FOOD VISION USA 2017... THE TRAILBLAZERS: The Chaat Co. sees a bright future after breaking free from savory yogurt tag

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Snack food

Undeterred by savory yogurt’s failure to find traction in the US, the ever optimistic start-up The Chaat Co. is evolving its portfolio and branding to better meet American consumers where they are and to reinforce its original mission to be a broad-based Indian street snack company, according to a company executive

“When we started the business, it was actually all about Indian street snacks”​ and “how do we bring these relatively unknown flavors from the streets of India to mainstream America,”​ Anshu Dua, who co-founded The Chaat Co., told to FoodNavigator-USA at the live Food Vision USA conference in Chicago earlier this month.

The Chaat Co. was one of three entrepreneurial ventures that presented at Food Vision USA as winners of the Trailblazer competition. The other winners were the Hargol  FoodTech, which sells grasshopper products, and Epic Source Food Co.’s Funny Farm brand, which makes goat-milk products.  

Dua explained to attendees at the conference that The Chaat Co. initially thought savory yogurt with unique mix-ins was the best way to achieve its mission, but the team quickly realized that the launch was too much of a stretch for current mainstream shoppers in America and it was causing the company to be pigeon-holed in a much smaller category than where the team envisioned.

“Everyone has heard about the Chobani success story. It is a product that has very high velocity, which is something we wanted, so we said, ‘Hey, in India, yogurt is actually eaten so differently than the way it is eaten here in the US. It has spices. It has different mix-ins, like chickpeas and lentils, unique flavors like tamarind and date. So, let’s bring that into the large category, high paced category.’ And so that is how we decided to launch the brand,”​ with a trio of savory yogurts designed to be eaten as an afternoon snack, Dua said.

Unfortunately for The Chaat Co., and several competitors that also launched savory yogurts​ around the same time, the concept didn’t take off.

“We realized a couple of things that we got right, and a couple of things we got wrong, and that is part of the evolution of the business. One of the things we got right was people were enjoying the flavors,”​ but one of the things the company got wrong was “we had it in a category that is yogurt, sweet for breakfast. And people aren’t walking to a grocery store thinking about picking up a savory yogurt snack, which is how we had branded our initial product line, they were thinking about picking up yogurt for breakfast,”​ Dua said.

While he stands buy the original concept’s merit, “the marketing dollars required to make that sustainable was so much more than we had originally anticipated.”

So, The Chaat Co. is doing what small, nimble businesses are known for: It is pivoting.

“We decided to focus on staying the course on snacking, which is where our original impetus to start the company was, but create a product that consumers already understand and is not too foreign to them, if I use the word appropriately,”​ Dua said.

“So, we came up with the concept of an Indian chip and dip,”​ which would incorporate the original chutneys from the savory yogurts, but instead of mixing them with yogurt pairing them with lentil chips as a standalone dip that is packaged to eat on-the-go, he said.

The new dips will launch next year, and should help reposition the brand clearly in American consumers’ eyes as a snack company – not a yogurt or breakfast company, he added.

And while the savory yogurts didn’t work out, all was not lost, Dua said, noting the company now knows how to manufacture and distribute at scale – skills it can apply to its new product.

“Long term, we see our brand as being … a platform for a variety of different Indian street snacks. And it can be a global brand, as well,” ​Dua said, adding: “There are literally hundreds of different types of chaat out there, so the future is endless! But, we want to temper that by saying we have to get this product right and prove it to ourselves."

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