The frozen dessert sections at New York City’s Whole Foods Market have limited space, but right next to almond, coconut, and soy milk products is a new item—Monsieur Singh’s frozen lassis, inspired by the ancient Indian tradition of Ayurveda.
Each container of Monsieur Singh has the doodle of a turbaned Sikh with a twirling French mustache and the statement: “Endorsed daily by a billion Indians.”
The brainchild of Karan Gera, a former brand strategist for a yogurt company, Monsieur Singh currently sells frozen mango and honey lemon-flavored lassis—in pint-size containers and as push-up pops. They were on sale at Whole Foods lately for $3.99, down from the usual $6.99.
Monsieur Singh products have won acclaim from celebrities chefs such as Martha Stewart and Marcus Samuelsson.
But there are critics too. Namely against the products packaging and marketing material.
On a recent visit to the Whole Foods in the New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, Rahul Saksena, a New Yorker, passed by a booth offering samples of Monsieur Singh’s frozen lassi. But he was “pretty disgusted” by what he referred to as “cultural and religious stereotypes” and by the imagery used in Monsieur Singh’s promotion material. He posted this image on his Facebook page:
In particular, Saksena says he was upset about the cartoon of a cross-legged swami, sitting in a nirvana like state with the Sanskrit symbol for “om” bouncing around him. The drink is also referred to as a “successful arranged marriage” of yogurt and spices.
An offended Saksena did not take a sample.
Asked by Quartz to respond, Gera: “The swami represents Ayurveda and the thousands of years old culture that produced lassi. There is a lighthearted fun aspect to the whole brand. I am not promoting Indian stereotypes.”
The name Monsieur Singh, he says has a touch of Indian and French influence, since he acquired Ayurveda knowledge in Kapurthala, often referred to as the Paris of Punjab.
“The way lassi is sold in restaurants, it’s actually a smoothie,” Gera says, adding that his Ayurveda training made him realize that people find it difficult to digest yogurt with fruit, because they are incompatible foods. “Our bodies digest fruit and milk products in different ways. So the herbs and spices balance it out.”
The frozen mango lassi also contains mint and ginger. “It smoothens the stomach,” he says. Whether that’s enough to win over the Whole Foods set remains to be seen.