When Kiru Maikkapillai quit his well-paying job in the US to start an enterprise in India, his parents expected that he would still pursue his field of expertise. But to their surprise, he ended up starting a homegrown food brand based out of Tamil Nadu.
The reason for their surprise was perhaps because Kiru dreamt of becoming an entrepreneur since his childhood.
After finishing engineering and working for a software company for a few years, Kiru moved to the US in 2013 to pursue his MBA from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Later, he started working with an American bank.
“Whenever I used to come to India for holidays I used to plan things, go around and look for ideas and places to start my own business. But eventually, I realised that it was not going to work unless I move back to India. So, I quit my job in 2018 and returned to my hometown in Salem,” Kiru Maikkapillai tells The Better India.
Ever since he thought of launching a business, he was fixated on the idea of starting a venture based on agro products. “When I was in the US, I used to see a lot of ‘Made in India’ agro products in the market with superior quality. I saw a huge scope for these products in the market here in India as well as outside,” says the 34-year-old.
He further adds, “Salem is a small town in Tamil Nadu but I feel there is a lot to explore. I realised it during my search for the perfect ingredient for my business. Finally, I discovered the potential of an agro product that has been cultivated in my hometown for ages — Salem turmeric. So, I decided to make high-quality, value-added products out of it.”
For this, the enterprise has tied up with several local turmeric farmers in Salem. “We strictly use organic turmeric as we wanted it in its purest form. So, we are sourcing the turmeric from the local farmers directly, thereby helping them find markets,” he adds.
Launched in December 2019, Kiru’s startup, The Divine Foods, has been selling its products in India and several other countries. Kiru, who used his earnings from his US job to begin his startup, now receives a turnover in crores.
The ‘divine’ spice
“Salem turmeric has around 2.5 per cent to 3 per cent of curcumin content,” says Kiru. He continues, “Curcumin is the bioactive compound present in turmeric which carries all its potential. Its content varies from one variety of turmeric to another. The higher the content, the better the quality.”
He says, “Turmeric, in general, is known for its medicinal benefits. It contains antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiseptic properties and more. They are also believed to have qualities that could even help prevent cancer.”
Products based out of turmeric was an already explored area in the market, says Kiru. However, he felt that the commercialisation of products like turmeric powder has made it difficult for consumers to find the best quality in the market. “Several brands these days are selling adulterated turmeric powder in packets. So, I wanted to make a change by exploring the potential of this amazing spice and thereby finding a place in the market, ” says Kiru.
Talking about why he named his enterprise The Divine Foods, Kiru says, “Apart from being a major ingredient in every Indian kitchen, turmeric is a spice that also has a sacred aspect to it as it is used in temples. Besides, it has several medicinal qualities which makes it even more divine.”
Directly sourced from the farmers, Kiru’s enterprise helps farmers who are affected by the imbalanced markets. “We closely work with the native organic farmers in Tamil Nadu and procure high-quality turmeric by paying them a fair and fixed price. The price is decided based on the quality and the variety of the produce,” he says.
“The market rate keeps changing all the time and it has been difficult for farmers like us. I used to get around Rs 70 per kg of turmeric in the market plus we had to spend on transportation as well. But the business with Kiru is even more beneficial as he directly collects it from us and pays us almost twice the price we usually receive in the market,” says Raj Kumar, a turmeric farmer near Salem.
Raj tells this writer that he currently earns Rs 70 per kg from the market and his earnings from The Divine Foods amounts to Rs 120 per kg.
Kiru adds, “I am glad that I could help them [farmers] find a stable market. Now there are around 10 farmers with whom I have been buying turmeric consistently. In the beginning, we used to just procure the turmeric fingers from the farmers and grind them later. But now we have started getting them powdered by a few farmers. So, they grind their produce and hand it over to us in the form of powder.”
“Rest of the products are made with the help of third party units. We provide them with all the raw materials and machinery required and they make all the products with our guidance,” Kiru adds.
From India with goodness
The Divine Foods now offers value-added products ranging from organic turmeric powder to turmeric-based rash balm priced from Rs 200 and go up to Rs 700.
Kiru says, “We don’t have a long list of products but a few ones like the organic turmeric powder, the handcrafted curcumin soap, the golden milk latte and an all-purpose rash balm. Among them, the fastest-selling are the golden latte, a ready to mix drink and the curcumin soap.”
“On a testing basis, we have also launched a few products based on organic honey like honey shots,” he adds.
Products of Divine foods are available online through their website as well as through Amazon not only in India but also in countries like Canada, Australia and Singapore. “We received the US FDA approval and we have been selling our products in the US and UK through Amazon. In Canada, Australia and Singapore we are distributing them through retail chains,” he says.
“We haven’t spent a single penny for marketing our products in the US or UK. Still, we could find a space in their market and the sales are going good. Now we have an average turnover of Rs 1 crore per year,” he adds with a smile.
But the thing he is happiest about is finally receiving support from his parents.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)