“Our vision is to take Indian flavors mainstream and be a flagship brand that represents the growing Indian-American culture” in the US, co-founder Lalit Kalani told FoodNavigator-USA.
He explained that “food is one of the strongest representatives of a culture,” but in the US there is not yet a brand for Indian food that “the younger generation can relate to and be proud of as representing us.”
The seed-funding will help the start-up, which launched its first product in 2013, address this need by allowing the company to expand production and distribution of its existing four product lines and hire several new team members, Kalani said.
In particular, he noted, Bandar Foods will focus on expanding the distribution of its Indian sauces in squeezable bottles and its naan chips.
Kalani explained the company’s “monkey sauces” are based on this mom’s homemade recipes and are “are made in India, so are as authentic as you can get.” But unlike other Indian sauces imported into the US in glass jars with unfamiliar labels that are available only in specialty stores, Bandar Foods’ sauces come in “a squeezable format that Americans can recognize and easily use.”
Kalani added: “The whole idea is to use the flavors in your everyday lifestyle, on all types of foods, instead of only when you have Indian food every few weeks. You can use this for more types of foods,” such as tacos, sandwiches, dips, soups and more.
The company’s Naan Chips are another example of how Bandar Foods strives to make traditional Indian food better fit the American lifestyle.
The Naan Chips, which come in traditional Garlic, Tikka Masala and Himalayan Pink Salt, are a more poppable version of the flat bread traditionally served in India. The chips also are great on-the-go for the rushed, convenience-seeking American, Kalani said.
The young company also markets lentil crisps in tubes that recall Pringles for a modern twist on poppadums and Vegetable Crisps in bags, but these two lines will take a backseat in 2016 so the company can better focus on expanding distribution of the first two lines.
Kalani explained that in the course of raising funds, investors recommended the company focus on the brands that best represent its mission until the firm is more widely recognized. This should help the company create a stronger foundation for growth.
As part of increasing distribution with the funds, Kalani said the company in 2016 will “explore higher-end conventional stores, like Target, and the club channel, where we have received interest from and are working on doing a test or rotational program this year.”
In addition to expanding distribution, Bandar Foods will use the funds to hire a sales director, junior sales person and a junior officer in business development. These additions would double the company’s current team of three by the end of the year, Kalani said.
Finally, a significant portion of the funds will go to sales and marketing efforts, including going to trade shows, demonstrating products in stores and promoting the brand in general, he said.
Fundraising advice from someone who has been there
Bandar Foods raised its seed funds “the old fashioned way with emails and phone calls,” but looking back on the process, Kalani said, adding that now he sees the value in using a platform to help coordinate documents and investors.
Among those backing Bandar in this round are ACP, AccelFoods, Volta Global and Wharton Vice Dean of Entrepreneurship Karl Ulrich, in whose class that idea for the company was born, according to the company.
“As the first time doing a major financing for us, getting all the investors together for phone calls and emails … was a very new experience and overwhelming at times,” he said. “That being said, it all happened quickly toward the end and this approach made sense for us.”
He also noted that the fundraising process was one of the most challenging points in his life.
“As a founder, you are being evaluated and tested” as a person and not just a brand, he explained. “People question every part of the business – picking your strategy apart. It is a very personal process and one [entrepreneurs] need to get used to.”
While this round ended well for Bandar Foods, Kalani explained points in the process were very discouraging and “there were a lot more nos than yeses.”
He advised other start-ups doing their first fundraising to “keep your cool and just keep at it and keep going” even if it is discouraging.
“If you decided to go for it, you have to dive all the way in and don’t be afraid of no. In fact, expect many nos and use the entire process to learn and improve your business strategy” and brand, he said.