Rachel and Andy Berliner founded Amy’s Kitchen in America in 1987 with one dish—a vegetable pot pie. Today, the 30-year-old organic frozen foods giant—named after the couple’s daughter, Amy—boasts more than 250 vegetarian, organic and non-GMO products (including frozen entrées, pizzas, burritos, canned food, pasta sauces and confectionery), employs 2,600 workers and operates across 30 international markets, including Australia, the UK, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Canada, Germany, France, Finland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden.
Following a successful 1-year test market in India since 2016-end, the California-headquartered company is now geared to expand its retail network beyond Delhi NCR, where it has already gained popularity, as well as, begin manufacturing locally by establishing local procurement and a production unit, for which an adequate location is being scouted currently. Rutaksha Rawat had a word with founder, RACHEL BERLINER, about the multimillion-dollar brand’s India plans, her assessment of the Indian Organic Market and her special connect with the country.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO LAUNCH IN INDIA? HOW ARE YOU POSITIONING AMY’S HERE, IN TERMS OF BRANDING?
Rachel Berliner: We believe there is a real need for convenient, delicious, and vegetarian prepared meals, snacks and pizzas in India. Amy’s has been committed to making vegetarian food since our founding, but we have found that both vegetarians and non vegetarians love our food. India, with its rich food history around vegetarian food, is a great opportunity for a brand like ours.
Amy’s has always focused first on making delicious, high quality food that our consumers trust. Our products also happen to be vegetarian, non-GMO, and organic—which are important principles for our brand.
“We will manufacture locally and are currently assessing the best location for a production facility. We are also introducing ourselves to and beginning work with many great organic farmers, farmer groups, and processors across Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala and more. We strongly believe long term mutually beneficial relationships are the best way to ensure the success of the farmers and Amy’s. In the US, we helped many organic and non-GMO farmers get started and worked in partnership with them to help them grow and improve”
WHICH STORES ARE YOU AVAILABLE AT CURRENTLY AND WHAT ARE YOUR INDIA OFFERINGS?
Rachel Berliner: We are currently selling 10 different frozen items across pizzas, snacks, and meals, besides four canned soups. Amy’s is available at select retail outlets in the Delhi/NCR region, including 24 Seven, Le Marche, Modern Bazaar, Foodhall and HyperCity. We plan to expand to Mumbai in 2018 and will eventually grow retail across the whole of India.
SHARE WITH US THE RESPONSE RECEIVED FROM INDIAN CONSUMERS.
Rachel Berliner: We have had a great response to our products so far. We’re hearing great feedback on the taste, convenience, and organic and non-GMO ingredients in our products. Our new consumers in India have been pleasantly surprised at how delicious frozen food can be, with many saying our pizzas are better than delivery! We are seeing the strongest response for the pizzas and snacks, though all of our products are doing well. Consumers are very excited they can get great taste and value while still choosing an organic and non-GMO product.
WHO IS YOUR AVERAGE CONSUMER IN INDIA?
Rachel Berliner: Amy’s products are loved by many people, so we don’t have a specific “average” consumer. We find that the young professional, working parents, university students, and the elderly—are all big fans of our food. We are focused on keeping our pricing competitive so as many people as possible can enjoy our organic products.
WHAT IS YOUR ASSESSMENT OF THE ORGANIC MARKET IN INDIA?
Rachel Berliner: We see huge potential for the organic market in India. When Amy’s was founded in the US, the organic market was in its infancy. We helped work on the original national standards and were one of the pioneering brands in helping create a US Organic Industry. The same culinary and health needs that drove the growth of Organic in the US are clearly present in India now.
As consumers become more aware of the toxic pesticides that are used in conventional farming, they will realise that Organic is the best choice for the health of our plants, farmers, and consumers. And they will also find that the products just taste better. We strongly believe that Organic will become a major industry here in India. We want to help the domestic Indian market with choices for non-GMO and organic foods. It is very important to us to support and develop a farming system in India that places consumer and farmer health as a priority.
THE CONVENTIONAL INDIAN FAMILY LAYS EMPHASIS ON FRESHLY MADE FOOD AND FROZEN FOODS HAVE BEEN LARGELY LIMITED TO DEEP FRIED SNACKS. HOW IS AMY’S COMBATING THIS MINDSET?
Rachel Berliner: We think the best way to help change this mindset is for people to try our food. When they taste the flavour and freshness they understand we are offering something different. Our high quality ingredients also vouch for us. For example, when we source fresh organic vegetables from the farm, they are often processed and frozen within hours of being harvested, which ensures a very high quality and fresh product for the customer, and this is manifested in the taste and quality of the product.
Frozen is actually the most natural way to preserve food as it only requires temperature. All of the nutrients and taste are maintained.
WILL YOU MANUFACTURE LOCALLY? WHO ARE YOUR PARTNERS IN INDIA?
Rachel Berliner: Yes, we intend to manufacture locally and are currently assessing the best location for a production facility. We are also introducing ourselves to and beginning work with many great organic farmers, farmer groups, and processors across Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala and more. While we haven’t alliances or contracts yet, we do work that way in the US and Europe and plan to do the same in India. We strongly believe long term mutually beneficial relationships are the best way to ensure the success of the farmers and Amy’s. In the US, we helped many organic and non-GMO farmers get started and worked in partnership with them to help them grow and improve.
Our marketing partner and importer for Amy’s in India is Gurmi Foods Pvt Ltd.
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES YOU FACE IN THE INDIAN MARKET?
Rachel Berliner: The frozen cold chain is still a challenge. We find that primary transport is reliable and easy to source, but the last mile can sometimes be difficult. We are working in partnership with distributors, logistics providers, and retailers to continue to drive improvements in the cold chain. We have also found retailers to be very flexible and great partners in helping develop our brand.
We plan to take a careful, thoughtful, approach to growth. It is important that we work with retailers, who are experts in selling frozen and organic foods, so we’d rather grow slower but do so with high quality.
SHARE WITH US YOUR CONNECTION WITH INDIA. I BELIEVE YOU MET YOUR HUSBAND HERE?
Rachel Berliner: This is true. Andy and I met at a spiritual retreat in India in the late 1970s! We were both attracted to the culture and spiritual practices found here and have been coming back almost every year ever since. We have many great friends living in India and part of our desire to start Amy’s in India was guided by listening to their needs. India has given both of us so much and we hope that through Amy’s we can give back by providing high quality organic foods to consumers and supporting farmers with better pay and healthier practices.
This interview appeared in the January-March 2018 issue of Pure & Eco India magazine