Harshavardhan, CEO and Co-Founder LiL’ Goodness

How healthy is your kid’s chocolate bar? Fussy picky young eaters are now posing opportunities for brands to innovate and come up with unique and nutritious food offerings. Good nutrition sounds simple, just as good parenting does. But parents know that there is no ‘one fits all’ formula to be a success at either. One of the toughest challenges facing most Indian parents across all walks of life is how to convince their children to eat healthy and nutritious meals. This also poses an opportunity for food brands to innovate and come up with good nutritious offerings.

Dr. Ramani Ranjan, Pediatrician, Motherhood Hospital, Noida, told The Financial Express Online, “Since COVID-19 has once again made people conscious about their health, the leading FMCG brands are also cashing in on the trend and they are coming with products that either promises to strengthen their immunity or enhance their health quotient. Many brands have launched new products which are healthy, nutritious and at the same time, scrumptious. Eating a diet rich with protein and vitamin is the need of the hour.”

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While children can be coaxed by parents, the same is difficult to replicate with teenagers who are usually influenced by the choices of their peer groups. For many teenagers, junk food is a popular choice though they are aware that it does nothing to strengthen their immunity.

According to Avinash Bamania, Assistant Professor, Food Production – ITM-Group of Institutions, “Few notable trends among teenagers are, increasing consumption of vegan or mock meat burgers, protein-rich milk shakes, substitution of regular noodles to oat noodles, keto meals, almond flour cakes, etc. This shows that teenagers are prioritizing their health. While only a tiny group of teenagers are considering this change, many have not yet changed their eating habits. Fast food businesses have started flourishing with more and more orders.”

LiL’Goodness, the Bengaluru-based food startup that aims to revolutionize children’s eating habits by empowering their parents to switch to good food choices, is taking nutrition seriously. Their food offerings for kids are known to be popular best sellers on Amazon.

Recently, the startup has launched India’s first ‘prebiotic’ chocolate which helps to activate healthy bacteria in the gut and improve absorption of essential minerals and vitamins, so as to improve immunity. For parents, the real takeaway is that the chocolate has ten per cent less sugar than the regular chocolates stacked at home. Their press release indicates that this prebiotic chocolate has three times more fibre than the regular one.

Harshavardhan, CEO and Co-Founder LiL’ Goodness, in conversation with The Financial Express Online’s Swapna Raghu Sanand, shares his passion for good healthy food and nutrition in the following words, “The COVID-19 pandemic has if at all accelerated the health consciousness of global consumers, providing a great opening for start up brands like us to create a sizable impact. The passion to create an impact in providing good food and nutrition to at least 10 million kids over the next 3-4 years is what motivated us to start up LiL’Goodness.”

He adds, “The ultimate goal would be to customize and then personalize the food options at a scale of millions of kids based on their nutrition profile.”

An alumnus of IIM Calcutta and NSIT, Delhi, Harsha believes that great taste is the most critical element in bringing kids to experience good nutrition. Having grown up across the country and stayed in Delhi, Mumbai, Amritsar and Agartala, he enjoys exploring cuisines, particularly desserts.

1. Having worked as a founding member of a healthcare start-up in the Tata Group, what aspects of your journey finally drove you to prioritize nutrition and good food?

After spending seven years in healthcare a key learning was that good nutrition has a critical role to play in ensuring good health. What you eat can influence our health over longer periods of time. Kids, especially in the age group of 3-12 years old can be moulded to make good food choices for a healthier next gen. The challenge of providing the right food choices that kids love for the taste and experience which parents and experts approve for the nutrition quotient is perhaps one of the most exciting challenges in India today.

As a parent myself, I get to experience what kind of choices are available and therefore what is the opportunity to make a difference.

2. Children are picky eaters. Adding to this, most children today are increasingly conscious about taste and brands. What has your experience been so far with regard to bringing both vital elements together to children along with nutrition?

For a kids food product to do well it has to taste great. Fussy eaters also need variety since they get used to similar tastes and flavours very quickly. At best there is only a very small percentage of kids who would compromise taste over nutrition.

At the same time we have seen school kids who are more aware about healthy eating habits without necessarily having the options to act on it.

The balance between great taste and appropriate nutrition is critical to ensuring product success. Great taste can be achieved with the help of artificial flavours or natural options; in our products we use natural ingredients to ensure that there is diversity and depth of taste.

We also learnt the hard way that it is very difficult to meet the taste expectations of all the kids- this would need a compromise on nutrition and require added flavours and preservatives.

A second approach we have taken to new product development is infuse ‘goodness’ in existing popular taste categories such as chocolates, chips and nuts.

We know kids and even adults love chocolates- the challenge was to bring in functional benefits beyond low sugar and dark variants, while retaining the taste that kids love. This led to the development of prebiotic chocolates, a first of its kind product in India.

These chocolates retain the flavour of typical milk and dark chocolates, with added natural prebiotic fibres which improve gut health.

Similarly there are products in the pipeline which are directed towards bringing goodness into fast moving, highly penetrated snacking categories where natural ingredients delivering good nutrition are built into the recipe- kids don’t need to necessarily know how much veggies each snack serving contains- on the other hand parents need to be made aware as well.

3. What do you see as the key hurdles when it comes to addressing nutritional issues for today’s kids and how has the Indian family set up contributed/not contributed to it?

There’s a lot of noise- Whatsapp forwards, Facebook communities, influencers disseminating information across channels. Consumers need trustworthy, credible information and products to be able to make the right choices.

As a new brand the current challenge we face is how do we break the clutter and communicate the dual benefits of health and taste in a new age snack brand.

We believe that going back to the roots with appropriate modern trends built-in is a strong secular trend, in that sense the traditional Indian outlook has not impeded brands like us.

The past few months have seen a resurgence in the discovery of food- especially with people sitting at home, having access to digital channels and trying out new things. These combined with the increased awareness of health and nutrition are net positive for brands like us.

4. The food we grew up eating is shaped by our cultural preferences too. So, tell us a little about the food you grew up with and how you relate to it now. Do you feel that today’s children tend to be more global in their food preferences?

I am a Malayali, who grew up mostly in North India, while having spent time in Eastern and Western parts of the country for study and work. So I have been exposed to a lot of cuisines. I love sweets, chocolates and dairy based products. I love traditional Indian foods and like Japanese cuisine.

Our future generations, especially in urban centers are getting exposed to a lot of Western content- digitally and otherwise. These options were not as readily available in the 90s when I was growing up.

Fine dine cuisines were indulgences, today there are multiple options and modes for kids to get it at home.

There are restaurants which have brought multiple cuisine options to consumers, easily accessed through food delivery apps such as Swiggy.

Kids travel abroad and are exposed to foreign cuisines.

Pastas are no longer a novelty, they are a once in a week option that kids demand. The moms at home are baking cakes and muffins regularly. At the same time, the parents want to go back to the roots- authentic cuisine is an ‘in’ thing. Irrespective of the cuisine type that kids and their families choose, it is important to have a good balanced diet- the same could come from our traditional cuisines or even continental cuisines.

5. And in an ideal situation, what are the solutions/options that can resolve these nutritional issues?

Nutrition is not a one-off concept-it needs regular interventions. It needs regular engagement with parents and kids. Drastic changes have rarely built sustainable habits, unless forced by black swan events such as pandemics.

For our country to have a future generation that is healthy, strong and smart it is important that we start making nudges at a very early stage to modify the eating preferences of our kids.

A regulatory and go to market environment that encourages innovation and low cost access to consumers is necessary to seed these nudges. This could be in the form of incentives for healthy foods in terms of taxation, creation of purchase channels that incentivise these brands while creating healthy competition.

We don’t have to necessarily copy Western concepts- there is a lot of food innovation which can happen within India and spread to the rest of the world. As brands we also need to think beyond transactions and create brands that engage digitally and otherwise with consumers. This will be critical to creating awareness and a bias towards action.

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