Most parents share one concern: providing healthy snacks for their children. Healthy snacks help children manage their hunger and improve their nutrition. Snacks can keep them from becoming irritable due to hunger. Snacks can help you avoid overeating at meals. Snacks are also an opportunity for picky eaters of all ages to add more nutrients to their diets.
âDespite being a $15 billion industry, Indian families donât have access to healthy and tasty options,â says Ahana Gautam, Co-founder and CEO, of Open Secret. As the daughter of a working mother, Ahana Gautam had seen it personally. She witnessed firsthand the difficulties families face in providing healthy and convenient snack options for their children.
The countryâs snack market, which stood at $5.57 billion in 2020, is expected to reach $13 billion by 2026.
âThis struggle transcends generations. Today, I see my sister-in-law facing the same challenges as my niece. We are committed to addressing a motherâs guilt by providing better options. That led to the birth of Open Secret,â Ahana says.
Open Secret, a Mumbai-based company that aims to âUn-junk India,â was founded in 2019 and targeted childrenâs snacking white space. Ahanaâs struggle originated from her childhood in Bharatpur, a small town in Rajasthan, where a working mother raised her. âAfter school, I used to binge on junk food.â I was three times my current size and constantly sick. âI had no idea my eating habits were affecting my health and well-being back then,â she recalls.
She became inspired to work in the snacks industry at Harvard Business School. Unlike foreign supermarkets, which had aisles full of healthy snacking options, Ahana noticed that Indian supermarkets lacked the same when her sister-in-law struggled to find healthy snack brands for her daughter. âThat brought back memories of my childhood,â she says. In 2019, Ahana and co-founder Udit Kejriwal launched the healthy snack brand Open Secret.
Ahana holds a B.Tech degree from IIT-Bombay and an MBA from Harvard Business School. She began her career at P&G, working in various supply chain, finance, and marketing departments. She developed her interest in food brands while working at General Mills in the United States, where she launched natural and organic products.
Ahana co-founded Open Secret with Udit Kejriwal, an IIT-Kharagpur batchmate who also holds an MBA from IIM Ahmedabad. He began his career at P&G and McKinsey & Company and has a few years of supply chain and operations experience. The rest of the team comprises marketers and strategists with extensive experience and backgrounds in the FMCG industry.
According to Ahana, Open Secret is a purpose-driven company that aims to ask âwhyâ and challenge industry norms with its spin. âAnd our Northstar was right in front of us â mothers!â Several mothers have guided us on this path to realising our brandâs potential. âOur goal is to dejunk all of Indiaâs and Bharatâs favourite snacks,â she says.
The team then researched some of the most popular snacks, such as cookies, chocolates, chips, and so on, all while using ingredients that mothers love and approve of. Jaggery was used in place of refined sugar in chocolates. âWe use nuts to do a lot of dejunking because mothers say their children like nuts and they have immunity-boosting properties.â âWe have shake mixes that eliminate refined sugar and replace it with jaggery and probiotics for healthier drinks,â she adds.
Ahana also wanted to show girls in her hometown, which has the lowest female literacy rate in the country, that anything is possible. Women comprise more than half of Open Secretâs leadership team. Ahana also wants to put mothers back to work, arguing that we need to empower the other gender if India is to become a $5 trillion economy.
âGetting the right product,â she says, was her biggest challenge. The team wants to launch something other than another healthy protein bar or a snack that doesnât taste good. They finally found âwholesome cookiesâ after multiple trials. Ahana began working on recipes with various people once she had the concept. She claims she tasted over 1,000 cookie combinations before deciding on the best one.
Building a team was also challenging because they wanted like-minded people who believed in the companyâs vision.
Funding and Thriving
Open Secret has raised Seed Capital from Matrix Partners India, Paytm Founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma, Snapdeal Co-founders Kunal Bahl and Rohit Bansal, and Godrej Consumer Products CEO Vivek Gambhir.
The company secured rs 18 crores in funding led by Sixth Sense Ventures in July 2021.Â Â
In June 2022, they raised $10 million (Rs 78 crore) in a Series B round of funding led by sector-agnostic fund Ananta Capital. The new capital will be used to launch more products, hire more people, scale up tech capabilities, and expand omnichannel distribution presence.
Market and the Future
Open Secret primarily sells cookies, chips, nuts, chocolates, cereals, and many other products through its website, multiple e-commerce platforms, and over 3,000 offline stores across India.Â
It competes with The Whole Truth, Slurrp Farm, and True Elements in the healthy snack category. âWe have identified that incumbent brands in the space are yet to catch up with changing consumer trends of living and eating healthier,â Ahana says of their point of differentiation.
As Open Secret prepares for expansion in the coming years, Ahana insists on the same vision: the need for every Indian family to snack better with tasty and healthy options. âWe have five more launches coming up in the savoury categories, which customers requested,â she says.
Open Secret aims to fill the void with a new-age brand that combines health and taste. Currently, the brand focuses on the sweet snacking category, which has seen âlittle to no innovation in the better-for-you space in recent years.â She aims to reach 10 Lakhs local stores across India soon.