Aazol - Maharashtra's tastes meet Shopify's tech

Co-founded by a dynamic mother-son duo, Aazol is much more than a home-grown foods brand. It is deep rooted in Apurva Purohit’s wisdom and Siddharth Purohit’s flair for the contemporary, tying in seamlessly with their value system of bringing about a positive change by impacting lives at the grassroot level. On the face of it, Aazol’s products are a mix of Maharashtrian spices, snacks and regional classics that are integral to a Maharashtrian’s palate, but the effort is backed by a mission deeper than what meets the eye.

 Meet the founders:

Apurva Purohit is a veteran Media Businesswoman with over 30 years of experience in the corporate world of building and scaling up a diverse set of businesses. An Independent Director and advisor on various boards, she has also been a leading voice in the Indian business landscape, advocating gender diversity, what ails it, and what organisations and leaders can do to improve this critical narrative. She is the author of two national bestselling books, ‘Lady, You’re not a Man – the Adventures of a Woman at Work’ and ‘Lady, You’re the Boss!’.

 Siddharth Purohit, a Gen-Y entrepreneur in the making, comes from a strong management consultancy background with 5+ years of experience at Kearney. Pursuing a range of academic interests from diverse institutions including Bombay Scottish, Northeastern University (Finance) and University College London (Organisational Psychology), he has also spent large swathes of time staying at and exploring places less travelled, from Okinawa to Jamaica. A compassionate and sincere individual, Siddharth is motivated by the urge to reduce the inequities that have become the bane of our society. Like his mother, his vision for Aazol is backed by a strong urge to facilitate financial independence for women while introducing the world to the authentic flavours of Maharashtra! 

The seeds of Aazol:

In early January 2020, Apurva visited an exhibition for rural entrepreneurs and artisans. At the exhibition, Apurva was amazed by the variety and authenticity of the different native Maharashtrian food products and blends sold by the SHGs. From Poha to hand-rolled Papads, from Kaakvi (Liquid Jaggery) to Khandeshi Masalas, it was a large assortment of genuine regional food products, nearly all of superlative quality! Over the next couple of days, she visited the exhibition with Siddharth and friends, introducing as many people to her amazing find as possible. Over the period of 2 weeks, she became a recognisable face for many of the rural women at that exhibition. She also realised that these SHGs were capable of producing larger volumes of their products but needed to create a marketplace for the same. Coupled with the fact that these products were 100% authentic and much superior in quality to department store products, the idea of Aazol started taking root.

 “The first time we purchased these products at the exhibition, we realised that even though the product in itself is 100% authentic and of great quality, the presentation and packaging needed to be worked upon. For instance, they used simple plastic bags for masalas and repurposed Bisleri bottles for liquids. Additionally, they were incapable of generating this demand for themselves around the year. We realised that this is where we can make a difference. By introducing these authentic regional products to the world, we could help create the demand and in turn, income for these rural communities.” says Siddharth, Co-founder @ Aazol. 

The journey begins:

What was initially supposed to be a weekend project soon turned into a full-time investment for Siddharth as he left his consulting life behind towards the end of 2020. Since then, he’s dedicated all his time and energy towards building Aazol and has been joined by his mother full time since July 2021.

 “For many months, the key effort was to find the best quality products amongst the SHGs. We’ve had taste testing sessions where our tasters have been seated around the table while we debate over which amongst the nine Goda Masalas that we had sourced from various SHGs was the most authentic and superior in quality. Most FMCG brands launch with 3-4 products at the most. We wanted to launch with a range of products that presented a holistic picture of Maharashtra’s culinary culture, which is why we decided to launch with 32 products from no less than 12 different SHGs!” adds Siddharth. “We don’t want to be a boutique brand at weekend markets selling just organic Thalipeeth Bhajani. We aim to build a large-scale FMCG brand, as only scale will bring in the revenue and development at the rural level to truly benefit these SHG communities! All upliftment including better infrastructure, utilities and other such amenities will come in only if we bring scale.”

 Penetrating an already saturated market dominated by ‘organic’ brands is difficult without a clear understanding of the target segments. Aazol has identified 4 such consumer segments and specific need gaps that exist within each, like health benefits of the products or affinity to local cuisine.

“Take for example our red poha. It is packed with essential proteins and is so much healthier than the standard white poha that the bulk of us get in the market. Or our Kuleeth Peeth, which is used in making the Maharashtrian favourite, Pithla. Most people in the city do not have access to this, so instead use the much inferior Besan to make Pithla. We get our Kuleeth Peeth straight from Sindhudurg, so customers can not only get access to a product that is not otherwise easily found but also ensure that it is of the highest quality.”

Reaching out to each of these target segments involves different marketing & distribution channels, from Instagram and Amazon sales to Modern Trade and the team at Aazol is gearing up for the same! 

 “We don’t really have competitors in the market and that’s because our positioning is quite different from the standard ‘organic’ brands. Yes, our products are organic, but we focus only on Maharashtra based products, and we do them extremely well! That is the positioning that we are aiming for. You may find some of these products elsewhere, but they haven’t been sourced with the same amount of care and attention to detail. Would you rather eat Chinese food at a restaurant called ‘Punjabi Platter’ or a place called ‘China Town’ is the simple question.“ says Siddharth with a smile

Tackling challenges strategically:

For Aazol, the scaling process will involve a 2-step approach. Building awareness about the Maharashtrian culinary landscape coupled with an aggressive marketing strategy will play a crucial role in their scaling plans and hopefully aid a much larger outreach.

 “We’ve tackled the former challenge on our website, by adding recipe cards under each product listing. This takes the target audience from an explorer to a consumer mindset really quickly.” says Siddharth.

 Aazol Recipe Card
 
Aazol also plans to scale up and go media heavy in the next couple of months. From short-form video content on Instagram and Facebook, to long-form video content on YouTube, the goal is to delve into, explore and communicate the food stories of the entire state.

 “We want to be highly representative of Maharashtra. In order to showcase the culinary delights of all its regions and communities, we endeavor to carry the products of even its smaller but no less integral ethnicities, the East Indians, Kolis, Agris and Konkani Muslims to name a few. Fair representation of the state is a must, so people can learn about its diversity and vibrancy. Who are the Pathare Prabhus, what is Desh, what is Marathwada, how does Vidarbha differ from Konkan?  It’s about capturing, storing and sharing this knowledge, culture and wisdom of Maharashtra with a positive intent! That is the essence of Aazol.” says Siddharth. 

The Aazol - Marmeto experience in Siddharth’s words:

“Many undertakings in the Aazol journey have been new experiences for us. Initially, we were on a fact finding expedition. Should we be on Shopify or Magento? Which is the best Logistics partner? Should you hire a tech agency or get an in-house team? After a lot of conversation, including with Saurav, to whom we had been introduced to by Epigamia and mCaffeine, Shopify emerged as the best option as a tech platform and Marmeto as our tech partner. 

 All of our partners and collaborators till date come from a grounded thought process and feel like a natural extension of the in-house team. They are definitely logical, skilled and methodical in their work but at the core of it, they are extremely nice, genuine and positive people. In my experience, the nice-ness of an individual does not take away from their competence or abilities and that’s a trait we admire in Saurav as well. I believe that an organization's culture is set by the team leader and Saurav being representative of this culture definitely sealed the deal for Marmeto.  

 As a result of our experience, I’m very keen on working with Saurav and the team for many months and years to come. Aazol and Marmeto’s Phase 1 project is just the first in what will hopefully be a series of projects in the future!” 

The future of the Aazol-Marmeto partnership

“We’re looking forward to upgrading to Shopify Plus really soon. That will give us a lot more control on the customer journey and brand experience, especially in the last stages of the funnel. Similarly, we’re also looking to onboard a subscription-based model for better customer retention. We’re currently in the process of analyzing our Phase 1 website traffic data to understand the heatmaps and gauge the reactions of the audience we’re targeting. We have over-achieved on our 1st month target and the team is really excited and motivated for the next quarter’s plan! We’re very clear that we do not intend to be an unsustainable start-up looking for scale by increasing burns. Instead we will focus on quick break-evens and sustainable growth.” says Siddharth.

 When asked to sum up his experience with us in a sentence, Siddharth says “The relationship that Marmeto, and especially Saurav, has so successfully been able to cultivate with us has provided the foundation of what will undoubtedly be a long-term association”. And we are just as excited about the partnership with Aazol too!

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