A Chennai couple rolls out a line of finger-licking food additives.
By Shazia Andaleeb
A brand one often comes across in Chennai grocery stores in the condiments aisle is ‘Fouziya’s Cooking’. Pretty little bottles with colourful labels beckon, tempting you to sample the delicious goodies within. One is spoilt for choice—from Mango to Strawberry, Orange Marmalade to Apple Fig, their jams and spreads come in a variety of flavours, not to mention a couple of varieties of peanut butter! They have savoury condiments as well, from their famous Lime and Date pickle, to the Tomato sauce, the Shezwan sauce and their latest offering, Pasta sauce.
Fouziya Kutty and Sheikh Taher, the husband-wife duo, are owners of the company that is trying to make processed food not just tasty, but healthy as well. Hailing from Mumbai, Fouziya married Taher who’s originally from Orissa and they have made Chennai their home. Recounting their beginnings four years ago, Fouziya says, “It began when a friend who had a large harvest of organic lemons, decided to send us a basketful of them. Stuck with so many of them, I made a lime and date pickled chutney and distributed it to all our family and friends. The fact that it was such a hit is what got us thinking about trying to do this on a larger scale.” The rest, like they say, is history.
Both ardent foodies, Fouziya and Taher began the company, combining Fouziya’s love for food and cooking with Taher’s branding and marketing acumen. A full time branding and advertising professional, he came up with the brand and figured out the nuances of marketing, distribution and logistics. Launched in 2013, their products now have a retail presence in as many as 23 outlets in and around Chennai. Some places in Coimbatore, Hyderabad and Cochin carry them as well.
As food enthusiasts who are now part of the food industry, both Fouziya and Taher have a lot to say about everything from organic farming to food technology, start-up troubles to deceptive labelling.
Absolutely dedicated to wholesome consumption practices, Fouziya is focused on creating a line of natural products that use only locally sourced ingredients. They source organic produce, wherever possible. Even the oil, salt, sugar and spices they use are unrefined and organic. “We work on the premise that what is not good for us, is not good for our customers either. Although it sounds contradictory, we believe that processed food can be healthy as well. All our jams, spreads and sauces have a very high content of natural fruits and vegetables. We never use any readymade pulp, only fresh fruits and vegetables of the highest quality we can find. Even the pectin we use in our jams is homemade using fresh, natural ingredients”, she informs us. “And of course, there are absolutely no added colours, flavours or artificial additives or preservatives”, she adds.
Their focus on additive-free food means that their products have a shorter shelf-life, but it doesn’t seem to bother the couple. “Also, since we only use seasonal fruits, we cannot guarantee that our products will be available all through the year. “We make spreads that use summer fruits like mango and strawberry only in the summer, while in the winter, we use oranges to make our orange marmalade”, explains Taher. Mercifully, the savoury sauces as well as the banana and peanut spread are available all through the year!
Big advocates of sustainable farming practices, they make sure that they buy their produce only from small, local farmers. They also believe in responsible consumption and have tried to minimise waste from their production facility, using everything from recycling to composting as a means of waste reduction. They now have a small but growing band of loyal customers who recognize the vision and are eager to support them.
Of course, they face all the issues that a start-up typically would, right from issues of scale to time and money, but the couple seem content to grow organically, fully cognizant that rapid growth of scale would only be the antithesis of their philosophy around food. As they grow, they speak in one voice, “We are enjoying ourselves thoroughly right now, and moving forward we’d like to create an all-woman production unit because women are the disadvantaged gender. Our larger vision is to teach people that sustainable means of livelihood are possible and the need of the hour”. Amen to that.
(Shazia Andaleeb is a Chennai based feature writer).