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When salt and sugar are artisanal condiments

Foodie couple Nivriti and Arjun Kapur make 11 variants of pink Himalayan salt and eight variants of Demerara sugar that are available at 30-35 outlets across Delhi NCR as well as Amazon and Qtrove

Nivriti and Arjun Kapur displayed their products at the Dastkar Nature Bazaar exhibition held in Delhi recently.
Nivriti and Arjun Kapur displayed their products at the Dastkar Nature Bazaar exhibition held in Delhi recently. (Pradeep Gaur/Mint)

Whenever Arjun Kapur would travel to Europe with his wife Nivriti, the foodies would invariably end up at farmers’ markets to sample local produce. It was during one of these trips, some years ago, that the duo first sampled Himalayan pink salt. Kapur isn’t oblivious to the irony of their discovery—they had literally travelled halfway across the world to try something that’s produced in their backyard (Himalayan salt comes from the Khewra mine in the Jhelum district of Pakistan). “It’s considered the healthiest salt in the world and is hugely popular in Europe but many people in India have forgotten about its existence or aren’t aware of its benefits," says Kapur.

In early 2016, when Nivriti, who has a background in marketing and advertising, was toying with the idea of starting her own venture, the husband-wife duo decided to launch a range of flavoured Himalayan pink salts and sugars. “We wanted to do something unique yet work with a product that’s available all year round," says Nivriti, who used to run a garment buying house prior to this. While the Delhi-based couple launched with eight flavours, they have now grown to 23 products today—eight variants of flavoured Demerara sugar and 11 variants of flavoured Himalayan pink salt as well as a line of seasonings.

Why artisanal salts and sugars?

Kapur points out that there aren’t too many companies in this category in the country. The couple source the Himalayan pink salt rocks from Amritsar, after which they are cleaned and hand-pounded by a group of 20 women who live in villages near Noida. The unrefined sugar, meanwhile, comes from Uttarakhand. “The salt is hand-extracted and minimally processed to yield an unrefined product that’s free of additives. The natural harvesting process allows pink Himalayan salt to possess many minerals and trace elements that are not found in regular table salt," he explains.

According to the 41-year-old, the couple spent the first six-eight months just perfecting the recipes. For instance, for their Smoked Italian Herbs and Aged Balsamic Himalayan Pink Salt, they infuse the salt crystals in balsamic vinegar which is then smoked for more than 48 hours with a blend of apple and citrus wood. The Cinnamon and Vanilla Demerara Sugar, on the other hand, is infused with high-grade cinnamon and vanilla sourced from Kerala. “We were also very mindful of where we source our ingredients from and check for chemical-free product certification from all our suppliers," adds Kapur.

Facing challenges

According to Nivriti, finding retail space when they were starting out was a challenge as stores demand a listing fee for stocking the products. “The fee can range from 5,000 to 10,000 per SKU (stock keeping unit) which works out to quite a bit if we take into consideration the fact that we have a range of flavours and products," says Nivriti, who reveals that they have invested close to 70 lakh through personal savings in their business so far. “The next step is to expand outside Delhi NCR. There’s a lot of interest from investors and we are looking for the right distributors but the margins and commercials have to work."

Learning curve

As a startup, the couple have found that artisan or farmers’ markets are a great avenue for meeting potential customers and establishing their brand. “Before going into retail, we decided to test the market by attending as many farmers’ markets and local events as possible. There we had to explain to customers how to use our products. These are mainly used as finishing salts to dress a salad or to add to a dish after cooking so that one gets the maximum flavour and health benefits from them," says Kapur, who still spends 8-15 days a month at such events. Once they had established their market through such events, they got into the retail space after six months.

Future of the market

According to Kapur, customers are more health-conscious than ever before and this is fuelling the growth of all-natural, artisanal products like theirs. “I don’t think we are a niche product but a brand new category as everybody uses salt and sugar on a daily basis. If you want an extremely healthy version at competitive prices, you will try our products," he explains. Available at 30-35 outlets across Delhi NCR as well as online through their website, Amazon and Qtrove, the couple aim to take their products to other cities this year.

Food Files looks at unique food startups and their journey through challenges and learnings.

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