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by Siddharth Kak May 21 2024, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 11 mins, 10 secs

Homemakerz has achieved a reasonable retail turnover every month, in Mumbai, Pune, Goa, and Gujarat, and the good thing is that their online sales through Amazon is flourishing thus the business has become sustainable, writes Siddharth Kak.

Given the national craze for instant noodles, the brain wave of Varsha Berry (bhabi) and sister-in-law Anuradha (nanad) to use healthy options for maida (all-purpose flour)  noodles, make good sense. Maida, while tasty, has low nutritional and high calorific values , which can lead to weight gain and health issues…Varsha and Anuradha have chosen another craze, dominating the health industry, substituting maida with healthy options like  millets,  which we call jowari or bajra in the local language. For one, jowari  or millet is far more dense and more difficult to make, particularly if you eliminate butter and sugar from the mix.

So, their idea was good, but the plan  to achieve parity with the ubiquitous instant white flour noodle business has been a long and difficult journey for Varsha and Anuradha, testing the resolve of both nanad  and bhabhi in making a simple version of noodles that is tasty and equally quick to prepare.

Here is where the respective talents of Nanad and Bhabhi came in useful. Varsha, who has had international experience, takes on the marketing, planning and consumer outreach, while Anuradha, whose passion is cooking, looks after the production business.

Two minute noodles are highly advertised and the Homemakerz millet noodles take just 2 1/2 to 3  minutes to make. If you wish to avoid them becoming lumpy or sticking together, pour some cold water over them after you finish with the 2 1/2 minute boil, checking to see that the noodles are still al dente, which means to say they are still firm and have not become soft and squishy. This is an important element in judging the final texture and taste.

The making of the noodles is another story, which has been accelerated now for Varsha and Anuradha with the arrival of a noodle making machine. The key element here is the stringing of the noodles on racks and then baking to a firm texture. This requires a great amount of skill and now their  workers, after hours and moulding mounds and mounds of noodle flour,  have perfected the art, much more than even their owners, who are busy maintaining quality control, production line processes, and timely marketing and deliveries.

In this, they have made two important breakthroughs. One  is in creating attractive packaging, offering a mouth-watering version of the healthy noodles. The other is in passing the test of Amazon Food products and succeeding in putting their noodles up for sale on the retail food giants website. They also offer millet rice and many different varieties of sea and grill salt and sauces. Their noodles are turning out to be best-selling items. They are now experiencing a happy dilemma of space and manpower, in trying to increase their production to meet the rapidly increasing demand, from a few hundred to thousands of packets a day. It is an exhilarating and at the same time a daunting prospect for them.

This is the major challenge of success. How to maintain quality and on time delivery when the quantities go up sharply and you lose direct control. The ladies are looking for additional factory space and skilled manpower or woman power to manage the increased load on a real-time basis. Their spotlessly clean facility is located deep in the middle of the Jogeshwari  jhuggi colony by lanes, so while part-time help may be available nearby, adequate training is a major challenge in maintaining standards.

I was  tempted to try out their recipes at home, and my daughter Pujita made a very passable “Homemakerz rava noodle” preparation using Schezwan sauce. She quite liked the result. So did I, though it was a bit lumpy in places. Perhaps we missed out on the washing of the noodles in cold water after the al dente boiling. The appearance of the perfectly formed noodles at the lunch we shared later in their Jogeshwari workplace is evidence of its many possibilities. Add broccoli, carrots and mushrooms and it is a tasty brunch. Including a few vegetables and greens and a dash of sauce or garlic salt for flavouring makes it a complete meal.

Our staff help, Sunita, made me millet rice. It is a satisfactory substitute for white rice, a bit like red or unhusked rice popular down south. Depending on the amount of water it can be a squishy khichadi, or a  dry  pulao rice. It is a convenient quick meal option, ready like the noodles within 3 minutes.

Varsha and Anuradha launched Homemakerz in 2018 and almost immediately ran into the speed breaker of the COVID pandemic. For nearly three years, having rented the new place in Jogeshwari, they were immobilised. It was the support of their families that gave them the courage to hold out and keep experimenting and testing. By the end 2020, they had passed Amazon’s quality testing parameters. The first sales they achieved were from Amazon and they have grown steadily ever since. Their persistence in providing a healthy, tasty and convenient food option  for today’s fast paced life, paid off.

Homemakerz is a handcrafted food range, from gluten-free millet noodles, millet rice, to flavoured hakka noodles, and traditional masala flavoured salts. All products are 100% vegetarian, and trans-fat, preservative and chemicals free.

I had lunch at their modest production facility  in Jogeshwari Colony. It was a touching experience to observe their homely interactions with their staff, no doubt, one of the prime reasons for their staunch staff commitment and loyalty. Local women from the colony join them when needed  for specific tasks. All of them sit together for lunch as equals…all are like one family adding to each one’s morale. And this is not a professional gimmick by Varsha and Anuradha to earn staff loyalty. It extends to their own homes as well.

Anuradha  tells me about her old Nepalese retainer Shyam Rana, who has been a member of the family for the last 30 years. Her sons touch his feet before they leave the house or when there is some important event taking place. Anuradha has told her sons that they will first invest in a house for their  retainer before they buy their own house, and the sons have agreed. It is a personalised way of offering a stake to Shyam Rana and others who matter, in their future.

For me at my age, it was interesting to travel deep into the Jogeshwari colony, observe its bustling sights and sounds, and climb up the narrow steep ladder to the first floor where they produce the noodles and lay them out before cutting, looping, steaming and baking them. No harmful frying. I was reminded of the energy, diversity and international appeal of Dharavi colony, which has given diverse opportunities to many different livelihoods, in what is known as Asia’s biggest slum.

Anuradha and Varsha have come up with some interesting recipes, which combine traditional and contemporary tastes, such as millet biryani, fluffy rice, or millet hakka noodles, even millet waffles. You can find the recipes on the Homemakerz website.

I tasted their millet vegetarian pulao and noodles, with the long firm, perfect al dente loops at their Jogeshwari work space. Anuradha had cooked up a delicious chicken pepper and chicken tikka accompaniment to the pulao and noodles with a refreshing lassi followed by a special millet kheer. Anuradha tells me that her most serene moments are when she is alone in her kitchen, and I can see and taste why.

Why are Varsha and Anuradha working so hard and battling so many odds to bring a new version of organic healthy food to your table as an innovative enterprise? By creating Homemakerz, they have both moved out of their comfort zone.

Abraham Maslow created a remarkable pyramid theory – the Maslow hierarchy of needs, which human beings of all castes, communities, faiths and economic status, throughout the world invariably follow.

The five levels of the Maslow hierarchy pyramid are from the bottom, fulfilment of physical  or physiological needs, including safety, hunger and shelter, only after fulfilment of which, one moves up to the needs of love, family, belonging, and self-esteem.

I believe that Varsha and Anuradha are moving up this pyramid to achieve self-esteem and even possibly self-actualisation, which is the top of the pyramid. Quite clearly, the motivation is not monetary. They will not merge or sell their project to a large entity, simply to make a profit. Their identity and their self-esteem is integral to the Homemakerz brand, and that, dear reader, is your greatest guarantee of  the quality and taste of their products.

COVID was their greatest challenge and became their greatest opportunity. ”Until July 2020, we were getting our millet noodles manufactured from someone else, but had no quality control,“ says Varsha. “In April 2020, we realised that our bread earners were our noodles. That is when we decided on a noodle machine. We only had enough money to buy a semi-automatic machine. Providentially, we discovered later that if we want to make pure millet noodles, then they can only be made in a semi-automatic machine! This is because the process of making millet noodles is more complicated. First, the dough has to be made, then the noodle patta, or slab, of a particular exact thickness is created by the machine. Then there is the fine cutting of the noodles, followed by the steaming of the noodles and then baking them.”

Human intervention is required hence semi-automatic works better.

Homemakerz does not fry the noodles, keeping them doubly healthy. I asked them about the kinds of millets they chose for their noodles and why? Varsha tells me, “We started with the most basic millets, as those are the popular ones, known by everyone. Then we launched neutral millets like jowar, bajra, ragi and multi grain millets as well as oats as they are even better for health. We also use positive millets, like Barnyard, Foxtail and Little millets.”

Ironically, they began with sauces and salts, which are natural and chemical free, but they are  no longer their flag bearer products although they do well online. Varsha, who handles the marketing speaks frankly, “The off-line retail market for our sauces and salts is very low as it is a cluttered market. The sauces do extremely well in the online space. The same is true of the salts. But due to being a new category, the off-line space  is a tough space.”

Homemakerz has created an attractive packaging for their noodles, salts, and sauces, in which Varsha’s husband Rajeev Berry has played an important role because of his background and experience in advertising and marketing. The key to their attractive presentation is transparent pouches,  so that the consumer can directly see the quality of the product and note the difference from other similar products.

Homemakerz has achieved a reasonable retail turnover every month, in Mumbai, Pune, Goa, and Gujarat, and the good thing is that their online sales through Amazon is flourishing thus the business has become sustainable.

“Our maximum sale is of millet noodles, “says Varsha, “The reason being that we make a clean and good product. They have no gluten and are non-fried”.

I attribute Homemakerz success to the professionalism and competence of its founders. Varsha Berry has worked globally for peace and security issues as part of the Mrinal Gore Interactive Centre for Peace and Democracy. Anuradha is a professional consultant in the field of learning and development. Varsha‘s husband Rajeev, who is deeply experienced in marketing and advertising, has been advising them on strategy, innovation, and future planning. So, while it is a family effort, it is also a professional combine, which delivers. But professional competence cannot overcome business uncertainty.

“Our biggest bottleneck is that of cash flow – we are trying to adjust this issue by making products for other brands, they send us their flour and we manufacture noodles and rice for them. We are even approaching HoReCa, the international company that  deals with hotels, restaurants and caterers, for bulk buying,“ says Varsha enthusiastically.

Are you ready to merge and grow, I ask them looking to their future?

“We are ready to grow”, they reply in one voice, “But we are not looking at a merger as yet or even at someone to have a higher stake than us. We have built the brand and brought it here on our own steam. We need to grow multi-fold, and then we shall look at merger“.

Zaikak says, “Adopt a more healthy lifestyle. Shift to millets instead of maida. It is a process. Even Homemakerz will become healthy and grow well  beyond the home.

“Remember”, Zaikak continues, “Self-actualisation is not everybody’s plate of noodles. But it just may be that of Varsha and Anuradha's, our Nanad Bhabhi Homemakerz!

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The writers are solely responsible for any claims arising out of the contents of this article.