Transparency and honesty in ingredients is the key foundational prinicple behind the brand Yoga Bar, a nutrition-led food company driven by sisters Suhasini Sampath (COO) and Anindita Sampath (CEO) who believed in India needing a health-based food brand and hence created the brand Yoga Bar that resonates with health and fitness enthusiasts across the country.
The Telegraph caught up with Suhasini and here’s what transpired.
What has the journey been like since the inception of the brand till today?
Our journey has been exceptional since its inception. Yoga Bar was initially a concept that emerged from our experiments as “busy foodies” during our hectic corporate life days to curate healthy, yummy snacks, which later materialised into a business after receiving positive feedback from friends and family. Our mission was to change India’s eating habits and we managed to create a strong impact on the Indian consumers every step of the way. We started in a market that was still very new to the concept and our market tends to be brand loyalists and skeptical of switching to something unheard of. The guiding principle that led the brand journey was to offer a product, designed by nutritionists and not marketers, that promises 100 per cent clean and natural ingredients with exemplary taste.
How would you describe the current health food market in India and how similar or different is it from its global counterparts?
The health food market in India currently is the fastest and largest growing. A lot of Indians are realising the importance of a healthy diet and are changing their eating habits. According to a report by Avendus Capital, the Indian health food market is forecast to become a $30 billion sector by 2026. In a way, the pandemic has propelled this, pushing people towards conscious consumption, motivating them to discover new methods to boost their immunity. The focus on nutrient-dense ingredients is common across the health and wellness markets across the world, however, each geographical market has its practices and current trends driving the market.
The disruption of the health food market in India started with the multigrain bars and breakfast cereals. Yoga Bar was one of the first brands to do so and we eventually became a market leader in this segment. This nutrition-led food revolution is venturing into multiple categories and subcategories in the country. Take the example of kid’s cereals where maida-filled unhealthy options have long had the monopoly. We are now disrupting that category with a ‘no-maida’ policy.
One of the leading products of the brand is its range of health bars, available in a variety of flavours
As sisters, were you two always geared towards a partnership and cooperation since childhood, or, did you two have varying ideas and choices in life that coincidentally collided?
Anindita and I have always enjoyed each other’s company since childhood and had similar interests like yoga and, of course, food! Yoga Bar is entirely a collaborative effort. I’m more of a practical person whereas Anindita is a creatively inclined person - This enables us to work cooperatively through all the company’s operations and build on each other’s ideas.
Suhasini, you’ve mentioned that you came close to 400 rejected jobs post which you began your entrepreneurial journey. What was that phase like?
It is rightly said that failures are the stepping stones to success. As demotivated as I was when faced with rejection, I took it upon myself to set out and do something I am passionate about. Building Yoga Bar from scratch has given me immense confidence and made me feel worthy that I could make an impact in the lives of many — be it the people we train and employ at our facility or the consumers who gain health benefits from our products.
Are you two yoga enthusiasts in real life? If yes, what’s your preferred form and style?
The sense of immateriality of yoga was a huge part of both our lives. It gave us what we call the goodness of gratitude, to cultivate a healthy relationship with one’s life, surroundings, and most importantly, one’s body. Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga is my preferred form.
As women entrepreneurs, what were some of the biggest challenges that you faced?
I believe building a brand is not easy for anyone, be it a man or a woman. Female entrepreneurs have to put in that extra work for doing tasks that are not the norm for women. But again, it’s all about the mindset. The main challenges we faced were paving our way into the food industry as one of the first nutritional food brands in the country. Our idea of Yoga Bar was shelved/neglected by retailers as they felt there was less scope for health in the Indian food market.
What makes Yoga Bar different from other products in its category?
While there was an established pattern of three meals a day, post-pandemic it has transformed into multiple snacking patterns. We want to improve these snacking habits and educate consumers on what they’re eating, also providing them with complete transparency in what the products offer and consist of.
As a brand proposition, we call out our contents for each product across our labels highlighting the honest natural ingredients we use with definite health benefits and without the addition of chemicals of any kind. We don’t use any artificial sweeteners, preservatives, or colouring agents. We hold a value proposition very different from our competition. Each of the ingredients that we choose has definite nutritive value. We stay away from ingredients that contribute to empty calories.
Sisters Anindita and Suhasini Sampath
What would be your message to women entrepreneurs starting in similarly difficult arenas that you did?
Determination and confidence in ourselves and our idea are what kept us going. The lack of confidence has an impact when important business decisions are to be made. For instance, in situations when one might not be able to negotiate hard or stand their ground in front of investors and ultimately it is detrimental to their business. We stuck to our values. I keep reiterating that, no woman should limit her ambitions. It is the zeal that we have to conquer any obstacle, that will take us further.
What’s the future vision for Yoga Bar?
As a brand, we have succeeded in the expansion of our product portfolio and capturing a decent share in the market owing to the superior product quality. In the last six months alone, Yoga Bar has entered into five new categories such as kids cereals, infant food, ayurvedic juices and sports nutrition.
One of the milestones we wish to cross is to expand our presence offline and move to 4x the number of retail and chains in the next three years from 10,000 stores at the moment. Our focus is going to be on increasing offline sales along with online sales in the upcoming financial year. We are also shifting our manufacturing unit to a large 60,000 sq ft unit in Tumkur. This expansion will enable us to scale up our production to meet the rapidly growing demands for Yoga Bar products.
What has the support from your family been like vis-a-vis the business that you began?
My family is at the heart of everything I do. Growing up, our mom used to create a healthy version of all the burgers and chaats at home! That is how healthy and conscious living was incorporated from a very young age. From there to building a business with my sister, who has been instrumental every step of the way. Even today, my husband is beyond supportive and helps me balance work and my daughter’s childhood.