By Devaki Bhooshan
An exciting online review site that rates food brands based on their nutritional and calorific value. And it’s not afraid to give Coca Cola just a half ‘kaddu’ (star)
Look closer at the food you eat on a daily basis and take for granted—the packet of noodles or chips you snacked on, the biscuits with your morning tea, the tomato sauce for your sandwich, even the bread in the sandwich. What’s the common denominator in the lot? They’re all processed foods.
It’s common knowledge that they are high in calorie, sugar, and fat, and abundant in all the wrong kind of chemicals, ie, various preservatives, additives, MSG and transfats—the list being too long to be accounted here. And as guilty as we may feel when gulping down a can of ‘diet‘ coke or chomping on that wonderful ‘energy’ chocolate bar, let’s face it—processed food is convenient, delicious and practically impossible to avoid.
So in our less-than-ideal world, the most we can do is try to pick the healthier of the packaged foods available in our market— a task no less arduous than trying to find a needle in a haystack of tactfully advertised food products. This absence of guidance in the Indian processed food market is what Purple Kaddu aims to fill.
“Purple Kaddu’s rating system is based on a unique algorithm that uses nutritional facts and ingredients to determine the health quotient of a product. It’s like having a personal nutritionist, who guides you to pick healthy products at any given time and place”
Mansi Belani Modi, Nutritionist, Purple Kaddu
Purple Kaddu uses Algorithms for Ratings
Founded by entrepreneurs Vishal Davda, Sangeeta Iyer and Saurabh Jain late last year and based out of Mumbai, Purple Kaddu is a food review website with a difference. The first of its kind in India, it analyses and rates packaged foods based on their nutritive value. A product can earn a rating on a scale of one to five pumpkins or kaddus (instead of the conventional stars), with unhealthy products like Coca Cola earning half a kaddu and healthy products being awarded five kaddus. But that’s not all. The website also provides comprehensive information about each food product—the ingredients, its calorie count and a detailed nutrition review.
“We are not slandering products—the information we provide is backed by facts,” Vishal Davda, Co founder, Purple Kaddu
Talking about the science behind the rating system, Mansi Belani Modi, nutritionist at Purple Kaddu says, “Purple Kaddu’s rating system is based on a unique algorithm that uses the nutritional facts and ingredients to determine the health quotient of a product. It’s like having a personal nutritionist who guides you to pick healthy products at a super market.” Products are evaluated on parameters such as fat, sugar, salt, protein and fibre content, and the degree to which it is vegan friendly. Information on allergies related to products is another innovative feature. The website also lets you sign up to receive updates and newsletters from Purple Kaddu.
Purple Kaddu is run by a team of six members. Apart from the founders, the team consists of nutritionists Ankeeta Gandhi and Mansi Belani Modi. Dr Kasturi Sen Ray, an eminent nutritionist, Professor at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), and President of the Mumbai chapter of the Nutrition Society of India, serves as a guide and mentor.
The website is extremely relevant in today’s health conscious but pressed for time world. “Convenience makes us reach out to packaged food, and it’s part and parcel of life today, we can’t avoid it. At least if we have to eat packaged food, let’s eat the healthiest,” says co founder Sangeeta Iyer.
The motto of Purple Kaddu ‘Indulge with Joy’ is reflected in what Vishal Davda, co founder, says, “Purple Kaddu is all about helping people make the right choices, choices that are suitable to them, without imposing restrictions.” The quirky website name embodies their food philosophy: purple signifies the goodness they are trying to find in processed foods, and kaddus are used as a rating symbol because of the high nutrition content of pumpkins.
This trio of entrepreneurs are not new to the business of starting up. They also founded Taxsmile, a website that aids people in filing their tax returns online easily. However, Purple Kaddu was born out of something more personal. It was often observed that people lacked even the very basic knowledge about the calorific content of processed food and the harm it can cause. An anecdote recounted by the founders exposes the tip of a serious problem: a mother known to them was once seen offering her kids ragi biscuits without realising that what she considered a harmless snack also contained an artificial sweetener called aspartame, which is not recommended for children. Incidents such as this kept recurring, and eventually prompted them to start Purple Kaddu.
But it wasn’t going to be simple— none of them had a background in nutrition, to begin with. They toyed with the idea for few months before finally assembling a team of nutritionists who would work alongside them on the core of their business, ie, the algorithm that would generate reviews. Perfecting the algorithm so that it could correctly deal with a wide range of products and generate accurate reviews required a lot of time and dedication.
Although similar websites for international markets such as NutritionRank and GoodGuide have been around for a long time, Purple Kaddu is the first such service that caters specifically to the Indian market. That there are no institutions in the country such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US—which maintains a database of all packaged food available in the market, thereby making data easily available online—meant that the Purple Kaddu team had to work from a scratch. It was essential to first create a database of products and only then begin the process of reviewing them— both extremely tedious and time consuming exercises.
Once they were satisfied with their work, they launched their website in November last year. Currently, Purple Kaddu has somewhere between seven and eight hundred products listed on their website. They have managed to cover a wide range of food items—from beverages and dairy products to packaged meals, snacks and even bakery products. New products are added on a daily basis based on what’s popular in the market. They are also not afraid of taking on big brands like Coke and Lay’s by giving unbiased and accurate reviews. “We are providing information backed by facts rather than slandering a product,” states Davda matter of factly.
The good news is that consumer participation indicates that their hard work has paid off. Not only does the website get a high number of visitors per day, consumers are also participating by giving feedback and suggestions to the enterprise—which the team attends to religiously in order to improve and refine Purple Kaddu further. Amusingly, the website is also particularly popular with children who are looking to prove a point to their parents by using Purple Kaddu as a tool to persuade their parents to buy them their favourite products or to settle arguments about their beloved food items.
Purple Kaddu is a work in progress. Moving forward, they aim to add many more products to their website and to add reviews of another tier of products, ie, products that fall into the “organic” or “healthy” category. They are also working on a marketing strategy and a sustainable long term business model to generate profits (Purple Kaddu has been self funded so far). Their new website with added features is scheduled to be launched in October.
WHO RATED HOW?
Top Performers: Quaker Oats (5 kaddus), Chilled Rasam by Paper Boat (4 ½ kaddus), Maggi Atta Noodles (4 kaddus), Channa dal by Khoob Khao (4 kaddus)
Lowest Scorers (1/2 Kaddu Rating): Coca Cola, Cadbury Oreo biscuits, Lay’s chips, Hershey’s strawberry syrup, Pav Bhaji by Aashirvaad
This article appeared in the October 2015 issue of Pure & Eco India