Kivu, a homegrown brand, offers vegan and gluten-free hand-crafted sun-baked products certified and approved by FSSAI. Founded in 2019, the self-funded startup was co-founded by Minal Kabra and Vaibhav Dugar with a vision to create an impact on rural communities, empowering women by training and working for their better future.
Kivu cookies are freshly hand-crafted and baked in a solar oven, preventing carbon dioxide emissions while contributing to nature. Speaking of the company, Minal Kabra, co-founder of Kivu, shares, “We believe that good food is the one that has a positive impact on the consumer, producer, and environment. Therefore, at Kivu, we bake healthy cookies exclusively in a solar oven without using fuel, fire, wire or leaving any carbon emissions. Honestly, using solar energy will be imperative as we go forward. We are trying to create a model that would inspire many more to switch to socio-environmentally responsible technologies.”
Hand-crafted sun-baked cookies
The idea of starting this business came up when Kabra realized that many rural women yearn for a sustainable source of livelihood. As cooking is a natural skill to most women, she initiated the idea of hand-crafted sun-baked cookies, creating employment opportunities for them. After prolonged R&D, she developed five gluten-free, vegan product variants containing no refined sugar, no refined flour, or any artificial preservatives and flavors yet appealing enough for kids and adults. She also focused on keeping it simple enough for any rural woman to work with.
During the development phase, Kabra met Dugar, an engineer turned marketer who has helped establish some prominent brands in the organic food industry. With his deep understanding of urban consumer demands, Dugar crafted the vision for the brand and narrowed down the focus to create healthy food that is either vegan or gluten-free.
The brand helps empower rural women in and around Jalna, where the production and manufacturing facility of Kivu is located. She adds, “We had no benchmark or template to follow when it comes to baking cookies with a solar oven. It was a tough process because the temperature in a solar oven varies drastically with the day and season. Presently, we have eight solar ovens with different capacities that can help bake up to 30 kg of cookies per day.”
Focusing on robust online presence
Kivu products are available in over 65+ stores in 16 cities, including Pune, Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Gurgaon, Bangalore, Kolkata, Delhi, Goa, Ahmedabad, Tirupur, Coimbatore, Ghaziabad, Jalandhar, Trivandrum, and Rohtak. According to Kabra, the company aims to expand further, reaching 50 cities by the end of FY 2021 – 22.
Explaining about the Covid-19 pandemic created disruptions, Kabra shares, “We founded Kivu in 2019 and took almost a year to streamline our operations. Then the Covid-19 pandemic wave impacted most of our retail sales. But despite that, we have grown both in sales and reach and have been getting repeated orders from our retail partners.”
Owing to several restrictions and the fear of the pandemic, Kivu focuses more on the online sales channel and getting the hang of social media to improve brand visibility. The company has expanded its network across India through its website http://www.kivu.in and on major eCommerce portals like amazon, vegan dukan, Flipkart, wellversed, and LBB.
While sharing the happiness of having satisfied consumers, Kabra mentions, “We believe that people love it when you genuinely try to do something good. So often the first purchase is made because barely anyone imagines the cookies being baked entirely in a solar oven. But beyond that first purchase, the product survives only if it offers value in taste, health, and quality. Fortunately, we have seen more and more customers placing repeated orders, and that is the only certificate we need, don’t we?”
Baking small batches in solar ovens
According to Kabra, Kivu maintains the highest level of quality and safety through various processes. “We invested a lot of time in establishing processes at every step – right from sourcing raw materials to packaging of the baked goods. It also helps that our model is designed to be operated in small batches and hence does not need to stock raw materials for more than a week or hold inventories of finished goods for more than two days. Thus, we ensure that not only do the customers receive the fresh stock but even the raw materials are bought fresh and of the highest quality.”
Product and capacity expansion
Kivu will soon be launching an exciting range of solar-baked savories that adheres to its socio-environmentally responsible philosophy. In addition, focusing on making India healthy, the company is expected to increase its product basket from 5 variants to 10 variants.
Further, the brand envisions a series of clusters distributed across the country that will deliver freshly baked cookies to their nearest demand source. “As we grow, we will create more livelihood opportunities in different parts of the country. We are looking at organic growth as the demand multiplies and we get brand traction. By 2025 we plan to expand our operations in 10 clusters that’d cumulatively produce 500 kg of solar baked goods and provide sustainable livelihood to over 200 rural women,” concludes Kabra.