In talks with Sreejith Moolayil, COO & Co-Founder | True Elements
True Elements is India's first brand to be globally recognized as CLEAN LABEL & 100% WHOLEGRAIN certified. Their assortment spreads over 17 categories, 70+ products ranging from Oats, Granola, Flakes, Muesli to Healthy Seeds, Breakfast mixes and more. They strive to create a world where promises are 100% True and where 100% Taste is delivered with 0% jargons, 0% chemicals, 0% preservatives and 0% added sugar. They are anchored on providing “Food that DOES NOT LIE to you” Millet driven innovation is at the heart of what they are building.
Q: What motivated you to step into the health food business?
Due to personal challenges in our lives, we realised that people take care of their health only after someone around them falls sick, pushing them to change their lifestyle- be it the food consumed or the information around it. That prodded us to create something that nudges people to think more consciously about their health before it's too late.
Additionally, we saw a deluge of brands that were trying to reach out to the consumers with varying degrees of promises, most of which promised the moon, without any rocket to reach there. Fancy jargons and tall promises were being given, without any substantial evidence around them. Since we were curious about this space, and realised that there is a lot of information asymmetry around health - in a way, everyone had their own definition (and degreed) of "health". This made the problem at hand only worse
The solution? True Elements: A clean-label brand that stood for 100% Truth and 0% nonsense (0% False promises, 0% added sugar, 0% preservatives and 0% chemicals). We identified 8am, 11am and 5pm as the key consumption occasions when consumers were open to trying an alternative to their existing options! We also learnt that taste is also equally important to consumers, along with the health quotient – hence our focus to delight the taste buds while providing clean food.
Q: What kind of research did you do before jumping into the healthy food business and what findings made you sure it is the way to go?
Multiple rounds of category and market research informed us that the consumer is clearly inclined to adopt healthy eating and health foods. Increasing occurrence of lifestyle-based health challenges made the adoption imminent.
The market interest was and is inclining towards health-oriented & sustainable products. Plant-based snacks and foods have been trending with rising health concerns for obesity, diabetes, and other diseases. Individuals are now keener and more-open to substituting their fried snacks with healthier alternatives.
The category which includes Breakfast and specialised snacks, in our understanding is a $2 billion category, growing at 27% CAGR. As consumers get more discerning while being health-conscious, we believe that there is a clear need for clean labels and transparent food brands that are born in India and address local taste buds. Consumers today are also quite knowledgeable about what they need. Ready-to-Eat as a category is driving growth exponentially due to the changing lifestyle patterns & when married with health benefits, they are becoming a perfect choice for the Millenials.
Q: You have an exhaustive line of millets-based products. What are the growth patterns and market acceptance for these products?
Our principle of providing True Nutrition ensured that we made Millets a part of our product range early on. Millets are a powerhouse of nutrition, and are well suited for the present day consumer, looking for alternatives to rice and wheat. True Elements offers millet in convenient forms- RTC, RTE, RTD, for breakfast and snacks.
Healthy and plant based food has seen immense value over the past few years and accelerated during the pandemic. Strong behavioural change in the paranoid consumer has positively affected growth patterns of healthy foods such as millets.
Our multigrain dosa received a lot of love from consumers, which is why we expanded our product profile for regional tastes by giving them a healthier version of what they already love.
Q: Millets are a superfood which have made a comeback in recent years. What innovation and strategy went into designing your line of millets based products?
Millets have been an integral part of True Elements product range. We keep a hawk eye on the industry and consumption trends & try to build offerings around them. We have developed a robust mechanism to track & record customer reviews on Amazon & other marketplaces to build insights & product development/improvement road maps.
Some of our latest innovations which got exceptional response were Maida and Baking Soda free Chocolate Pancake Mix, Multigrain Dosa Mix - made with Jowar & Oats flour, Jowar Flakes with Honey almond, Dessert Mix with Chocolate and Ragi, Masala Millet Upma, Crunchy Nuts and Berries Muesli etc.
Q: True Element is the first food brand recognized as ‘Clean Label’. What is a clean brand?
A Clean Label Certified brand gets its certification from the US based Non-Profit Organisation- Clean Label Project. This entity tests the brand’s products rigorously for over 130 harmful contaminants including pesticides, plastic and heavy metals. This certification allows the company to be a part of the solution that addresses the growing consumer concerns around industrial and environmental contaminants and toxins in packaged food.
Q: Tell us about the opportunities and the challenges in the Indian health food market
Our challenges are dressed as opportunities- and one of the biggest challenges in the Indian health-food industry is tackling the trust-void that exists between consumers and brands. There are several brands that claim no sugar but have sugar in other forms or hidden under scientific/jargonised names. The implication and opportunity for us here is to work harder and be able to build trust with our consumers. Therefore, we innovated a Traceability tool- where consumers could track the minutest details of our products on our website. It helped them trace the journey of ingredients from farm to kitchen. We are probably the only brand in India to be doing this and customers have appreciated us deeply.
We also got recognised globally and were awarded in the ‘5 Top Clean Label Startups Impacting The Food Industry’.
Q: How is the demand for Indian organic and health-based products internationally?
With the world now shifting from a meat-based heavy western diet to plant based, vegetarian and vegan foods, Indian food brands are at the cusp of getting International relevance. We see that brands and products that are ‘clean’ and made of 100% wholegrain are attracting a higher demand.
Keeping in line with this growing demand, True Elements is present in select International markets such as The USA, Dubai, Nepal, Mauritius, Maldives. Very soon we plan to deepen our presence in the SAARC cluster of countries over the next few quarters.