[Startup Bharat] How this financial professional came back from the United States to start a cookie business in Vadodara


An alumnus of Purdue and Harvard University, Kshiti Jikar Mehta worked as a finance professional in the United States for almost six years.

In the United States, Kshiti says cookies became like a comforting snack throughout her college days, and it stuck on her mind forever.

Someone who has always been passionate about cooking, when Kshiti and her husband returned home to Vadodara in 2017, she decided to go into the food business and focused on the cookie segment.

“In a 9-5 job, the mind was there, but the heart wasn’t, and I always wanted to do something that was driven by passion,” says Kshiti, who started The Cookie Co in 2019.

The Vadodara-based startup offers freshly baked and handcrafted cookies in many flavors and ships its products to India.

The biscuit market

To begin with, Kshiti conducted market research on the cookie industry in India and found some gaps in the market.

She found that cookies were growing in popularity in India, especially with Gen Z, and that people, even in places outside of the subways, were aware of and consumed this snack. At the same time, cookies and biscuits were considered as if they were the same product although they were different.

Additionally, the cookie market was very unorganized with many home bakers, but there were no businesses or bakers with a national or regional presence focused solely on this product.

“I became interested in the cookie business because it was a cross between food, passion and a scalable business,” says Kshiti.

She was very clear from day one that the business had to be sustainable and profitable. The idea was to offer affordable New York-style artisan cookies, and most importantly, freshly baked cookies, says Kshiti, who started baking cookies in her mother-in-law’s kitchen in 2018.

There was another important criterion that she had to consider as a young mother.

“Everything I do should be worth the time I spend away from the child,” she says.

A good start

The early days were spent selling these cookies to friends and family. Encouraged by the positive response, Kshiti decided to officially register her business as a The cookies company and decided to install a commercial kitchen in 2019.

She says, “If cakes and brownies are such a hit, why not cookies. It is inexpensive, suitable for travel, and has a longer shelf life.

From there, there was no looking back for The Cookie Co as there was a high degree of loyalty and the cookies also went beyond Vadodara.

Kshiti claims that The Cookie Co products have a longer shelf life with no preservatives and no eggs.

“This (cookie) is a product that goes well with Indian youth and there are so many layers,” says Kshiti.

The biscuit market

The bakery industry in India had an estimated annual turnover of $ 7.7 billion in 2020. The growth was largely driven by the biscuit and cookie industry, accounting for nearly 72% of sales.

The industry is expected to reach a value of $ 13.3 billion by 2025 at a CAGR of 9.1%, according to a study by Sunil Goenka on the Indian bakery industry.

At present, the boot started sells about 8,000-9,000 cookies on average per month, and that number increases during the holiday season.

Image credit: The Cookie Co.

The Cookie Co customers span all segments starting with homes, businesses, stores and supermarkets.

The startup operates on both a direct-to-consumer (D2C) channel and an e-commerce model, where its product has reached more than 25 cities across the country.

Develop the business

Now Kshiti wants to develop this business and make it national. That would mean having an offline presence with a Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) model.

“We want to move from the cloud kitchen model to the QSR where customers can have an in-store experience and give us more traffic,” she says.

Kshiti aims to have the first QSR outlet in Vadodara, but it is very clear that it will have a lean operation where it will measure revenue per square foot and aim to be profitable. The plans are to have owned businesses and franchises across the country.

The Cookie Co has grown over 100% per year since its launch, and Kshiti points out that the growth has been purely organic without any marketing expense. She adds that her loyal customer base stands at 89%.

The company which started with an initial investment of Rs 50,000 is now on the verge of earning an income of Rs 30 lakh per year.

USP

The biscuit market is a very loosely organized segment with many home bakers, but there are no domestic players who only focus on biscuits.

There are top food companies like Britannia, Parle, ITC, Theobroma and many more that also sell cookies along with other products.

“Our USP is product consistency where the cookie is available at an affordable price and of high quality,” Kshiti explains.

“It’s a very easy business to start, but difficult to maintain over a long period of time,” she adds.

As a stand-alone business with no debt and no profits reinvested in the business, Kshiti plans to go national and raise funds as well.

The Cookie Co is a small team with just under 20 members right now, but 95 percent of those employees are women.

“I am proud of the fact that the business was started in my hometown and that there is a great support system for me here,” Kshiti said.


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