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Idli and chutney
READY TO COOK

An IIM-B graduate is bringing idly-dosa breakfasts to homesick Indian-Americans

By Suneera Tandon

A steaming hot plate of idlies never looked better, not for PC Musthafa.

As Indian households increasingly move from cooking meals at home to outsourcing them to packaged food makers, Musthafa’s iD Fresh Food is well-positioned to tap the $50-billion market. And beyond.

After gaining acceptance among resident Indians, the decade-old Bengaluru-based company, which sells packaged idly-dosa batter, parotas (a version of paranthas popular in the southern state of Kerala), and various chutney mixes, now has the vast Indian diaspora on its radar.

iD’s idly-dosa batter will soon be available in the US, the UK, and Singapore, which are home to a large number of Indians, especially those from the southern parts of the country.

All this action has got investors smacking their lips.

On March 08, iD Fresh Food announced that it had raised Rs150 crore ($22.5 million) from PremjiInvest, Wipro founder Azim Premji’s investment arm.

“The funds will be used to expand. We’ll add manufacturing facilities (large kitchens) in Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, and Kolkata. We already have five running,” Musthafa told Quartz over the phone. The company is also expanding its portfolio, with a vada (a deep-fried snack made of lentils) batter in the pipeline.

Starting small

The soft idly and crispy dosa are staple breakfast items in southern India. They are prepared from batter made of ground black gram and rice soaked and mixed in different proportions. The batter is left to ferment overnight before being used in the morning.

Like millions of others, Musthafa, son of a plantation worker and a native of Kerala’s Wayanad district, is likely to have grown up on these preparations.

For generations now, women have spent hours readying fresh batter every day.

However, with more women finding employment and seeking convenient alternatives to cooking at home, packaged foods have gained acceptability. Curds and idly-dosa batter are fine examples of this transition.

After working as an engineer for five years across India, the middle-east, and the UK, Musthafa saw an opportunity in this transition. In 2006, this alumnus of the National Institute of Technology, Kozhikode, and Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, began his entrepreneurial journey from a 50-square-feet office in Bengaluru.

He didn’t have it easy, though.

Every morning, Musthafa and his cousins would do the rounds of two dozen small neighbourhood stores in the city on a two-wheeler. Soon, his products caught on as consumers got used to the convenience of readily-available fresh batter. In 2014, Helion Partners invested Rs35 crore ($5.2 million) in iD Foods. The company’s popularity also led to more companies launching a similar product.

Over time, iD’s popularity grew beyond Bengaluru. Cities such as Mumbai, Chennai, and Hyderabad were only waiting to be tapped. As of 2016, the company sold batter for 1.5 million idlies every single day. For the year ending March 2017, it expects a turnover of Rs150 crore, Musthafa told Quartz. In 2015, the company launched ready-to-cook wheat flour-parotas.

Beyond home turf

While iD Fresh Food already sells in some overseas markets such as Abu Dhabi and Dubai (through a plant in Ajman), home to millions of south Indian migrants, its entry into the US and UK will mark a big leap. But there are challenges galore.

iD’s batters have a shelf life of three-to-seven days. Which means transporting them to the US will be a huge task. The company, meanwhile, is exploring local tie ups. But for now, the US will be served through its plant in the Middle-East.

The company is reportedly sending a test container to the US to check the viability of its plans, and will partner with a local manufacturer for the UK market. “We will work with the response team to see how the demand is and plan if we need to set up facilities there,” he said.

By the looks of it, though, the idlies and dosas made from Musthafa’s batter are set to sizzle.