One of the nicest descriptions of India’s snacking habit is that we are “a land of snack charmers!” And it’s true, too. We love our murukku and mixtures, our chips and chikki, our sweets and our savouries. Many of these are home-made snacks, while several are bought at the local sweet store, or along with your groceries at the supermarket.
As times change, though, us snackers have often wondered if we’d ever find the convenience and the consistency of say, a pack of Pringle’s chips, in our very own banana chips - without losing the taste and authenticity that makes it truly local. That’s where Sweet Karam Coffee comes in.
Sweet Karam brings you the real thing – South Indian sweets and snacks that taste like they’re homemade – but through the convenience of multiple channels, ranging from your neighbourhood kirana store, to your Swiggy, Blinkit, or Amazon. In keeping with the times, all their products are clean label, and free from palm oil and preservatives. Anand, Nalini, Srivatsan, and Raghavan are completely obsessed with getting their products right so that their consumers keep coming back over and over again.
Snacking in India is big. The South Indian snacking market was sized at a substantial INR 18,000 Cr in FY22, but it’s largely unorganised. Snacks are 56% organised –
largely dominated by international chips brands and North Indian bhujia brands – and sweets are just 10%. Different states enjoy pockets of dominance by regional players, and a very large array of unbranded city- or neighbourhood-based snack makers.
Interestingly, the South Indian market, comprising of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana, is the smallest but the most fragmented of snacking spaces, accounting for close to 400 different “brands.” One reason could be the region’s strong preference for traditional Indian snacks over Western offerings, notably the highest in India. So, while consumers are shifting to packaged local snacks, either because they lack the time or proficiency to make them, there’s still no equivalent of North Indian brand leaders like Haldiram’s or Bikaji. This makes the highly unorganised South Indian snacking and sweet market ripe for disruption.
Regional legacy brands have been unable to translate their existing goodwill and familiarity into product quality and customer service. Their products have short shelf lives, which does not translate well into modern retail, and the success they enjoy remains confined to a single region or state.
The consumer, however, is already choosing modern versions of traditional products in adjacent categories – idli and dosa batter, and filter coffee are two great examples of South Indian staples. There’s no similarly credible brand for South Indian snacks and sweets either in India or overseas, where today’s consumers seek authentic snacks that taste of home.
The Karam in the name is pronounced kaaram, and means spicy in Tamil, Telugu, and Kannada. Sweet Karam Coffee uses experiences to bring alive the authenticity of homemade snacks. The result? Strong D2C presence, and an engaged community, Dakshin Tales.
The founders have drawn upon their wealth of diverse experiences at companies including Unilever, RBS, Google, and Tech Mahindra to build a solid, capital efficient business. Sweet Karam’s robust sourcing and supply chain capabilities supports a clear Innovation Playbook that sees the brand partner with regional homepreneurs to create authentic recipes and test them through the community.
Every Sweet Karam snack and sweet is clean-label, and free of palm oil. The adoption of MAP technology and nitrogen flushing gives the entire range a long shelf life without the addition of preservatives, additives, or artificial flavouring.
Customers appreciate the high quality of the offering, and demonstrate it through repeat purchases that range between 40-50%.
Sweet Karam Coffee plans to scale its existing product portfolio from authentic Tamil Nadu-focused products to a range of products authentic to other South Indian states as well. This will move the current product mix of 37% snacks, 20% sweets, and 37% other products to 50% snacks and 24% sweets by FY29.
The brand has earned an enormous amount of customer love, with 75% of people buying it for its strong brand story, and the fact that it is a branded, packaged product. 90% of all people surveyed rated the product range as 9-10 on a scale of 1-10. This high rating also translates into 100% of people saying they would recommend it to friends and family, and 90% saying they would buy Sweet Karam Coffee again.
The ESG approach
Sweet Karam is truly a product of its time, and is very conscious of giving back to the community. The brand works directly with a village called Pudukottai in Tamil Nadu, whose 1000-odd farmers grow millets and manufacture snacks and sweets. The manufacturing process is led by women, with an astonishing 70% of employees preparing and packaging the snacks being women. The brand actively promotes South Indian tradition, and helps communicate it to the younger generation.
On the environmental front, Sweet Karam products use recyclable PET packaging, and the team is actively seeking out better options. The brand is proudly clean label, with no palm oil, unlike many of its competitors. Sweet Karam recipes also use grains like millets that are traditional superfoods that are much less resource-intensive..
Home-style South Indian snacks cater to a large and exciting market, both, in India, and overseas. At Fireside, we’ve seen Sweet Karam Coffee win the love of customers across Tamil Nadu. Their NPD playbook, and strong community connect will help them take the brand to the next level – to the rest of South India, and far beyond.
We’re very excited to be part of their journey of making genuine South Indian snacks available to all.