Big Idea

Rolling out success

With its automatic table-top dosa-making machine Dosamatic, Mukunda Foods is looking to introduce variety in the predictable Indian QSR market

RA Chandroo

Making the perfect dosa is an art. You have to pour the batter onto the frying pan at the correct moment, spread it in perfect circles and roast it for the right amount of time — long enough to make it golden and crispy but not enough to burn it. Not everyone can master it,” says Eshwar K Vikas, an obvious fan of this south Indian delicacy. The culinary art of dosa-making has traveled — and traveled well — across India, making it one of the most popular south Indian dishes in the country.

However, while a dosa can cost you just ₹15 in the south, prices escalate as you travel north, skyrocketing as you travel abroad. So when two electrical engineers from SRM University, Chennai, noticed this disparity, they came up with a solution to give people their daily dosa fix. “When the process of making western food like burgers and wraps can be standardised, why not Indian dishes? After all, even if people like pizzas and burgers, most Indians crave for dosas, chutney and sambar, especially when they are travelling. So we decided to devise a way to bring dosa-making costs down while standardising the process,” says 23-year-old Eshwar, who, along with classmate Sudeep Sabat, set out to make India’s first fully-automatic table-top dosa-making machine — Dosamatic. 

The duo first pursued their insight of standardising Indian dishes in their second year of college. “Unlike a burger, which costs the same across the country, the price of a dosa varies greatly. This, we realised, was because preparing Indian food requires a certain amount of skill, which pushes the price of the dish up. We felt that automation was the way to go in order to standardise this skill,” says Vikas.

With the help of their mechanical engineering friends and Google Sketch Up, the duo worked on a design for the prototype, building the machine with manpower, equipment and working space assistance from Chennai-based storage equipment manufacturer Amarsons, where they had interned in the past. The nine-month project was funded by their savings, internship gains and a ₹120,000 grant from their college, and by end-2011, they were ready with a prototype — a machine the size of a four-seater dining table.    

The production process didn’t stop there. Realising that a truly scalable design would need to be compact to stand out among existing industrial-size models, Vikas and Sabat set up Mukunda Foods in 2012 and continued their search for a better prototype, raking in ₹2.5 lakh in funds through college competitions in the meantime. They came up with their fourth and final prototype in November 2013 — a table-top dosa-making machine the size of a microwave oven. “When compared with the previous prototypes, this one was more robust, commercially viable and scalable,” says Vikas.

Sealing the deal

So, how does Dosamatic work? The 50-kg machine sports containers for batter, water and oil. At the press of a button, it pipes and spreads the batter into the shape of a dosa, sprinkles oil on it and roasts it. The thickness of the dosa is between 1 mm and 6 mm and can be set manually. Dosamatic, which retails for ₹1 lakh, takes just 60 seconds to complete the whole process and produce one piping hot dosa. Vikas says, “In terms of electricity, it costs only 50 paise to make one dosa while LPG consumes 6 grams and costs ₹1.25 to make a dosa.

Some of its features were inspired by mundane, everyday tasks. “The action of spreading the dosa and pleating it required a swing mechanism and the inspiration for it came from a bike’s side-stand. Similarly, we came up with several other design solutions from daily life,” says Sudeep. 

By the time the fourth prototype was finalised, Mukunda Foods had already advertised Dosamatic through its website and social media. The company received its first order in January 2014 through Facebook — Rishikesh-based Radhe Sahni was facing trouble with skilled manpower at his dosa cafe. “I realised that Dosamatic was a good alternative to manual labour. The machine comes very handy and the dosa tastes just like the ones you or I would make. While the taste of a man-made dosa can vary each time, Dosamatic ensures that the output and its quality is standard,” says Sahni. Mukunda Foods went on to amass around 50 clients, including big names such as the Adani group, the Swaminarayan temple in Gujarat and Nimhans hospital in New Delhi. The popularity of this south Indian delicacy has also fetched it international clients — mostly, NRIs who own or run Indian restaurants. Currently, 30% of Mukunda Foods’ revenue comes from overseas. 

Fighting fit

There is no dearth of automatic or semi-automatic food-making machines in the Indian food machines industry, with a number of manufacturers such as Jas Enterprise, Akshar Enterprise and Esskay Enterprise in the fray. What differentiates Mukunda Foods, according to Sudeep, is the fact that — compared with other machines — Dosamatic is not just compact and smaller in size but also caters to a very different audience.

“Most industrial machines are used in institutional kitchens, such as hostel messes, where huge quantities of food are required. Dosamatic is targeted towards restaurants and office cafeterias that require lesser quantities of food but in a fixed period of time. Dosamatic is a great tool for restaurants, especially if they are looking to establish themselves as quick service restaurant (QSR) chains,” he says, whose focus is on creating a QSR solution for anyone who runs or wants to start a south Indian restaurant. 

Currently, Mukunda Foods conducts product demos for potential customers at its Bengaluru office and offers free doorstep installation and complimentary dosa and chutney batter worth ₹4,000- ₹5,000 along with the machine. As of August 2014, the company has sold 28 machines and expects to close CY14 with ₹1.3 crore in revenue. Mukunda Foods also has an order pipeline of 100 machines ending December 2014, of which 30 will travel abroad. The company is also in talks with e-commerce website Snapdeal to retail the machine online very soon.

The 30-member team at Mukunda is now working on setting up dosa experience stores, where people can walk in, operate the machine, experiment with it and consume the dosas right away. One such store has opened in Delhi, to be followed by Mumbai, Hyderabad and Chennai. 

Vikas is confident that Dosamatic has the potential to scale up. “Nearly 12 lakh wet grinders to make dosa batter are sold in our country every year, which means that there are at least 12 lakh consumers who want to make dosas. This makes us confident that our machine will work.” "Dosamatic's vision should be to get it into homes and touch a price point at which anyone can buy the machine" - Balasubramaniam Hari, Angel investor

 Investors, too, nod in agreement. Angel investor Balasubramaniam Hari, who invested in Dosamatic during its initial stages says, “Dosa is a staple food consumed by several people, especially vegetarians. I believe that it has a large global market and can travel to every country. There aren’t any table-top machines currently in the market for making dosas commercially that I know of; a CFTRI prototype didn’t take off commercially. Dosamatic is a perfect fit for the ‘Make in India’ promise.” 

Paving the way

Mukunda Foods is doing its best to tackle potential challenges and threats. According to Vikas, competition isn’t that big an issue as the barrier to entry is very high in this space as most of the machine parts are indigenously made. Also, Dosamatic sells only in places where service centres for all parts are available.

“Our current focus is on after-sales support. Luckily, there have been no reported technical breakdowns so far, only a few errors that we fixed immediately,” smiles Vikas. In order to grow its business, Mukunda Foods is counting on a national expansion before branching out abroad. 

The company is also doing its best to improve the quality of the machine, thereby bringing down its cost. “We have to make it cost-efficient for restaurants or corporates to use Dosamatic,” says Vikas. Mukunda Foods is also looking at automating the process to make samosas and vadas next. The next logical step for Mukunda Foods would be to enter the consumer market and make Dosamatic a household name.

“We have not looked into the consumer market yet. We will venture into that segment only once we have a good grip on the market,” he says. Hari agrees. “Their vision should be to get Dosamatic into homes and sell a larger number of units. They have to touch a price point at which anyone can buy the machine.” For now, the idea of entering your office canteen and making yourself a dosa — just like you make yourself a cup of cappuccino from the coffee machine — with the press of a few buttons keeps Vikas going.