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Ditsa Keren
Created on Nov 22nd, 2022
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The Cumin Club:  Authentic Indian Cuisine in Under 5 Minutes

The Cumin Club is a specialized meal kit provider that offers delicious and nutritious freeze-dried meals from a variety of authentic Indian cuisines. I spoke to Co-Founder Ragoth Bala to hear about the company’s story and the value it brings to busy customers.

Please tell us a bit about your business and what initially sparked your interest in meal kits

It all started in 2018. I was still in business school and working full time, so I didn’t have a lot of time to think about what I was going to eat for dinner. Eating right just wasn’t an option at all.

I’m a vegetarian and by nature, I have a taste profile that goes more towards spicy and flavorful food because I’m from India.

I tried all the meal kits in the market, but they just didn’t suit me. I would find myself ending up in a fast-food restaurant every day for lack of better options. After receiving a care package packed with Indian ingredients from my mother, I decided to explore the concept of creating a meal kit company.

I tried to understand what it would take to become a meal tech company. How do we put together the right product for an Indian meal kit when Indian food is extremely difficult to cook? There are so many steps involved and it takes a lot of time, so taking Indian food and making it convenient for customers was a challenge.

My exploration led me to a technology called freeze-drying. While it's not new per se, it's very new to apply freeze-drying technology to Indian or ethnic food. Barilla has had a line of freeze-dried pasta for many years, but no one has pioneered freeze-drying technology for Indian food.

I decided to build a company that would apply this technology to the Indian food market and came up with what we call 5-minute meal kits. Not only are the meal kits nutritious and preservative-free, but they’re also affordable. We have a price point of $4.99 per meal. All the meal kits are vegetarian and extremely flavorful.

We have amazing backing from Chicago-based venture capital. We’ve been lucky to have Listen Ventures and M25 as our investors. We’re growing at about 15% per month. We hope to maintain that growth by reaching out not only to the Indian diaspora in the US, but also making it more appealing for the general population in the US and introducing them to Indian food the Indian way, and not the way that Indian restaurants make it.

What’s on the menu?

Our meal kits are prepared authentically using traditional recipes from a variety of Indian regions. We source spices locally from these regions too. Our dishes are prepared and then freeze-dried without any preservatives before distributing to customers in the US and Canada. 

The meals have about 8-10 weeks of shelf life after preparation and freeze-drying, and then we supplement it with all the side dishes to make a complete meal. We ship our meal kits to our customers within 3-5 business days and customers have about 4-6 weeks to enjoy them.

We currently have 30 recipes. We’re investing in research and development to bring about 100 more recipes onto the platform from different regions of India. We’re also exploring other South Asian cuisines.

How does freeze-drying actually work?

Freeze-drying is the process of removing the moisture from the food because moisture is what causes food to go bad. By doing that, the nutrition profile of the food as well as the consistency of the food remains intact compared to other drying techniques like thermal drying. Studies show that 90-95% of the food’s nutritional values remain intact. Essentially it’s as good as fresh food when rehydrated by the customers.

Our meal kits are neither powder nor solid. They take on a semi-solid consistency of powder and chunks. They contain whole lentils and vegetables in a freeze-dried curry.

All our meal kits come with simple instructions that take five to ten minutes to make. It involves heating a pan, emptying the pack, adding the same amount of water, and following some additional steps. 

Instead of starting all the way from cleaning and chopping the vegetables and preparing the base, we give our customers a head start and take them straight to the last step of cooking.

The best part is that customers still have the opportunity to improvise. All our meal kits are vegetarian, but we do have some customers who add sauteed meat into the curry, and we embrace that.

How do you customize spice levels for individual customers?

We address spice levels in the way that we keep them authentic. The good thing is that not all Indian food is spicy. More than half of our menu is either mild or moderately spicy. On the website, we clearly indicate how spicy a dish is

We’re also looking into spice-level customization so while prepping the food, you can decide how spicy you want it to be. That would help us expand our clientele beyond the Indian diaspora.

How do you address the common misconception that ready-made meals are unhealthy?

I think the biggest challenge for The Cumin Club as a brand is to create the perception that something as convenient as five-minute preparation can also be healthy. We do that by proactively talking about freeze-drying technology on our website and in our blog, educating the customers about this technology and how it’s evolved.

Ultimately, the proof is in the pudding. Once we get the customers to try the food, they’re absolutely convinced that it's good for them because we don't use any natural preservatives like oil or salt, just for the sake of preserving the food. When you eat it, you can feel the difference. Secondly, there’s no aftertaste. Most ready-to-eat preserved foods have a strange aftertaste because they have these so-called natural preservatives like guar gum, xanthan, and so on.

When we make the food with clean ingredients like our meal kits, it's easy for customers to taste the difference. Evidently, our biggest growth comes from word of mouth.

What kind of clients do you typically work with?

We’re currently offering our meal kits with a B2C model. Most of our customers are students or young professionals that just don't have time in their day to do grocery shopping and take all the steps needed for meal prep, so we’re giving them a shortcut.

We started with Indian expats because that's where the demand is very high, but we’re slowly growing into the first-generation Americans with Indian origins, and also vegetarians and vegans in the general population.

Indian food has plenty of vegetarian options and they’re all protein-rich. In the West, there’s a strong shift towards plant-based proteins, but often it tends to be fake or lab-grown meat. We’re here to show that there are plenty of protein sources in vegan food. 

Indian cuisine is a perfect use case for the growth of vegetarianism and veganism and our meal kits make it accessible for Western customers.

Where can people buy your meal kits? 

Currently, the meal kits are available on our website and we’re looking into retail partnerships where our products will be available at retail stores near our customers.

When our meal kits come to retail stores, customers will have the convenience of picking up one or two items at a time rather than having to purchase a larger amount as they do online. We also plan to supplement them with additional spice mixes and condiments. Ultimately, we want to become a one-stop-shop for Indian and South Asian cuisines.

The Cumin Club is simple, convenient, and authentic. We make sure that it's significantly different from the Indian food that’s served in Indian restaurants. This is more authentic and more representative of how India, as a country of one and a half billion people, eats.

We welcome everyone to explore all that Indian cuisine has to offer by trying our meal kits at www.thecuminclub.com.

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