India GameChanger recorded an interesting conversation with Jacob George, Co-founder & CEO of Eatopia. Eatopia provides pure, healthy, sustainable, fun-sized, delicious and super nutritious packaged foods.
Some of the topics Jacob covered:
- Jacob’s job experiences working with major brands in India
- Jacob’s rationale to study food technology
- Eatopia’s huge market potential
- How the term “Superfood” is being incorrectly used or overused in the food industry
- The differences between using honey and refined sugar in food
- Eatopia’s future plans
Some other titles we considered for this episode:
- Where There’s Healthy Food, There’s No Taste
This episode was produced by Stephanie Ng.
Read the best-effort transcript below (This technology is still not as good as they say it is…):
Michael Waitze 0:04
Hi, this is Michael Waitze and welcome back to India GameChanger. Today should be a good one. Today we are joined by Jacob George, a Co-founder and the CEO at Eatopia. Love the name of this company. By the way, Jacob, thank you so much for doing the show. How are you doing?
Jacob George 0:19
I’m doing great, Michael, thank you so much for inviting me for this show. It’s a pleasure for me to be part of this
Michael Waitze 0:25
awesome. Do you do a lot of recording?
Jacob George 0:29
Part of recordings? Yeah,
Michael Waitze 0:32
yes. Do you enjoy it? Or is it just like drudgery feel like, oh god, why do I have to do this kind of thing? Or do you enjoy you?
Jacob George 0:38
Know, I really enjoy it. I really enjoy it. And I love speaking to you, Michael, you
Michael Waitze 0:42
know, do you ever think about having your own show? Like just a show about food?
Jacob George 0:46
I don’t think, you know, just being rooting me doing some recordings I’ll be able to capable of, you know, performing a show like you women, you know, it’s the capability and the competency for the show is should be humongous. Which I don’t think I have right now. I’ll be doing later. For sure. Maybe I when I reach at your age, I’ll be doing it. That’s gonna
Michael Waitze 1:05
be so long in the future. Like, push this off? I mean, push this off, like three decades. Sorry. No, it’s okay. It’s so good. I love every second of it. Because here’s the thing. The great thing about age jokes, right? Which everybody loves is that it’s the only thing you can’t stop from happening. Right? So like, like, even if you lose all your hair, there’s a way to fix that. If you gain a little bit too much weight, you can always change your diet and go on some exercise, but like, you can’t stop getting older every year you’re gonna be a year older and then someday you’re gonna look back and somebody who’s your age is gonna make fun of you for being 57 years old. You’re just gonna be like, anyway, I love it.
Jacob George 1:48
So with the with the but then But then you look over but then you’re very young in your mind. You know, that’s, that’s the thing. You know, you’re very and
Michael Waitze 1:56
I feel like I’m super young. But let’s see how I feel tomorrow morning when I wake up. Okay. Let’s get a little bit of your background for some context. Before we jump into the main part of this conversation.
Jacob George 2:07
My name is Jacob Georgia and I’m from the southern part of India and I come from God’s own country where we speak God’s own language. You know, I’m from Kerala and we speak Malayalam, if you feel when you hear my English will also feel like you know, Mr. Lu speaking English, Malaysia will be Malayalam is it it will be you know, the kind of English I speak the funniest part of that. So I’ve done my 10th and 12th, from Kerala. And post that I’ve taken BTech in food engineering, food technology. So I’m a food technologist. I’ve done a BTech in food technology Ocampos that I’ve done MBA in operation. After my education, I got an opportunity to work with the company called sun light industry, which is based in Cochin, isn’t Kerala and from 2009 2013, I was working with sunlight, I was a senior specialist, I was working in product development. Post that I’ve got an opportunity to work with a company called ITC and 2013. In 2017, I was working with IPC ITC is one of the major FMCG company a conglomerate which is based in India. And I was handling the major divisions or major products of ITC. And I was working with one of the finest brands of India from 2017 2021. I was working with a company called Mariko, which is based in Mumbai. So I have an experience of 13 years which working with FMCG different components of India and I’ve been working with major finest brands of India, where you name it p bingo, you know Sephora, masala, oats, these are the major brands which have worked before. So during Vida was working with this companies, you know, I was actually interacting with the consumers. And while I was interacting with the consumers, I understood one thing is the biggest gap which is there in the market, when the packaged foods are available in the market healthy products and you will get tasty products. Wherever there is help. You will not find taste.
Michael Waitze 3:56
So let me ask you this. I want to back up though, because I think you make a really good point. You went to school to study food technology. Yeah, absolutely. So why where does that come from? In other words, is your is your family in the food business? Does your mom run a restaurant? Is your is your dad like a world renowned chef? Like where does that come from?
Jacob George 4:14
No, no, my dad is a working was a working professional. My mom is a homemaker. We were not knowing about even I was not knowing about food technology. When I was 12 standard. So you know there’s a trend that after 12 You have to go for engineering or you have to go for some professional courses. Right? But then I was not very studious. I was a backbencher. Right. I was not studious at all. I was a backbencher. So I told my parents I love tech, mechanical engineering. I love tech AI. I love tech Tripoli, right? But then when I was scanning through the industrial scanning through the websites, I found this food technology food processing and engineering, okay, and this university called karma University. So at that time, it is new in my eyes You know, I have never heard about and I always want to try some knew before jumping into that I checked with the seniors I also checked with my other people and, and my father actually pushed me to do this. Because my work father was having many colleagues who was working in food industry. And he told me that food technology will be one of the booming the next trend of the industry. If you ask me who motivated me to do this course is my father. Interesting. So I expect them I love my father, just for telling me to do this, you know, the particular course
Michael Waitze 5:26
what’s the view? In other words, because I think we’re at an inflection point and I was actually talking to somebody about this yesterday about the way we consume food and about the way that food is going to be both made and distributed. Right and I think part of the reason why I was thinking about this was because I have another show called the Social Innovation podcast. And the gentleman that hosts that shows all Dastoor had Andre Munez who runs a company called next gen foods in Singapore on the show. So I’m thinking about this a lot. Why do you think that the whole food industry is going to change if you do if you agree with that thesis and why do you think that we’re there’s healthy food there’s no taste
Jacob George 6:06
good question. Thank you this revolution which is happening in food industry right now is a great revolution which is happening in the food industry right now. If you see let us take snacks right if let’s take the snacking industry let’s take a snacking industrial snacking category altogether place initially all the snacks were made with potatoes you will defy political snags delays and all these you know everything has been made with but then there is a transition happened from quarter to quarter if you go to any market you will find potato chips you will also find corn puffs corn based products on chips kind of thing. Yeah. Spark gone, you know, this transition has happened from one green nor one product one raw metal to either the raw material. Now if you’ve seen oats as the category is picking, you know, oats, oats path, the snacks, which made with oats, if you go to any supermarkets, you will find oats based snacks. So this literally says that there’s a transition which is happening in each and every category in food segment. Right. So health, he’s something which is actually a concern for the generation of this generation post COVID Yeah, for sure. Before COVID It was not literally it was a concern. Yes, there was, you know, Genesis, there was the generations who was actually looking for healthy food, but then the problem was there in the market was that when you have healthy food, you will not get taste, when you have tasty food, when you want to have a tasty food, then you will not have held in that. Because you know, if you want to make a tasty food, you want to have so much of either to be fried, or it should be filled with sugar or preservatives, colours, flavours and everything. Right. And if you want to have a healthy food, healthy bar protein bar, then there will be so much of whey protein and you know, so much of healthy ingredients in that product. So you will you will have to compromise the taste factor. Go ahead. Now, that’s the biggest gap in the industry. Right? You know, wherever you want, you know, you want to enjoy the food. I mean, you know, it’s food is all about taste. Food is all about indulgence. Food is all about wholesome, you know. So it’s a wholesome intention they should be when I’m talking about wholesome, right, it should have good amount of protein, carbs, fibre, good fats, you know, five, I mean, you know, micronutrients, antioxidants, everything has to be there and that without compromising the taste, right. So how do we do that? That? You don’t? Yeah, that’s what Utopia gets in. That’s where the huge market potential of Ethiopia comes in.
Michael Waitze 8:30
But how does this work in the context of Indian food, right? In other words, when I walked on a snack aisle in the United States, to be fair, I haven’t lived in United States and 30 something years, but if I simulate doing that, you’re right, I see potato chips. I see corn chips, I see Skittles and all this, like, you know, Jelly Bean stuff. So it’s either the stuff you’ve already talked about, or the sugar stuff that you’ve kind of intimated. But what does it look like in India has the same progression happened from potato to corn to oats, and x? But if it because when I think about Indian food, right, I think about I mean, it’s all varied, right? Obviously, from state to state from town to town, and southern Indian food is going to be different than middle and northern Indian food for sure. But when you look in the context of the food that Indian people eat on a regular basis, where does the healthiness and what Eatopia is trying to build fit into the existing diet? Does that make sense?
Jacob George 9:28
If you see Indian food culture, right, every state every pin code has different taste different ingredients in difference in it. Well, let’s take a sound and let’s take note, let’s divide it into sour nocturna Traditional Foods has been made with minutes. Let’s take an example of Idli dosa sambar, which is the traditional South Indian breakfast which is also by no it’s not fried it legally if you take you know it’s been made by the grandmas at home, you know, it’s with the New diamond is a race you know. And the sandbar has been made with the oil so it’s a perfect combination of protein. It’s the perfect combination of fibre. It’s a perfect combination of good carbs. So, whatever you want it to have, or whatever you the body needs, the wholesomeness. The intelligence has been already there has been made by the traditional made by our grandparents. But then what happened the generation from 2000 What happened? The packaged food comes into comes into picture, the whole lot of packaged food, the convenience, the noodles, industry, the disruption or revolution of noodles, the disruption revolution of Cokes, and Pepsi’s and lays has been actually, you know, made people or, you know, to come down from healthy and to negotiate the healthy factor and to have convenience and tasty food. Right, yeah. So right now what’s happening, people are going back to the traditional people are going back to the Midlands, people are going back to the dial, people are going back to the soybeans, people are going back to the healthy ingredients. So millet revolution is happening in India. So mainly it’s a traditional, the cereals, you know, which is actually grown in India, rich in protein and fibre,
Michael Waitze 11:11
if you literally just stay away from processed food, processed sugar, you’re halfway or like, 65% of the way to having a great diet, right? Because anything that’s growing, right or that’s unprocessed, is almost by definition. Not bad for you. I won’t even say Good for you, but it’s not bad for you, right? Like if you just take a piece of corn, shuck it, steam it, and lightly salted what’s wrong with that, like there’s not of course you don’t want to 12 years of corn but having two is not bad for you. Right and broccoli and oats or whatever, and grains are not necessarily bad for you. But once you start processing them and put sugar in them and then putting preservatives in them and hoping that they can last for a month and a half. That’s when you start running into big problems. No,
Jacob George 11:56
absolutely right. Absolutely. Right. So the goal is boiled at home the steamed home the boiled corn at home boiled boiled corn at home the steamed corn at home one of the I give to my kids right now also, I mean you know it was being given to my kid yesterday. So you know, it’s actually when it comes to processing when it comes to the processed food where when you have to add preservatives to increase the shelf life yeah, that’s what injury is all about. Yeah, so
Michael Waitze 12:25
what does Utopia do?
Jacob George 12:27
Utopia is all about we are here to revolutionise food industry with a philosophy of no evil at all go ahead evil in the food industry is being we are here to eliminate the evil in the food industry.
Michael Waitze 12:43
How does that work?
Jacob George 12:44
The biggest mission we are the biggest machine we are in right so the evil part is always a killing for any human being. But then we ask it Opia we provide natural wholesome intelligence for our consumers we don’t compromise with any of the ingredients that we’re using. The ingredients that we are using are super foods when I’m talking about super food super food is one of the terminology which is abused by the you know industry but then we wanted to really we are using super foods so any of our any of our packaged food products is being made with nuts, seeds, honey, foods and millets let’s take an example of right in your screen it is showing in that pop nut pops energy snack made with the nuts seeds honey nothing else
Michael Waitze 13:40
but but it’s still packaged right so one of the because this is super instinctive me but one of the things you were talking about before is once you have to package it then you have to add all these other ingredients to it so how do you do this? In a way that’s healthy, but still only using ingredients that are not bad for me right with no evil just using honey and nuts and bolts and millets and stuff like that. But you still put it in a package How does it last?
Jacob George 14:02
Why do you want to add you know processed ingredients in a product is just to reduce the cost. There are ways of using writing really it’s to make a good quality product without adding preservatives, colours flavours and everything. Oh, if you see let’s take an example of nap pubs energy snack, the packaged food product, but then I’m not adding refined sugar in it. Refined sugar is being replaced with honey honey has been used as a sweetener here, honey actually is a natural preservatives we don’t have to add. So if you see the aisle with the texture honey has been used as one of the basic products in all the Ayurvedic products right so if you see the honey jam, you know the back of the thing, honey jam is actually one of kind of USP has been launched by Ethiopia. So initially when we launched honey jam, we thought we are the first in India to launch but then when we travelled to GCC and Asian countries and European countries we understood that we are the world’s number one guy is the launch honey jam. So jam is one of the most adulterated products in the industry because in the category because it has 70, approximately 65 to 70 percentage of sugar has been used in JAM but then what we have done we have replaced that sugar with real foods and pure honey.
Michael Waitze 15:15
And that’s not bad for me like if you make strawberry jam, I’m looking at you have mixed berry honey jam. So you just take natural berries don’t add any processed sugar, no refined sugar, you just mix honey and nuts in there. And that’s it.
Jacob George 15:29
Absolutely right. It’s just a combination of 70 percentage of fruits and rest is honey, you don’t have any refined sugar in this
Michael Waitze 15:36
does that solve the problem and keep it healthy? Or is it just a different kind of sugar on nice
Jacob George 15:40
and natural sugar? Refined sugar is sugar. Yeah. Alright, so there are different kinds when you use a refined sugar. Despite the peak It’s sugar fast. But then when you use honey, you know it takes time. So that’s the difference between when you use the honey and when you use any refined sugar or you know any any any other trigger replaces.
Michael Waitze 16:00
Okay, and is this are you just making snack kind of food? Or are you just trying to disintermediate the entire part of the food chain?
Jacob George 16:07
Yeah, everything we are not just focusing on snacks, we are also focusing on different food products for different food category. So we started with honey. Then we launched honey jam. So we are the sprouts category. We are also the snacks category. So we launched nut pops the energy snack, we have launched fruit minis again energy snack which made with a good amount of fruits. Then we have launched a product called Java superfood puffs made with Jawara as a millet. We also launched the oat puffs again, you know, a superfood oat puffs, which is not fried, which is not big. It’s slow roasted.
Michael Waitze 16:41
Okay, how do you get this thing to scale? Right? And does it matter whether these foods are locally produced and locally sourced or you kind of don’t care? Do you know what I mean? Like if you’re making it all natural, shouldn’t you make it from the stuff that’s around you? Or is this supply chain so efficient today that even inside of India, you can get stuff from all over the country and still make it in a way that’s, that’s healthy?
Jacob George 17:07
Absolutely right. So basically, let’s take an example of honey jam. I’m seeing a place called Maharashtra in Mumbai. And mulberry is and strawberry is being grown in a place called Maha ratio, which is near to Mumbai. So it’s just a firehouse, you know from Mumbai. So we are working with farmers. We are working with farmers and we are directly sourcing mulberries and strawberries from farmers, and we store it. Honey has been sourced directly from our own beekeepers. And then that’s how we sourced it. So we have a strong supply chain. We have strong people. I mean, we have farmers we directly sourcing from farmers, and we are also in the mission of empowering farmers and giving the right price to them. So the raw material has been sourced locally. Other than oats everything has been sourced locally.
Michael Waitze 17:53
And you have your own beekeepers. Yes, you’re making your own honey to
Jacob George 18:01
Michael Waitze 18:03
So what are you what have you learned about making honey? Like how long does it take to make honey? And don’t the bees have to like fly around and find flowers? Like how does that work?
Jacob George 18:14
So it’s a long story then go for it
Michael Waitze 18:17
summarise just summarise for me.
Jacob George 18:19
So basically, we are partnering with Khadi village industries Corporation KV, IC and the government of India and government of India there’s a corporation called KV IC and under them there are 10 1000s of B clusters, the cluster groups there. So we are directly working with the beekeepers and then we are empowering them helping them to you know, the handle the honey farming. So basically you answer you it takes around 20 to 25 days. So getting a good honey at the right season. So that’s how we source it and you know, we give the boxes and everything to the farmers and we have the Farm to Fork process has been streamlined. And once the honey has been you know collected one level of filtration happened at farm and then we will take the honey to our processing unit we sterilise it and then we pack it and we will distribute it that’s what we do.
Michael Waitze 19:12
And is there a is there like an ESG angle to this as well because you’ve spent some time talking about you’re paying a fair price to the farmers is there you know what I mean? Like is there a sustainability angle to this that you haven’t mentioned yet?
Jacob George 19:25
Absolutely right. So there is a price since we are working with Codevilla industries Corporation, there is a price given by the government, the set price given by the government for the particular kind of honeys particular kind of money so we are justifying to them and sometimes you know when the yield is less we always give 1015 percentage extra to that. So that’s how we do
Michael Waitze 19:45
got it. So how long is Utopia been around?
Jacob George 19:49
It has been precisely one point 11 years we are touching to here in January and how big is it now? We are Indian based company and then they started we are actually based in Mumbai, and our products are available in pan India through our website, we are there an online and offline offline market we are there in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Pune and we are also expanding to the different parts of the India right now in offline market only in market. Our products are available, you know, we are a DTC company and our products are available our website. Also our products are available in Amazon Flipkart, the major e commerce marketplaces in India, and this is an intense scenario. Our products are also available in GCC market. The products are also available in Dubai. And our products are also available in Malaysia.
Michael Waitze 20:28
And how many people work in Utopia now like how many scientists you have there designing food or doing food engineering?
Jacob George 20:36
So altogether we have around 50 People working with a very small company, we have about 50 people working with us right now, including food technologies, including our marketing seals and you know, Operation teams, I got
Michael Waitze 20:47
it. And have you been Have you been funded or have you bootstrapped the whole thing?
Jacob George 20:52
No, we have been funded. So the parent company is based in Malaysia. The name of the company is Macworld mecole is based in Malaysia. And Macworld is a conglomerate basically, they are into trading of oil, they are in the trading of a grid commodities. They are basically in the b2b, they had a vision to pitch into FMCG segment, the b2c directly, you know, interacting with the consumers. That’s how, you know, we as a part of macarons vision we have launched, Miguel and the need to piece a brand of Miguel.
Michael Waitze 21:20
Got it. Okay, so what can we expect next from utopia.
Jacob George 21:23
As I said, we are here to understand the market need, we are here to help our consumers and we are here to expand or understand or revolutionise the market, with no evil at all products, so when I’m talking about no evil at all, it is not just in food industry, we are also into society, we are also reaching out to society, we recently we was part of all work for freedom, voc was involved in, you know, against the slavery. So we are a part of social movements we are a part of, we are also part of a platform called or NGO coalition rescue, which they are into helping the people who are living in slum with education and food. We are the nutrition partner for vision rescue. So Ethiopia, asset company as a brand, as a brand with half a purpose is a brand with the purpose to not just contain only in food industry, we are also pitching into the world with the banner of no evil at all.
Michael Waitze 22:19
So one last thing and then I’ll let you go. Are your parents proud of you now from being in the food business?
Jacob George 22:27
Absolutely. They’re very happy with the way and I’m really happy to see my parents. The smile on my parents face. Yeah,
Michael Waitze 22:36
that is awesome. Okay, Jacob George, Co-founder and CEO of Eatopia. That was awesome. Thank you so much for doing this today, man.
Jacob George 22:42
Thank you. Thank you. It was absolute pleasure. Talking with you and I really enjoyed it. Thank you so much.
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