“I do not fit into the conventional startup age group. I am already 37 and a mother of two,” says Parul Sharma, co-founder of Gladful, an online protein meal and snack company. However, none of this has stopped the ambitions that she harbours.
After having spent close to 15 years across various roles in an American FMCG company, in 2020 Parul decided to take the plunge and launch her label to become an entrepreneur. It was also the time when Parul was toying with the idea of starting something to call her own.
Speaking to The Better India, Parul says, “When my older child was around 10 we found out that he had a protein deficiency. He had had multiple injuries and most of them would take a very long time to heal. Several tests later he was diagnosed with a protein deficiency. This is what kick-started my journey into trying to make nutritious yet tasty protein-filled food for him.”
According to several studies, over 70 per cent of Indians have a protein deficiency and yet this remains a deficiency that does not get spoken about.
Protein is known as the building block for your muscles, skin, enzymes, and hormones, and it also plays an essential role in all body tissues. The lack of protein can cause havoc to the body. Protein deficiency often leaves its mark on the skin, hair and nails, which are largely made up of it. It can also result in muscle loss, make you prone to fractures by weakening your bones and take a toll on your immune system.
Parul’s co-founder Manu Sharma, who also happens to be her brother, joined the venture to give it a much-needed impetus. Manu is a chartered accountant and has also been a part of a few startup journeys so far. Having dealt with pancreatic issues and being a juvenile diabetic himself, Manu also understands the need for providing children with good nutritious food options.
“Our parents were sceptical because both Parul and I quit our jobs to start Gladful,” says Manu, adding, “But protein deficiency is a large but invisible challenge that we face and I’m happy that with Gladful, we are bridging the gap.”
He continues, “Our job is not just to make protein-filled tasty snacks but also build awareness about enough proteins for kids and families. Teenagers discover skin, hair, hormonal and immunity-related problems frequently. A lot of them are related to inadequate protein intake when they were pre-teens. Gladful wants to change that in years to come, one snack at a time.”
Since its inception in December 2021, the company has already seen an 8x growth and the founders are confident of this number multiplying.
‘Something is lacking in our diets.’
While as parents, we make sure that nutritious meals are provided to our children, there is a lot of unhealthy snacking that creeps in. “There had to be a way where kids would start consuming protein in an unmonitored setting as well. I did not want to be constantly pushing my kids to have their proteins. This was the problem that my brother and I set out to solve,” says Parul.
She also adds that more than kids it was difficult convincing mothers who harboured so many misconceptions about consuming proteins. “Some felt that consuming proteins would lead to weight gain, others believed that it caused digestion issues and some just did not favour the taste. However, none of them knew how much a protein deficiency could impact growth.”
Parul says that she experimented with close to 36 different recipes and worked with soy, whey and even various kinds of brown rice and peas in their products to get the taste and formulation just right. “It has been a long journey of trials. The outcome has been sweet given that our product gives you close to six grams of protein with every serve. This when compared to other products in the market gives you just about 0.8 gm in the same serve size,” she says.
Speaking about the name of the company, Manu says, “We had various inputs. Some said we should include a name focussed on growth, while others suggested we be direct and name it something to do with proteins. However, we wanted a name that could echo our sentiment of ‘feeling glad’ after feeding our kids a good wholesome meal. That was how we came up with Gladful. It’s a name that we immediately connected with.”
Both Dhruv (11) and Kabir (6.5) who have played an integral part in the company’s genesis and growth have a lot to say about their mother. “I am an important part of Gladful. I taste all products and tell mom about the ones I don’t like. I suggest ideas for the website and even Instagram. Mom has also made Kabir and me part of the photoshoots,” says Dhruv.
He is also quick to add, “However, what I don’t like is that she has become too conscious over the last two years and is working all the time.”
What’s on Offer
There are three sweet cookies and three savoury cookies currently one can purchase. Along with this, Parul says that the company has also launched a breakfast segment, with their sprouted chilla dosa mixes. While some are already in the market a few others will be launched shortly.
The 300-gm jar is priced at Rs 300 and the 200 gm chilla dosa mix is priced at Rs 200. Dhruv’s favourite is the Orange cookie while Kabir likes the beetroot chilla. With inputs from over 1,000 parents from around the country, each product was conceptualised. “We have kept in mind eating habits, categories, occasions, and issues in motivating their children to eat healthily while making our products,” says Parul.
All the products are 100 per cent vegetarian micro-baked cookie bites fortified with rice, pea, and milk protein. The snacks are made of whole wheat, unrefined cane sugar, and do not use ammonia in their products. “It is not just children but we have many adults who come back to us for our products.”
“Some of those who buy one product always come back and pick up multiple packets. That is so reassuring for us,” she adds.
Karishma Mehta, Head of Strategy at Thinkly, who has been using Gladful products, says, “As a mom to two girls, aged 8 and 10, I have always been on the lookout for wholesome nutritious food, which the girls will have without any tantrums. While you try your best to give kids wholesome home-cooked food, we all know which way that goes!”
She continues, “Gladful serves as the perfect snacking option for my kids. It has high protein content and is also maida and cholesterol-free. The best part is that my kids love the taste and can practically have it any time of the day! Also, the new savoury options ensure all of us in the family are hooked.”
Today, Gladful ships its products pan India.
Looking forward, Parul says, “We want to create a brand that makes delicious protein-filled snacks in the country for families to enjoy. At Gladful, we feel we have taken the first few steps in that direction.”
If you would like to order their products, click here.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)