In an insanely sales-driven market, it is refreshing to have a brand with a soul. And when that brand in question serves a purpose of addressing an issue that is a pain point to most parents, even better. Welcome to Timios, a food concept that provides healthy snacking options to children from two to five-plus years. Their many accolades include bagging the “Most Trusted Kids Food Brand” at “The Times Business Awards” by the Times Group and the title of Healthy Packaged Food Brand, 2019. Here we have the founder Aswani Chaitanya who gives us the inside scoop regarding how it all started, struggles and more…
After an enriched experience in the US and UK, Aswani Chaitanya and his wife decided to return home to India. Their elder son was around 4 and the younger one was just born. When back on home grounds with their bundles of joy, the couple’s desire to create a legacy of their own was rekindled. “My wife and I had always wanted to do something on our own. Before Timios, we had other ideas but whatever we thought of doing was not giving that ultimate kick or satisfaction. Also, I was very busy with my full-time job at Goldman Sachs,” recollects the founder.
“If you start thinking too much then you will never do it. When you are 70 – 80 percent clear, the rest 30 percent will come along the way.”
The need to fill the gap
The idea of coming up with a food brand for kids was sparked during the supermarket visits where there always seemed to be a tussle between the parents and little ones. “I noticed a huge gap when it came to children’s snacking,” says Aswani. So, he dived deep into research and reached out to friends and family to understand the market more. The entrepreneur’s wife played an integral role in all of this too, comparing what was available in the UK and India. It was discovered that that apart from a handful of known mega brands, there was nothing in this space that was specific to healthy snacking for kids. “Which is a concern because nutrition plays a very important role at this age. It was very clear that this needed to be addressed,” he says.
How it all came together
Looking back, it all seems like all the missing puzzles came together. Aswani recollects, “Fortunately for me, my sister is a Nutritionist and had just delivered a baby then.” She too was on the lookout for something that allowed her the balance of work and home. His father being an Agricultural Scientist brought in invaluable contributions too. Everything was on a roll where they reached out to pediatrician, got relevant references and factories. The base was set but it was time to get things into motion.“We started putting a plan of snacks and bars and that is how Timios came into the picture,” he shares.
From an Investment Bank Technologist to Founder
Launching one’s own company into an unknown territory might seem too daunting to many but for this entrepreneur, it was a natural progression. “I always feel that whatever I do, I do decently well,” he affirms. During his education days, he had his own place in the class. At work be it the UK, US and India, he thrived. “Every two to three years I put my own challenge, whether it is the job, progression in the job, changing jobs or moving continents. I always knew when it was about time. When I was 35, I felt I had to do something different,” says the Founder.
So, in 2015, after 15 years in the industry, Aswani told his then company, Goldman Sachs, that it was time to leave. They suggested to do three days a week till December instead of quitting. This turned out to his advantage where he could set the base before completely making the shift. “A lot of times people hate to do anything new because of the fear of failure. I felt that I have done reasonably enough in life and did not have to worry about people saying that I failed,” affirms the entrepreneur.
His work profile of building and creating platforms for systems paid off too. “The way these companies work is that you take a project and do the right things, you don’t think too much. So, when I started Timios too it was very clear that there is a problem and a project to tackle that,” shares the dynamic personality. He began by taking the 18-month approach. “If you start thinking too much then you will never do it. When you are 70 – 80 percent clear, the rest 30 percent will come along the way.”
“A lot of times people hate to do anything new because of the fear of failure.”
Struggles along the way
“Getting into the market was very difficult because we were not building a brand but a concept. So, it is all the problems into 10,” admits the founder. He gave the example of a tea where everyone knows its price points, taste and quality. But this was entirely new. Then there was also the hurdle of breaking the perception that all packed food is bad. “Whatever you call junk is removed from our products, but it was hard to make people understand the difference. While in practice they will be doing all the wrong things, when it comes to discussion, the bar is set very high.” He adds, “Another glaring concern was that when I left my job and stared Timios, I did not have even one contact on my phone who was related FMCG. It was like a joke for whom to call.”
The founder had to learn everything from scratch, be it about FSSAI or food technology. Then there was also the issue of laying down the core things required for Timios. “That was the fundamental thing. Good food is fine, but what do we mean by good food?” They decided that sodium level should be appropriate, sugar must be low and only the right ingredients were to be used. “The packaging was to be in such a way that a 5th grader can read everything and understand. I want to take it to a philosophy where the packaging should be as simple as an apple, there is nothing in it,” he shares. What was assumed would be done in six months stretched on to one year. Then there was also the issue of finances. “There is a lot of difference between getting money and getting money at the right time and from the right people,” notes the founder.
Once again, everything fell in place with the MTR funding. “My deadline was June 2017 to get the funding. That is when MTR found us, at the end of the year they funded it,” he shares.
Backing of the heritage brand MTR
With MTR, Timios’ value systems and emphasis on quality synced perfectly. As a matter of fact, when the proposal was presented by MTR to the Norwegian parent company Orkla Group, it got a go-ahead in five minutes. “They are 100 percent natural and the brand was always positive. On the business side, you will observe that ours too is a quality product for quality people.” It was the ideal marriage both business-wise and ethics. “For example, if I want to bring in new products, they always ask – are the products were sticking to the Timios core propositions? As an investor, they want to make sure that we do not deviate from our core principles which is a very important thing. These are the values that assure me that we are doing the right thing and are with the right people,” shares Aswani.
“We started this for all the right reasons and when it comes to kids, we have to be triple right. I have to get a good night’s sleep.”
Ensuring quality every step along the way
Sticking to the core proposition they did as there was absolutely no space for compromise in such a delicate domain. “We started this for all the right reasons and when it comes to kids, we have to be triple right. I have to get a good night’s sleep.” To ensure that the quality is maintained, the manufacturing process is strictly monitored. Timios has a production, R&D and operations team who oversee this. Everything is fully automated to ensure hygiene standards. “Normally automation kicks in when the production values are very high. But in our case, the machines are very hungry. A lot of products go to waste even before they come out,” says the founder. Simply put, there is no compromise, as quality always takes precedence.
Then there is also the question of the products being age-appropriate. Along with Aswani’s sister, the company has a registered dietician and head of R&D who meticulously monitor what kind of food should go in the packets. They primarily have three groups – baby (0 – 2), toddlers (2 to 5) and schoolers (5+). “When it comes to different age groups of kids, it is not just the calorific values or ingredients that are important. The texture, taste, format, portion control and sweetness matters too.” He adds, “The salt, sugar, calories and serving size are the core. Without the agreement of these factors, we do not even start the R&D; there are very strict instructions on that.”
Another major concern is retaining the freshness of the food items, especially considering all that is used is 100 percent natural. Needless to say, the traditional ingredients of excess salt, sugar and oil are ruled out. “There are natural solutions, for instance, Vitamin E can be used to preserve the food. Even the kind of packing material makes a huge difference. Also, if you notice, we do not have a long shelf life for our items, what you would get in the market for 12 months, we have for 6 months,” he shares.
“Once you know the value of food then automatically the rest will follow.”
Striking the balance between junk and healthy
Aswani being a proud father of two, we had to ask him, how he strikes the balance of eating healthy and junk at home too. He strongly feels that children are bound to eat what they want, what matters is the quality and quantity. “If they are eating junk then it is fine, but the question is are they eating it every day? Is it a small size or a jumbo size?” For the entrepreneur, it is more important for them to learn the value of food. “I have a small garden at home where we have divided our plants between us. I have observed that anything coming from their part is never wasted as they know the pain it takes to grow it. Once you know the value of food then automatically the rest will follow,” he shares.
While the brand is already reigning the healthy snacks for the kid section, they have many plans in the pipeline. One of them is offering a made to order service as per the demand of the customer, they will prepare fresh eats (such as ragi powder) and provide it. Then, there are also talks of launching an innovative probiotic bites product. “This is like a normal bite like a chocolate, but ours will not have too much sugar and stick to the core values.”
On parting he shares, “We bumped into a problem which is solving kids’ need, it is very satisfying. If the readers would come with more options of what they would like to manufacture or bring a product line, that will be a good added advantage.”