-Samrita Bharua (firstname.lastname@example.org)
An oleoresins manufacturing company primarily for industries ventured into bringing a highly technical product for the retail consumer in the form of an innovative one drop solution. What is interesting is that the drop can be added to anything where one would use spice, not limiting just to beverage or confectionary. Spice Drop’s head of branding Harshita Shah tells Kitchen Herald of what it takes to think of such a product that is well ahead of its time –
Could you tell us more about your company Universal Oleoresins and the brand ‘Spice Drop’?
The company is called Universal Oleoresins and was incorporated in 1981. A family owned business, it was started by my father and his brothers. Started as a small oleoresin manufacturing company in Kerala, is now one of the leading manufaturers in India. Oleoresins by itself are very concentrated and are oil based, hence do not mix with water. The process of making oleoresins is extracting and blending basically oil plus resins. The oil contains the aroma of the spice. So we extract the oil through distillation and then we extract the resin, where all the other active ingredients of the product are there. And what is left out is the organic matter which we then don’t require. With no moisture left in the product, now we mix the oil and the resin it becomes oleoresin. It has the smell, the aroma, flavor, the taste, and all the active goodness in it. We also do not add any preservatives as such.
Oleoresins are used basically in the food industry and is a very niche technical product. In the food industry, they prefer using oleoresins rather than whole spices because of the superior nature of this extracted product. It has a very long shelf life, it is much more economical because it is industrially extracted, and of course, all the goodness of the extract remains intact. It is also much more potent and is much easier to use. So, if you see in the dairy or the food confectionery industry, these companies prefer to use spice oleoresin. Back then not many companies were into it and even now it is a very technical field and very few companies are into oleoresin.
Since it is such an innovative product, the family thought why not bring it out for consumers. They worked on making this product a consumer friendly one, by reducing the concentration and also making it water soluble. Further, they made it innovative as a one drop solution. And that is how they came up with Spice Drop in 1991, ten years after they started the oleoresins manufacturing business. We are very proud to say that ‘Spice Drop’ is the pioneer of oleoresins for consumers.
While you initially started from the Kerala market, how do you plan to expand your business?
This idea was way too ahead of its time. Even till this day, it’s a concept which needs to be communicated to people.
The company was incorporated primarily as an oleoresin manufacturer for the food industry and even till this day, that happens to be our main business. We do a lot of oleoresin exports across the world and even in the domestic market, the oleoresin requirement is picking up. So we do supply to a lot of leading dairy industries in India.
For ‘Spice Drop’, we had started participating in exhibitions, trade fairs and we were involved in doing demonstrations of the product. We had an amazing response and consumers would be wowed by how one drop of this powerful product can transform the whole thing. In places like Munnar in Kerala, Mapro farms in Maharastra we sampled our products and did a lot of demonstrations. These tourist areas are where we got maximum traction.
Our traditional mode of sale was through retail counters and in some cases even offering sampled products to interested customers. We had around 10 SKUs earlier, which has grown to 30 SKUs at present. We ventured into e-commerce around 2016 and now find it a much more effective medium. Reason being, we were are able to communicate to the customers effectively what the product is and how it can be used. Customers would not come to know of its significance if we just place these products on shelf for sale without enabling our retailers to sell better.
We also give a taste of the product and let the customers try it in a cup of tea. We also made our presence felt in social media, where we started talking to Influencers. We put out our videos and recipes from time to time. We also ship internationally to our international clients. We are also available in many countries and we are eager to expand in many nations.
Could you also throw some light on your product ranges?
We have our products across segments – for instance we have the beverage range of products which have application across different types of beverages. India being a tea drinking nation, Chai masala was something which we found the easiest to sell this concept with.
Everybody across India drinks tea but their taste of masala is different. So we have launched four new variants – there is something like the Mumbai cutting chai, which caters to the cutting tea you get in Mumbai and is dominated by a mix of ginger and cardamom. We again created a very exotic flavor which is called the ‘Hyderabadi kadak’ that has the rose, saffron and fennel seed flavours. Similarly we have ‘Assami Adrak’ and the ‘Maratha Amruttulya’, which were inspired by the popular tea stalls of Maharashtra. During the outbreak of COVID two years back, we launched the immunity and wellness boosting extracts, which include the Kaadha on the lines of the AAYUSH Mantralay formula and other wellness products like tulsi, turmeric latte and kashmiri Kahwa. These again follow the one drop concept and are very easy to use. All you need to do is add a drop or two in warm water and you are good to go. And then lately, we have also diversified into the gourmet herb segment – oregano, basil, Italian herbs mix and thyme. The reason being, our target consumers like to use them but it’s not a regular thing. The advantage of these bottles are they have a long shelf life of two years, and you don’t need to refrigerate it. So it never gets spoiled. It is also very versatile – it can be added to your soups, pasta, pizza or garlic bread.
Is there any testing team who comes up with this variants through research or based on popular survey of what customers like the most?
We have a proper team and lab where we do all this research. We also look at a lot of market inputs on what is required at that point of time. So it is like an integration of both market inputs as well as our research team coming up with different ideas.
Are you also looking at partnering with ‘chai’ brands apart from the local tea stores?
50% of our users are Cafe owners. We have not partnered with the bigger brands yet, but we have a good presence with a lot of tea and café owners and also restaurants. Having a product like this helps them not only to cut costs, but also makes it very convenient for them. So for example, they can have a section like a tea parlor or a cafe which is serving beverages. They can make one base tea and in the menu they can offer 10 different flavors. All they need to do is just add a drop of a particular extract and the flavor of the tea is changed.
Also, when you are using ‘elaichi’ or ginger flavor, you are actually using a very little extract; since while boiling the tea the maximum portion remains in the waste which you throw away. When it is a factory extracted thing, what happens is, one drop of ‘elaichi’ is equivalent to two pods. So that way it’s more economical and the shelf life is much longer. So that is how it helps Cafe owners optimize and offer more flavors on their menu by keeping much lesser inventory of these things. We are keen to partner with both neighbourhood outlets as well as established chains as our product adds value to their business regardless of the size of their business.
What are the key challenges a cafe business faces tody? How do your products help in cost-cutting and adding value?
High input raw material costs, space rental costs, inventory holding costs are some of the challenges that café business faces. Further people are looking for more options in the menu and to have an extensive menu with more inventory and more SKUs to cater to. Products like ‘Spice Drop’ can help address these problems, as these are economical with a long shelf life and very easy to store. One base beverage like tea can be prepared and flavoured differently with ‘Spice Drop’, hence a more extensive menu can be catered to easily. We also can help tea sellers create new blends which they can include in their menu.
What are your company’s expansion plans?
We are planning to expand our range to include more interesting blends of spices and herbs, both to cater to an Indian as well as an international palate. We are also looking to expand our product portfolio to include teas, as our flagship products are Chai Masala based and we understand that these customers will also have a strong requirement for good teas.
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