Anuradha Krishnamoorthy’s desire to create opportunities for the economically and physically challenged led her to form a partnership with her friend Namrata Sundaresan to venture into cheese making with Kase.
On March 5, 2018, Anuradha Krishnamoorthy, a trained social worker running the artisanal cheese making venture Kase, received a call from the Ministry of Women and Children Development. She along with her partner, Namrata Sundaresan, had been nominated for Nari Shakthi Award, to receive it at the hands of the President of India on Women’s Day. Both were traveling, but realizing what an honour it was, rushed to New Delhi for this momentous validation of their efforts on multiple counts.
Kase was started in 2016 to train physically challenged women in cheese making as a skill to enable them to find employment. By making artisan cheese, the two women were also trying to create a wholesome product that was made entirely from locally sourced products, to be delivered to the local populace. “The award was unexpected and, at the same time, very welcome in endorsing our efforts,” admits Anu. It also gave them the recognition that helped in expanding their market reach.
Such recognition was unexpected for various reasons. The venture itself began as an experiment. Anu, who was working with not-for-profit ventures, along with husband, Pravin, started Krea, a market research firm for the healthcare sector. They decided to establish an online panel of experts to answer queries of visitors in healthcare and trained two visually impaired girls to be able to call up experts and convince them to be part of the panel. “We believe in inclusive employment, and this was one way of trying to create new opportunities for the physically challenged,” explains Anu. Subsequently, she started Can Do as a launch pad for the economically and physically challenged.
In 2016, she thought she would introduce baking as a course and turned to her friend of long years, Namrata, who is the founder partner of a strategy consulting firm that specializes in international trade & investment. She also loves cooking and had recently learnt cheese making. “Home baking is different from commercial baking, and also quite common. Cheese making, on the other hand, is new and the skill would be useful in bakeries, who are constantly in need of this ingredient,” explains Namrata. So the two decided that they would begin training in cheese making. Pravin backed them by giving them space on the terrace of his office in Chennai, where a cafeteria had been running till a few years ago and so had the infrastructure to support such a venture.
In 2016, the two set out on the journey of cheese making, with two hearing impaired girls to support them.
“We believe in inclusive employment, and this was one way of trying to create new opportunities for the physically challenged,” Anu Krishnamoorthy
Getting the Fundamentals Right
Though dairy is very popular in India, cheese in itself is not as common or well known. The processed cheese is very different from what cheese is supposed to be and cheaper too. Kase was set up to create artisan cheese, which is handcrafted, and getting a breakthrough was clearly going to be an uphill task. On the other hand, there is growing awareness about eating healthy, wholesome food, which is prompting Indian families to look for feasible and tasty alternatives. “This is a good time to be in this space,” Anu believes firmly
The two were clear that they would use milk only from ethical dairies and use as many local flavours and processes as possible. So they surveyed some dairy farms and identified three in the vicinity, one of which has even Indian cows. The rennet used to separate the solid from the liquid is also a plant based material as against the animal based one. Thirdly, they decided not to add preservatives of artificial flavours.
Kase participated at a local farmer’s market but found that out of the 100 kgs it had prepared, only 30 kgs got sold due to rain playing spoilsport. At this juncture they learnt that cheese does not spoil but with age, like wine, acquires its own flavor. This expanded the product opportunity for the duo, who have also explored Indian flavours such as molagapodi, which has found great favour.
Slow and Steady Growth
Initially, Kase found buyers amongst friends and expats. Soon, through word of mouth, enquiries began to pour in and the company, which offers around 20-30 flavours, started selling 5 kgs a week, which gradually climbed up to 40 kgs. It now also retails through a few partners across the city – The Old Madras Bakers, Gourmet Marketing, Terra, Dhanyam and Shandy – and is available in 15 outlets, selling 100 kg. It also creates unique events like the one they did with a couple making chocolates, where a four-course meal was served to invited guests with each dish containing chocolate and cheese as its components. Pairing cheese with tea was another event that went down well with the guests. Social media has also been a key marketing tool for Kase, helping it reach out to its target audience.
The company has customers in Coimbatore and Bangalore and wants to set up an all-India network. But Anu and Namrata are clear that they want to remain artisan and not become industrial cheese makers. “This means, we will identify local partners wherever we go, share our know-how, help them create signature products apart from the regular ones, and cater to a small market around them,” explains Namrata. Anu adds, “With local sourcing of food gaining so much currency, we want to promote that and tie up with many partners, but each serving only a limited radius.”
For this expansion, the company will be looking at external funding to be able to make inroads as well as train and set up partners across the country. It already has enquiries from potential investors but is still evaluating the route it wants to take – government or private.
Meanwhile, it currently has five physically challenged members handling a variety of functions including accounting, inventory management, and packaging. “Their loyalty more than makes up for any lack of skill, if at all,” attests Anu as she reaffirms her vision to provide an inclusive environment to the less privileged in her venture.