India‘s fast expanding food business is pulling people from different backgrounds who are trying out various models to attract customers and gain market share. But choosing the right model is a matter of horses for courses. Take Mumbai-based Vishal Shah who quit his career in investment banking in New York last year to set up mealkit delivery service Haute Chef in Mumbai. In a chat with FoodService India, he opens up on his choice of the format and its prospects in the future
How was Haute Chef conceived and what is unique about its concept?
Haute Chef is a result of the convergence of several experiences I have had over the last
decade or so during my life as an banker working in New York and London. Living a fast-paced lifestyle, my wife and I would often crave for a home-cooked meal which would be fresh, healthy and easy while recreating the look, taste and feel of a restaurant dish.
However, we regularly experienced frustration to cook for just the two of us and be left behind with either extra food ingredients or cooked food – both of which would go waste. Often times, we would get a box of mascarpone cheese or a bottle of sherry vinegar and didn’t know what to do with the excess after using the 2 tbsp that the recipe recommended.
And that’s how the thought of providing exactly measured ingredients was conceived where one could make cooking a fun experience without having to worry about the boring legwork of recipe planning, grocery shopping and measuring ingredients. Along with neatly-labelled and pre-portioned ingredients, Haute Chef also provides step-by-step recipe cards with easy-to follow illustrations and instructions to cook gourmet dishes from around the world in the convenience of your home kitchen without having to worry about food wastage or greasy take-out options.
The team at Haute Chef has put in significant efforts at every single aspect of our customer interaction to offer the gourmet experience mentioned earlier. A few things worth a mention are: our custom-made food-grade boxes which come with reusable ice gel packs to keep ingredients fresh, our easy-to-follow recipe cards along with illustrations at every step, and most importantly our globally-inspired recipes which have been curated by chefs trained at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) as well as an Indian artisanal line curated by the culinary genius chef Ranveer Brar.
Tell us about your signature recipes and how much demand do they command in the areas under your operational cover? Give us an idea of how demand has grown over time?
As we change our menu every month, it is difficult to point a single signature recipe. What we aim for is a signature ingredient in the form of homemade sauce, spice mix, ingredient combination, etc, that we try to incorporate in every recipe. Some of our bestsellers are: Arabic Fattoush Salad, Roasted Beetroot Salad with Candied Walnuts, Orange and Fennel Salad, Assorted Cheese Platter, BBQ Sliders Platter, Assorted Crostini Platter, Chicken Yakitori, Pistachio Penne Pesto, Fennel and Mascarpone Cheese Linguine, Thyme Garlic Infused Chicken, Pan-seared Basa with Grape Salsa, Korean Bibimbap, Burmese Khaoi Soi, Massaman Curry with Jasmine Rice. In the newly introduced Indian artisanal line curated by chef Brar – some of our signature recipes are Rasgulla and Roti Chaat, Achari Jhinga with Tarbooz Chaat, Chicken Cafreal, Desi Ratatoiulle Makhani, Makai Akhrot Tikki with
Demand has rapidly grown since our launch – we have a long and growing list of customers who are ordering our mealkits at least once a week.
How many products are you currently offering in a ready-to-cook format and what are your plans to add more options?
We typically offer 25-30 recipes every month. We will be expanding to other interesting options soon.
Have you been successful in developing consumer stickiness for your meal solutions? How many orders are you currently serving and what is your estimate of the number of repeat consumers?
Absolutely – as mentioned earlier, we have several customers ordering our mealkits every week. Almost 50 per cent of our customers are repeat customers.
Which have been the menu innovations at Haute Chef and what are your plans for rolling out more such innovations?
We have been very conscious about the kinds of recipes that we introduce on our menu. Customer convenience is at the heart of whatever we plan along with a focus on impeccable taste and freshness of ingredients. While theendeavour is to create restaurant-quality meal at home, many of our innovative dishes are not available on restaurant menus as well.
Some of the innovations that we have introduced on the menu include: Wine Poached Pear Salad, Pickled Lychee and Broccoli Sandwich, Mushroom and Miso Ramen, Chermoula-spiced Burgers, Panseared Fish with Grape Salsa, Chocolate Chilli Fondue. All our Indian recipes curated by chef Ranveer Brar have his signature touch.
What is your strategy for sourcing of the ingredients?
We source our ingredients from the same set of established vendors that supply to five-star hotels and high-end restaurants.
Which steps have you put in place to streamline your delivery and what are your plans to expand the delivery network?
We have a hybrid model of in-house delivery as well as outsourced delivery to ensure timely delivery to our customers. We will be moving to a fully outsourced delivery function very soon.
Do you also have any meal solution for the kids by way of offering a fast and nutritious packaged meal solution in boxes?
We have a lot of kids’ special recipes under our DIY format. We try to incorporate a lot of fresh greens and veggies without compromising on the taste and flavours to ensure that kids are getting enough nutrition. Some of our kids specials include: Gourmet Mac-n-Cheese, Three Cheese Quesadilla, Pepperoni Pizza, BBQ Sliders, Pesto Pistachio Gnocchi to name a few.
What is your marketing and promotions strategy for raising consumer understanding of this format and for scaling your services?
We have an active digital strategy to market our concept and services to customers. We also engage in regular cook-offs for our customers to experience cooking our meal kits. We do several alliances and corporate partnerships as well to help scale our offerings to new customers.