The 'India Ready-To-Cook Market Outlook, 2021,' suggests that the total market for ready-to-cook has grown at a CAGR of 15-20% during the past five years. There seems to be no ebbing this trend, and instead, the pandemic has been a further trigger to this segment.
Ceres foods, a ready-to-cook brand, believes that food is the ultimate ingredient that binds us together. Ceres Foods brings to the consumer a range of Ceres liquid masalas and Moi Soi oriental sauces that ensure the authenticity of the cuisine while simplifying the cooking process—making it speedy and convenient. Deb Mukherjee, founder and chief executive officer, Ceres Foods, shared the brand’s inception story with FoodTechBiz. He also explained the company’s business model, strategies followed by the brand to increase market penetration, future expansion plans, among other insights.
FTB - Tell us about the idea behind the inception of the brand Ceres Foods.
Deb Mukherjee - The idea behind Ceres Foods is to empower every food lover to create high-quality restaurant-style cuisines within the comfort of the home kitchen. We are very passionate about food and ever since the entrepreneurial bug bit us in 2014, this adventure has let us a place and made us create more than 150 products. These are today helping chefs and restauranteurs across India and countries beyond. The aim is to minimize effort and do away with repetitive and mundane processes. This minimizes dependency on the skill.
'Ceres' and ‘Moi Soi’ are mass premium brands and our products tackle some of the most complicated dishes that are rarely if at all, cooked in homes. The consumers are satisfied buying the best meats, fish, or veggies, mix them with Ceres Liquid Masalas or the Moi Soi sauces and follow the simple instructions to create magical, authentic and delightful cuisine.
We have introduced four variants of Ceres Liquid masalas (Nalli – Nihari, Laal Maas, Kosha Mutton and Mustard Fish, and a range of Moi Soi Oriental Sauces such as Black Pepper, Black Bena, Kung Pao, Hot Garlic, Szechuan, Manchurian, Sapo, Sichuan Chilli Oil, and Asian Chilli Mix. We are looking to further augment this offering by introducing more traditional Indian Curries and Ready Asian Curries. We would also be launching condiments such as Soya Sauce, various types of vinegar, etc., to become a one-stop-shop for the consumer.
The business model is digital-first and direct to the consumer. We are rapidly scaling up with our online partners to make our products available in multiple cities and towns.
FTB - The ready-to-eat and the ready-to-cook market is growing significantly. In your opinion, is this trend going to consolidate?
Deb Mukherjee -The Ready to Cook is comparatively a new segment but is showing high growth rates. The segment has grown at a CAGR of 15-20%. The 2019-24 outlook is 20%, poised to hit annual revenue of Rs 70 billion by 2024. This trend will undoubtedly stay, powered by the fast-paced lifestyles, health concerns and the urge to create tasteful dishes at home. And our confidence can only be gauged by the fact that with Liquid Masalas, we are potentially targeting a much larger Masala Market, which is almost 5 x larger than the ready-to-cook segment. The key is that the customer today is far more evolved than ten years ago and is looking for value-added products that we are bringing to the table.
Another factor that reinforces this thinking is the 80% repeat customer rate. The oriental products under Moi Soi have been a big hit across consumers as we are playing a gap in the market. Both the product categories have also found high levels of acceptance. The low dependency on skill is becoming the biggest draw for our entire product range. As we speak, we are working overtime to manufacture and deliver special product batches to service some of the cities experiencing a huge demand surge. Our aggregator partners have asked to ramp up production as they risk stock-outs.
FTB - Who is your target consumer for this product range? Would you please tell us about your strategies to increase market penetration?
Deb Mukherjee - We are targeting 25-45 years, upwardly mobile working persons. Ceres Foods and Moi Soi are, as explained above are mass premium brands. We believe that every one of us is a foodie, one time or the other. Every one of us likes to unwind, and cooking a delectable dish for friends, family and loved ones is a great way to do that. But there is a lack of time and the hassle of buying and processing ingredients. Here we have done away with that obstacle, making the cooking process simple and quick. The consumer can choose the best quality main ingredient and prepare the dish hassle-free and enjoyable way. And there is no hit and trial here. The restaurant-style cuisine is guaranteed as Ceres products have been created, tried and tested by leading chefs in India and abroad.
To promote our products and brands, we leverage Social Media, Emailer, Direct reach outs, our network, and influencer marketing. We have had more than 80% repeat customers, and their word of mouth has, by and far, been the most potent marketing tool for us. We expand reach by deploying an omnichannel strategy and placing our products in modern or general trade stores.
FTB - Tell us more about the product life cycle from procurement to end customer.
Deb Mukherjee - At Ceres Foods, we follow a farm to the factory model. We source the best quality ingredients directly from the farmers or producers with "Zero" compromise on quality most of the time. Moi Soi, for example, uses a lot of authentic ingredients directly imported from various Asian countries. Right procurement is the backbone of our business. Our Instant Liquid Masala range uses specialized ingredients; for example, we use authentic Mathania chilies to prepare our Laal Maas masala, and they are sourced directly from the town of Mathania.
Ceres products are manufactured in world-class factories that adhere to stringent global standards as we are also targeting a significant export market.
FTB - What is your R&D and innovation roadmap?
Deb Mukherjee - Our ambition is to be a Global Brand out of India focused on the World and not just the Indian consumers. We strongly believe in customer-centric innovation. At Ceres, we are designing for the customer and not trying to 'push' a product. We believe the Indian consumer has evolved significantly from two aspects – they want top-quality and are willing to pay for quality. We also ensure that we keep our products natural and authentic to the original recipes. We will diversify our portfolio slowly and offer other innovative product solutions such as Heat & Eat, making the consumers' lives simpler.
FTB - How do you see competition in this market?
Deb Mukherjee - Competition is always good for the market, and it offers a sort of legitimacy to a segment and keeps everyone on toes to deliver better, making consumers the real king. At Ceres, we have a head start because of our long and entrenched association with the hospitality industry. A portfolio of around 150 products already exists, which is tried and tested by the best in business. All we have to decide is which ones to offer to the consumer, when, and where. We already have the procurement and manufacturing in place, and these need to be customized for the retail market.
FTB - How do you ensure the safety and quality of your products – right from sourcing ingredients to the end consumers?
Deb Mukherjee - Consumers' health and safety are our top priorities. We tightly control our entire supply chain from procurement to production to distribution. We are certified by ISO and HACCP, and we take quality very seriously. Every batch produced gets tested at renowned third-party labs to ensure the products confirm exact specifications. We also work with trusted logistics partners to ensure our products are handled correctly in transit. We are slowly building out our direct-to-consumer channel, enabling us to take control of the last mile.
FTB - Tell us about your distribution reach and from where can we get this product?
Deb Mukherjee - Being a D2C, digital-first company, Ceres Liquid Masalas and Moi Soi range of Oriental sauces are offered on leading eCommerce platforms like Flipkart and Amazon. The consumers can also buy them at our platform www.ceresfoods.in. And soon, we will be spreading our reach to offline formats like modern retail and other retail outlets across India. We are in the process of appointing distributors for territories across India. We are also reaching out to markets beyond India in countries like the USA, Canada, Singapore, UAE, and Saudi Arabia.
FTB - Tell us about your future expansion plans.
Deb Mukherjee - Well, you sure can expect a broader range of products. You will soon see more Mughlai, Thai, and even vegetarian offerings in the Ceres product portfolio. We are already offering more than 150 products to the hospitality industry, and we would also provide these to the retail segment. These will cater to a broader and varied Indian and international palate. As we move forward, we will introduce unique products developed exclusively for the retail segment.
We will increase product penetration via offline retail formats such as retail chains, mom & pop stores, select meat shops etc. Our products are already selling well on leading online Aggregators like Flipkart Groceries, Amazon, BigBasket, Supr Daily, Jio Mart, and Ceres's website. You will see our products in many more online platforms and modern retail formats in times to come. In a nutshell, Ceres products would be there where the consumer is!