There’s a generation of us for whom growing up, Asian food meant a mean bowl of gobi manchurian, tossed around in spicy Indo Chinese sauces, onions, and garlic, with a generous sprinkling of spring onion.
Now, ask any millennial what their favorite Asian food is, and chances are their list will include anything from sushi to dim sum and pad Thai noodles to kimchi. In short, pan-Asian cuisine.
The rise of this cuisine has seen many startups venture forth in this sector. And one such brand islaunched in June 2020.
In a chat with YourStory, Sidhanth Madan, Co-founder, MasterChow, says Asian food is the second most popular cuisine in India, and he felt there weren’t any mass premium brands in the space to cater to an evolved Indian palette.
“You either had stalls selling Indo Chinese food prepared with low-quality oils and spices or had very high-end Asian restaurants which were out of budget for a majority. Similarly, there were no consumer goods looking at creating new and unique flavors for the Indian consumer. Even though the market is quite sizeable and growing every year,” he adds.
Sidhanth founded the startup along with fellow F&B entrepreneurs Vidur Kataria and Radhika Mittal.
MasterChow, a ready-to-cook Asian cuisine brand, offers a range of premium Asian pantry staples like stir-fry sauces, ready-to-eat dips and noodles for quick, restaurant-style food at home. The founders claim the range of sauces and dips are signature recipes developed in-house at their manufacturing facility.
School friends Vidur and Sidhant have always wanted to be entrepreneurs. This is their second F&B venture together.
They also maintain that MasterChow products are made with 100 percent natural ingredients, are crafted fresh in small batches, and are free of artificial additives. The startup is available pan India via their own e-store, and all major marketplaces like Amazon, Bigbasket, Grofers, Instamart etc.
“There is a similar gap in the CPG (consumer packaged goods) space as well. With MasterChow, our dream is to build a much-loved Indian brand that offers premium Asian pantry essentials for healthy and wholesome, restaurant-style Asian food at home. We want to bring great flavors and convenience to the Indian kitchen while giving our customers a better-for-you product,” Sidhanth adds.
The startup’s manufacturing facility in Delhi is equipped to service 15,000 orders a day to meet its growing demand online. With a production and logistics network, the brand plans to grow 10x in the coming year. Currently, it services 20,000+ pincodes pan India and witnesses strong demand from Tier-I and II cities.
“We’ve paired our best sellers into kits that can serve up a meal at home in 10-15 minutes. We’d initially started with the stir-fry sauce range but quickly expanded to meal accompaniments like rice and noodles. We plan to add more flavors and complementary categories to our portfolio,” Sidhant says.
For the love of food
School friends Sidhanth and Vidur had always wanted to start a venture together.
“We’ve been entrepreneurs in the F&B space for seven years now. We had started an Asian QSR chain, ‘Wok Me’, which served bowl meals using a wide range of our stir-fry sauces,” Sidhanth recounts. Wok Me was a Pan Asian restaurant which scaled to six locations in Delhi and NCR. The pandemic gave them a unique opportunity to pivot and create a digitally native CPG brand focusing on the Asian cuisine.
Co-founder Radhika, whose previous stints include American Express and Grant Thornton, joined the business around six months after its initial launch.
The core team at MasterChow is currently eight, with 25 people in manufacturing and warehouse operations. The startup is increasing its total team size to 50 in a month.
For a long time now, the Pan Asian category was mainly dominated by age-old players catering to very Indianized palettes or low-cost brands offering basic Asian cooking sauces.
“There were a few imported players as well, but at such high price points that they were only accessible by a small audience segment. There was also no market innovation as such. Cooking Asian cuisine at home required one to purchase three to four different sauces which was confusing, time consuming and at times, expensive. If you decided to go with a pre-mix sauce, it was often full of unhealthy fillers and low on flavor. To address these issues, we came with MasterChow,” he adds.
With Pan Asian cuisine increasingly becoming the flavor of the season, Chings, Veeba, and Chef Boss are other prominent players in the sector. International competitors include Lee Kum Kee and NGOs among others.
Funding and monetization
MasterChow raised $1.2 million in funding led by Anicut Capital, an Indian investment firm managing alternative assets. The round also saw participation from WEH ventures, and Fluid Ventures, among other prominent D2C founders and angel investors.
MasterChow plans to deploy the funds to launch innovative new product categories while delivering a quality experience to its customers. It also aims to introduce a wider variety of flavors and plans to foray into the ready-to-eat segment to attract India’s young consumers. The brand wants to fortify its distribution network while maintaining a strong focus on its own D2C channel across India. The firm is also looking to hire for mid-senior level positions to further optimize its ecommerce channels and improve its content strategy.
Last year, the brand raised Rs 3.5 crore in seed funding led by WEH Ventures.
“Currently, nearly 70 percent of our revenue is coming from Tier I cities. We are slowly building an omnichannel model where quick commerce players form an integral part of our strategy,” says Sidhant.
He adds that the brand has served over 2,00,000 orders across platforms so far, and it closed at Rs 3.5 crore in FY’21. It aims to close at Rs 18 crore this fiscal year.
The way ahead
“The Indian palette is moving towards bolder, more authentic flavours, and we plan to capitalize on both of these to expand into complementary categories and give our consumers more variety to choose from. With our production facility set up, we are a vertically integrated brand and will be able to control all aspects of the customer experience – from R&D to manufacturing to post-sales service. Our next stage of growth will come from expanding onto marketplaces. We have identified categories which will complete our portfolio too,” Sidhant concludes.
(This story was updated to replace an image)