestyle and is an ideal supplement to compensate for the daily protein requirement.

INCUBEES: What makes your product unique and what competition do you see in India and globally?

WONDER BEAN: Our products are wholesome and affordable and a complete meal replacement making them the consumer’s first choice. We envision a greener future by providing healthy and sustainable food options through a quality protein that is totally plant-based. The global dairy alternative market was estimated at a value of US $11.9 billion as of 2017, with exponential growth to date. Meanwhile, dairy milk consumption has been on the decline for decades, with each generation drinking less milk than its predecessor (Forbes 2019). A shift in food trends and growing awareness gives us an opportunity to excel.

INCUBEES: What are the challenges you see in the market at this point in time?

WONDER BEAN:  At the moment the biggest challenge has been carrying out operations smoothly due to the pandemic. There has been a shortage of labor, restrictions in containment zones, etc. All in all, it has taken a toll on the supply chain. On the brighter side, the market has been showing tremendous interest in the healthy food sector and have started adopting to meat alternatives.

According to a private TV channel, a growing trend of plant-based food has been observed during the current year and is expected to rise post-pandemic. Consumers have become more conscious about their food and lifestyle choices.

INCUBEES: Tell us about your team and what inspires them?

WONDER BEAN: We have a passionate team that takes care of various tasks right from manufacturing, packaging, distribution, sales and marketing, and finance. R&D is conducted by the founders. Wonder Bean aims to become a premier source of protein-rich, lactose-free, vegan products and inspiring people to adopt healthy alternatives into a balanced diet, our vision is to build a brand that is synonymous with authentic, wholesome, and plant-based.

INCUBEES: Where do you see your service reaching in the next five-years?

WONDER BEAN: Retail sales of plant-based food in the Indian market, has grown by 17 percent in the past year while sales of non-dairy products have increased by 23 percent. More and more people are choosing to become vegan owing to increasing consumer inclination towards healthy nutritional habits and changing outlook towards vegan products. Increasing consumer inclination to substitute milk products, to rise in lactose intolerance among millennials may accelerate vegan food market growth further in the future. We see this as a great opportunity to penetrate the plant-based and non-dairy market and expand further.

INCUBEES: Do you have plans to raise funding to grow your business or allow your business to organically grow?

WONDER BEAN: We do not wish to raise funding at this point in time as we are able to manage our funds. We would allow the business to grow organically.

INCUBEES: What are the challenges you face as a startup?

WONDER BEAN: Since we are outsourcing most of our services may it be manufacturing, marketing, or accounting. Finding the right people to do your work is important and challenging. Lack of mentorship is also something we need to focus on to improve further. You may have a great product or idea, but lack the necessary guidance, market experience, or knowledge to take it to the next level. That’s where a mentor comes in, with the wisdom and confidence to help you sail your ship.

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