A three-year stint with Nestle got him thinking. The multinational became Ankur Goyal’s first tryst with the nutrition and wellness industry with its wide portfolio of successful products and soon became an eye-opener. Goyal says, “Working with Nestle, I realised that few products such as Maggi, which were promoted as healthy, did not really reflect that.”
Goyal, a graduate from IIT Delhi, always wanted to enter the food and beverage industry. Starting his first job at Nestle in 2011 gave him decent exposure to the industry. But it was a chance meeting with Paper Boat’s Neeraj Kakkar that proved to be a turning point for Goyal. He left Nestle in 2014 and joined Kakkar. Goyal was handling the product development department at Paper Boat. Together they came up with 11 products, ensuring that the juices had no chemicals or preservatives in them. Working through these procedures helped him understand the nutritional drink-making mechanism better.
He wanted to start something of his own in the fruit juice segment. But the segment was already over-crowded with new brands such as Paper Boat and Raw Nature apart from the existing market leaders such as Frooti, Tropicana and Real, so coming up with something unique became even more challenging. Back in 2016, the Patanjali phenomenon too was catching on with its ayurvedic drink offerings. Amidst this competition, Goyal found his niche in the functional drink segment targeting women's’ health. He combined traditional fruit juices with ayurvedic ingredients and modern packaging.
Merhaki Foods was launched in September 2017, followed by the launch of &Me drinks range in 2018. Its first two products, Rhythm and Grace, are specialised drinks, each solving a different health issue. The drinks were designed after surveying numerous women who had similar health complaints. “The most common problem was fatigue, bloating and cramps during menstruation. And in terms of nutrition, a majority of women were facing calcium, iron and protein deficiency,” says Goyal, who is also aiming to deliver great taste and affordability. This gave a direction to his product combinations. His first drink, Rhythm takes care of the menstrual problems, available in combinations of green apple, cucumber, mint and orange, carrot, papaya and cardamom. Grace is a beauty lifestyle drink taking care of hair fall, skin problems and detoxifying blood. This too is available in two variants, mango, coconut water, aloe vera with a dash of chilli and watermelon, beetroot and litchi flavoured with rose.
These drinks have less than 40 calories in every 100 ml as compared to the market standard of around 60 calories per 100 ml in drinks by Paper Boat and more, according to Goyal. The Bengaluru-based start-up will soon launch two new drinks focusing on faster fat burning (metabolism) and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Goyal explains, “We have been working on the drink to control PCOS for the longest time. We have worked with several dieticians, ayurvedic doctors and nutritionists to create the combination.” The founder claims that this drink will not only work on providing the deficient nutrients but also help in maintaining hormonal balance. The PCOS-targeted drink will be the new addition to the Rhythm drink range, while the metabolism drink will join its lifestyle range Grace.
Priced at Rs.80 per bottle, these drinks are available on all major e-commerce platforms such as Amazon and Healthify apart from its website and around 200 retail supermarkets including Nilgiri’s and Namdhari in Bangalore. At present, the start-up’s products are manufactured at TVK Beverages’ facility near Pune and its distribution is managed by Nature Corporation, apart from Merhaki itself. The firm raised its initial round of funding from Matrix Partners. So far, its major consumer base has been women in the age group of 30-35. Goyal wants to go beyond the tier-I cities and reach maximum women as he believes that in India, women put their families before them and don’t take care of themselves.
The drinks are actively being promoted in-store across the retail markets in which they are selling. Also, suggestions and sponsored ads on e-commerce platforms ensure a steady flow of orders for this new start-up.