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Magdhi Diksha|May 3, 2023
NEW DELHI: ProMeat ‘chicken nuggets’ and ‘chicken sausages’ taste like chicken and have the same texture but are actually plant-based. The brand was founded in 2021 by Pranjuli Garg, then a B.Tech student of the National Institute of Food Technology Entrepreneurship and Management (NIFTEM) Sonipat and her friend, Debabrata Das.
The duo started exploring the “smart protein space” in 2018, attending events and learning as much as they could. “At that time, the smart protein space was booming in the USA and Europe and there was a lot of traction,” said Garg. She developed her products, experimenting at home and testing them on family and friends, before winning the prize money from the India Smart Protein Innovation Challenge in December 2020. The Rs.1 lakh they won allowed them to register their company, ProPlant Foods Pvt Ltd, with the brand ProMeat, in March 2021. Following that, they worked on developing their products, refining quality and adding variety.
Despite a ‘soft-launch’ in August 2022, the nascent business still needed all the help it could get. Its founders needed to know what audience to target, and what demands existed. In November, ProPlant Foods became a part of NSRCEL, the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Bangalore’s start-up incubation centre. NSRCEL has two programmes focusing on women – the Women Startup Programme and Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women. “More than 620 women entrepreneurs have incubated their ventures at NSRCEL of IIM Bangalore,” said Anand Sri Ganesh, chief operating officer of NSRCEL.
Garg’s venture found support here as did Geeta Barad’s. From the Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India (EDII) Gandhinagar, Barad had started a venture producing cloth-based sanitary napkins and is working on a mobile application to help women dealing with gynaecological problems.
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A survey conducted among friends and family revealed a special affinity for chicken and Garg and Das knew that’s where they had to focus first. Through 2019, they attended events as they figured out how to create plant-based products that would replicate the taste of chicken.
Towards the end of 2019, Garg participated in a “Smart Protein Summit” in Delhi which also had Good Food Institute, a US-based non-governmental institution, participating. Its India chapter announced the “India Smart Protein Innovation Challenge”. Garg and Das decided to participate.
However, the Covid-19 pandemic threw a spanner in the works. “It was 2020, and that was the period of lockdown in India. We decided to make the prototype at home. We tied up with a lot of Indian ingredient partners and got the ingredients at home,” said Garg. The ‘prototype’ was tested on family, friends and neighbours. “We got continuous feedback about the product and we were able to get very good traction sitting at home,” she said. They presented the prototype at the final phase of the GFI challenge and won.
Once ProPlant Food and ProMeat were registered, the duo devoted themselves to converting the prototypes to final products, including working on the quality of ingredients. The demand for chicken is high and ProMeat manufactures items which taste similar to chicken. With ProMeat, we are not degrading meat, we are promoting meat’s nutrition in a healthier, sustainable way”, said Garg.
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The company did a soft launch in August 2022 in Delhi NCR and could gather 350 plus customers with a 20 percent re-order rate.
“While working on ingredients, we also keep in mind how the consumer is going to benefit from the health point of view. We had to work on many of the key problem statements on the ingredients which will go into making the products like masking the aroma and flavour of the plant product with that of meat or working on the fat component that will go into making the product tasty, healthy, nutritious and everything,” explained Garg, adding, “We happened to make around Rs.3.5 lakh in that and that too, within three months.”
By November, ProMeat had been selected by NSRCEL for incubation. Here, with the help of IIM Bangalore students, Garg and Das managed to do on-the-ground research to understand the target market.
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Barad joined NSRCEL in January 2023 but by then she had already been working on women’s hygiene products and health for five years.
In 2018, she started an initiative, Unipads, which focused on replacing regular, mass-produced sanitary napkins with cloth ones. A pack of four Unipad sanitary napkins is priced at Rs.350 and each pad can be washed and reused up to seven times. “Our priorities were the quality of the product and affordability. And this is the reason we source our materials from Australia, Canada and some African countries where we get good quality materials which we can afford,” said Barad.
Finding it difficult to educate women used to regular sanitary napkins, Barad and her all-women team targeted schools first. “We visited 100-plus schools and colleges in the past four years. We counsel school students about menstrual hygiene for around 45 minutes. It is easier to educate a girl who just reached puberty or will soon. We next targeted the colleges.” After getting positive responses from the schools and colleges, the team next targeted the community.
Barad’s current project, being incubated at NSRCEL, is HerStudio -Women’s Health Studio. It will be an app to help track and detect gynaecological problems and redirect the patient to a doctor. The system will respect the privacy of the women and help them freely connect with the doctors.
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Barad had studied entrepreneurship and business management at the Entrepreneurial Initiative of IIT Gandhinagar and while in Gujarat, had noticed that women refrained from visiting gynaecologists because of social stigma. After speaking to many women, she decided to work on a common platform.
On this platform, women will be able to connect with doctors at their convenience. The platform will be designed to ensure there’s no judgemental approach to patients attempting to connect with doctors. Barad is working on the idea validation stage.
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