As a business development manager in Mumbai, Sachin Kumar regularly met entrepreneurs scripting success stories. The year was 2008, and seeing the immense possibilities in the startup space, he also decided to try entrepreneurship. His idea was to set up a business in Bihar, his homeland, which produces the second-highest number of IAS officers in India but is not well known in the startup space.
“I made a group of people with similar interests. But nobody was ready to move back to Bihar after giving up a stable job. To them, it was too big a risk to take. I thought of taking the risk to bring about a change,” says Sachin, who completed his MBA (Sales and Marketing) in 2008.
After attending a workshop on the marketability of traditional foods, he quit his job in 2009 and went home to Madhubani, the town in Bihar known globally for its folk paintings. “My parents felt that it was not a great idea to quit a well-paying job in Mumbai. But I wanted to work in Bihar. I joined my family’s consumer durables business while thinking about a startup idea,” he recollects.
After his marriage to Richa, who supported entrepreneurship, Sachin began his research on traditional foods. “There are two superfoods from Madhubani – fox nut (makhana) and sattu. While makhana has already been packaged and marketed well, I realised that not much innovation had been done in packaging and marketing sattu,” he says.
Betting on sattu
Made by grinding Bengal gram (chana) or roasted barley (jau) and even mixing both, sattu has been used in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal for centuries.
“I decided to give this desi superfood the importance it deserves,” he says.
Sachin conducted market research on the potential of a ready-to-mix sattu drink. The idea found favour in both Bihar and outside the state. “In Bihar, the cleanliness of roadside sattu stalls posed a concern, and there was a desire for more hygienic options. In urban centres, professionals, particularly women, sought convenient and nutritious food options. Recognizing a clear demand for pre-mixed sattu in sachets, we started work to address this need," he explains.
Sachin used his mother's recipe to perfect the product, addressing freshness concerns related to sattu by opting for a sachet format. "It remains fresh for six months, thanks to natural preservatives like sugar and salt,” the entrepreneur says.
After figuring out the ideal recipe, he conducted lab tests, obtained approval from FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India), and introduced a prototype travel pack containing two paper glasses, two sachets, and stirrers priced at Rs 30. The product quickly gained popularity in both Madhubani and Bihar's capital, Patna and Sachin’s startup Sattuz was born.
Sattuz hit the market in April 2018, selling sachets of sattu in three flavours – sweet, jal-jeera and chocolate.
The drink, made by just adding water, is rich in protein and provides instant energy. Sattu’s high levels of fibre and iron are good for the digestive system and it is vegan-friendly.
In October 2019, Sattuz raised funds from the New Delhi-based Indian Angel Network. Its other investors are IIM Calcutta Innovation Park and Bihar Industries Association.
The superfood business
Just when the business was growing and some export orders came from the US, Singapore, and other countries, COVID hit the world. “That slowed us down. We could not grow rapidly. While we continued to pay for all operating expenses, sales reduced drastically,” he says.
But by the time the lockdown was lifted, COVID had left people with a growing awareness about health, hygiene, and nutrition. “That worked well for us and demand started growing,” he says.
In 2021, Sattuz also launched shakers, which make it easier to prepare healthy drinks on the go. It participated in Shark Tank India, the first season, in December 2021 and that gave a new direction to the venture.
“The idea we received was to sell end products like sattu paratha, and sattu litti as well. So in 2022, we started Sattuz Café on a trial basis,” says Sachin.
His wife Richa looks after developing recipes. Sattu is a versatile natural food. Mixed with spices, it can be stuffed into a wheat ball and roasted to make the famous Bihari litti or rolled out and shallow fried to make a paratha. To address the demand, Sattuz has also launched ready-to-cook sattu stuffing which can be used to make paratha, puri or litti.
Sattuz sells products both offline and online through its website and marketplaces like Amazon and Flipkart. Offline, it is available in retail stores across India.
The startup clocked Rs1.2 crore in revenues in FY 23. “We hope to close this fiscal FY24, with revenues of around Rs 2 crore,” he says.
Sachin credits a robust startup ecosystem for his success. Most startups struggle to scale up beyond the seed stage. “During these tough times, support matters a lot. For us, it came from the Bihar Department of Industries, Startup Cell, Bihar Industrial Area Development Authority (BIADA) and from the Union Bank,” he says.
Sachin points out that the Central Government’s PM Formalization of Micro Food Processing Enterprises (PMFME) scheme is also helping MSMEs to scale up and capture the world market with innovative products. Union Bank financed Rs77 lakh under the scheme for Sattuz, which the startup is investing in expanding operations.
Sattuz is setting up the factory in Fatuha (also Fatwah) town on the outskirts of Patna.
Spread over 5,000 sq ft, the food processing facilities here will produce the sattu drink sachets and larger packs, and the stuffing mix. It will also, at a later stage, offer litti and sattu paratha in the ready-to-eat format.
“We hope that the unit will be up and running by May or June 2024,” Sachin says. The factory will generate employment for locals.
In the same way that ancient grains and superfoods such as quinoa and chia seeds have garnered global acclaim, it is the opportune moment for the modest sattu from Bihar to step onto the international stage. And Sattuz has seized this opportunity at the right time.
(Rashmi Pratap is a Mumbai-based journalist specialising in business, financial, and socio-economic reporting)