There’s now a World Vada Day. 8 August, or 8/8. A date that looks like a stack of vadas—the doughnut-shaped, crispy, deep-fried savoury made of lentils. iD Fresh Food, the company that announced the day, also launched an online game, where one feeds a hungry monster with vadas, to promote it.
This marketing is just the latest move by Bengaluru-based iD Fresh, which has maintained a stranglehold on the ready-to-cook market in south India over the last 14 years. A near-monopoly built by catering exclusively to the palettes of South Indians, all with just 10 broad products—various batters, flatbreads, etc.
About 45% of iD’s sales come from readymade batters for two products—idlis and dosas; the former, a type of steamed savoury rice cake, and the latter, a crepe of sorts. And it was with idli-dosa batter that P.C. Musthafa started iD Fresh back in 2005, based out of a small 50-square-feet kitchen in Thippasandra, Bengaluru.
Today, iD Fresh is in 15 cities in south India and six cities in western India, including Mumbai and Pune. Additionally, it has also entered both the UAE as well as, more recently, the United States, targeting the Indian diaspora in both countries.
iD has done this by capturing the unorganised batter-making sector through three key attributes:
- Brand positioning—iD’s preservative-and-chemical-free products enjoy a fierce loyalty in kirana (mom-and-pop) stores among both shopkeepers and customers
- Well-knit distribution—iD’s supply chain management techniques are top-notch, even becoming a case study at Harvard Business School
- Constant innovation—some of iD’s packaging, including for its idli-dosa batter, is patent protected
iD Fresh Foods India Pvt Ltd now has 16 unique products, including an organic range. Its revenue has more than doubled over the past four years to Rs 210 crore ($29.5 million) in the year ended March 2019, according to Musthafa. Its losses have widened to Rs 27.2 crore ($3.8 million) in the year ended March 2018 from Rs 6.7 crore ($940,000) two years prior, according to company research platform Tofler. The numbers for 2019 were not available on the platform.
iD undoubtedly enjoyed a first-mover advantage, and its rise has come alongside the growth in the ready-to-cook market—which grew at 15-20% over the past five years, according to research firm Research and Markets. As the constant hustle and bustle of daily life in urban Indian leaves increasingly little time for activities like cooking, convenience has become key.
Instant noodles and soups are best-sellers, of course, but the ready-to-cook category, in which iD falls, is also growing robustly. The overall market is expected to more than double to Rs 1,300 crore ($182.4 million) by 2023, according to research firm TechSci Research.