It’s interesting, perhaps, to note that the founders of two new low calorie and sugar-free ice cream brands in the Indian market – Habbit Wise Cream and The Brooklyn Creamery – have battled and overcome obesity. Dhruv Bhushan, founder and CEO of the New Delhi-based Habbit Health, which currently offers protein shakes and ice cream and is soon launching healthy snacks and beverages, once weighed over 170 kilos. “I was working out six days a week and eating home-cooked food but the best doctors, nutritionists and trainers couldn’t help me,” says the 35-year-old, adding, “I took it on as a challenge to figure out how health and nutrition work.” As he went on to lose 70 kilos over two years, Bhushan realised that lifestyle played a paramount role. In late 2019, Bhushan started developing their ice creams which he claims are the lowest calorie ice creams on the planet with 30-40 calories per 125 ml (regular ice creams usually have over 250 calories per serving). They were able to do this by reducing fat content to two per cent and substituting sugar with a special type of stevia (a natural plant-based sweetener) that doesn’t have a bitter aftertaste and zero calories.
The founders of the Mumbai-based Get-A-Whey ice cream brand, Pashmi Shah (29) and her brother Jash (25), point out that the ice cream market in India has clocked ₹20,000 crore in 2020. And while the per capita ice cream consumption in India is still low (400 ml as compared to 22,000 ml in the US according to a report by Smart Research Insights), there’s consensus among the new age ice cream makers that this market is waiting to explode. “Post covid, people are more health conscious and aware. They want to indulge but not at the cost of health,” says Shah. This is where small but premium brands like theirs come into play. Get-A-Whey uses whey protein isolate sourced from New Zealand, natural flavours and organic Erythritol (a plant-based sweetener with zero calories and sugars) to reduce calories and amp up protein content. “A lot of Indians are protein-deficient. While my brother Jash used to drink protein shakes, I couldn’t stomach them. My mother started making desserts using whey protein and that’s how the idea came about,” says Shah.
With an estimated 77 million cases of diabetes among adults in India as per the International Diabetes Federation, India is often termed the diabetes capital of the world. For Aarti Laxman Rastogi, founder of Artinci – a Bengaluru-based ice cream brand, this was always a concern. After having founded the preservative-free ice cream brand in 2018, she added sugar-free and low carb ice creams and desserts about a year later. “The diabetic gene runs in the family so that started to impose many restrictions on the family as a whole. There is a big gap today—we love our desserts so much, but we are also prone to diabetes. This has also shaped how we formulate our Artinci’s sugar-free desserts,” says Rastogi, who uses a sweetener blend that is stevia-based. She informs some of their consumers have voluntarily taken their own blood sugar readings and have reported stable blood sugar values even after eating their desserts.
One such customer is Samir D, who is diabetic. Though he doesn’t have a sweet tooth, he does order in Artinci’s sugar-free roasted almond when he feels like a sweet treat. “I chanced upon them on Facebook few months ago. Since their ice creams are sweetened with stevia, it’s safe for me to eat unlike some other desserts that use artificial sweeteners,” Samir attests. According to Asheesh Grewal, founder and CEO of online fitness platform MyHealthBuddy, “Most of these [ice cream] brands use sugar alcohol (plant-based) or stevia-based sweeteners to lend sweetness to their products. A serving, usually 100ml can be safely taken by diabetic people and weight watchers while occasionally indulging in these treats. Moderation is the key.”
Even for those who are fitness-oriented, having access to low calorie sugar-free ice creams is indeed a treat. Mumbai-based celebrity fitness trainer Yudi Jaising often indulges in The Brooklyn Creamery’s line of low calorie ice creams. “They’ve launched sugar-free chocobars that I just love. And most of their ice creams only contain about 75-85 calories per serving which is equivalent to eating four almonds,” says the 26-year-old, who is happy to have found a guilt-free way to satiate sugar cravings. New Delhi-based lawyer Ritika D, who regularly orders from Habbit Wise Cream, shares a similar sentiment. “We are a foodie family with a sweet tooth. We order their variety pack which contains six different flavours including unusual ones such as matcha. You can’t tell the difference from regular ice creams and the best part is that it doesn’t reflect on the scale the next day,” says the 29-year-old who also finds them fairly reasonable (at ₹799 for six 125ml tubs) compared to other artisanal brands.
The other category that seems to have exploded is vegan ice creams. Tanvi Chowdhri, CEO & founder of PapaCream, diversified into vegan ice creams after Godrej Nature’s Basket approached her to build a line for them. After launching her vegan range two-and-a-half years ago, they’re now selling over 10,000 units a month across 15 cities. “About 60-70 per cent people in India are lactose intolerant. And there’s a growing number of people who are looking for vegan alternatives for health reasons,” the Mumbai resident adds. They use coconut cream with almond milk as the base for their vegan range. Interestingly, The Brooklyn Creamery (TBC) has also added calorie-controlled vegan ice creams to their portfolio in January. Habbit Health is also set to launch a range of vegan products including ice creams later this year. Bhushan is banking on the fact that the vegan segment in India has witnessed a 30% organic growth rate.
With giants in the ice cream business offering only a few sugar-free variants in their portfolio, it appears that these new players are set to disrupt the market. TBC for instance, sees itself as global brand. After launching in Mumbai last February, they have not only expanded to six other Indian cities but also made inroads into countries such as Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Oman, UAE, Nepal and Singapore. Run by the Graviss Group, which brought Baskin Robbins to India, TBC is the brainchild of 23-year-old Shivaan Ghai. Labelling themselves as the “new age ice cream brand”, Ghai has tapped into the company’s legacy to create a product that would appeal not only to the health conscious but anyone who enjoys premium ice creams.
Bhushan, too, reveals that their aim is to establish Habbit Health as a global brand. “Two-and-a-half years down the line, we’ll be in 20-odd Indian cities but before that we plan to expand to Singapore and Dubai,” says Bhushan, who hopes to build “the Apple of food” with Habbit Health. In this race to the top, Indian consumers, meanwhile, stand to gain with the plethora of choices on their plate.
Shivani Kagti is a Bengaluru-based writer.