The product range includes ready-to-cook gravies and sauces, but how many home chefs will it appeal to?
When many people stepped into their kitchens for the first time in 2020, during India’s COVID-induced lockdown, a new range of products popped up to come to these budding chefs’ rescue. This included flavour enhancers, ready-to-prepare batters, and more. Ready-to-eat meals popped up too.
The latest ad from ChefBoss seems to speak to some of these chefs. In 2020, Jubilant FoodWorks (the parent company of Domino’s Pizza and Dunkin Donuts) forayed into the ready-to-cook segment with the brand ChefBoss. Its first-ever ad speaks to the audiences via what seems to be a YouTube pre-roll ad.
The ad features a young lady speaking to the camera. She talks about how ChefBoss’ product range helps people, who are attempting to create restaurant-like dishes from scratch.
According to ChefBoss’ website, the products are meant to be a culinary toolkit, which allows people to explore both Indian and international cuisines. The range of gravy and sauce mixes includes pre-made makhani sauce, bhuna gravy, as well as Chinese preparations such as honey chilli sauce, kung pao sauce and more.
The ad begs the question – who is this product intended for? Is it for the experienced chef looking for a shortcut? The first time cook, who wants to ensure his dish has a good outcome? Or, perhaps, an experimental chef, who wants to make sure the new dish he’s cooking, tastes good?
We spoke to two food experts about the ad.
Krish Ashok, a food influencer and author of the book Masala Lab: The Science of Indian Cooking, points out that his book has an entire section dedicated to masala and gravies. He personally recommends freezing any home-cooked gravies to extend its shelf life and points out that they can be used for even a month after freezing.
“Right from the early ages, we’ve been very anti-convenience, in that sense. Even powdered spices that you get in the market right now, are a fairly new concept. In the 1960s, women used to roast the spices and grind them up in order to make the spice mix used to season food.”
Ashok adds that the time taken to prepare a meal in India and other countries is quite different. “In the US, the average time spent in the kitchen to make three meals, is just 30 minutes. Whereas, that is not the case in India. Meals here tend to have a lot of manual labour involved and we take much longer to prepare them.”
He points out that in restaurants, the gravy base for most dishes is prepared at the beginning of the day. It is then used to make different dishes in a short span of time.
“As far as this product is concerned, there were a lot of people who stepped into the kitchen to make meals for the first time. This (product) may see an uptick among those audiences.”
Ashok adds that the uptake of this product among those who have been cooking for a long time, may be slower. This is because as far as food is concerned, the familiarity factor of a brand and its flavours plays a big role in its acceptance.
“The pandemic forced a lot of young people to learn cooking. These are people who may not necessarily stay with their families. They may live with roommates, away from home, and the product makes sense in those cases.”
Ashok points out that this audience segment has no issues adapting to new cooking styles, or even using new devices to cook. This results in the increasing popularity of gadgets such as air fryers and instant pots.
“I think this product combines the best of both worlds. It allows people to use fresh ingredients in the gravy. It also helps them put the dish together quickly. For the inexperienced cook, it may even taste better than if they attempted to put the dish together from scratch.”
Kalyan Karmakar, brand consultant and blogger at Finely Chopped Consulting, opines that the product range that ChefBoss carries is fairly basic in terms of flavours. This might not meet the needs of those who are looking at introducing new/ exotic flavours into their kitchens with ‘outside help.’
Karmakar also points out that readymade gravies, as a category, has existed since the early 2000s. He confides that he had used these as a newly-wed, experimenting in the kitchen for the first time. Gravy bases of brands such as Poonjiaji and Parampara had helped add variety to his menu.
“The pitch of the brand focuses on speed and convenience. It seems to be aimed at someone who is typically not that involved in the cooking process and wants to get done with things in the kitchen quickly.”
According to Karmakar, there are different products in the ready to eat format, such as the boil in the bag ones, but convenience is the key driver here too.
“If ChefBoss wants to target the more food focused audience, as against the convenience focused one, it has to work on building its credibility. Either through the range on offer which has to be more nuanced than the current range, or even through the aid of a celebrity chef association. Else, convenience will be remain the key reason why, leading to weak emotional engagement.
Karmakar adds a ‘cooking’ [from scratch] culture still largely prevails in India. The convenience and speed angle may not appeal to someone who wants to have more control over their meal and how it’s prepared.
“Especially in the last two years of the pandemic, people have become a lot more involved in the cooking process and are particular about what goes into their bodies. A convenience only driven positioning might not address this.”
Karmakar also says that there is an added economic angle to this. Cooking at home is seen to offer control on both quality and spends. The ChefHome products will be judged on the expenses involved and if seen lacking, the reason to use has to be truly compelling.
Shashank Lanjekar, the chief strategy officer at taproot dentsu theorises there are many reasons why this product might be popualr. “The first and the obvious one is the paucity of time due to hectic schedules. The second is the dwindling inclination to take the effort to cook ourselves. The third is the need for variety in meals and snacks. So when these realities intersect with the quick, convenient and authentic “Trishul” of ready to cook sauces and pastes, it’s a recipe that’s more likely to succeed than fail.”
He adds that such a product is likely to be used by an urban student (albeit, the foodie kind) in a hostel – who is as likely to buy into these offerings as a Neo-couple across tier 1/2 towns. “There are also those who are now overdosed on outside food thanks to Swiggy and Zomato but don’t want to get back to the boring and monotonous kind of home food. This range from ChefBoss appeals in varying yet compelling degrees to all the above profiles and even this list is likely to expand if we go deeper.”
He adds that ChefBoss’ range is nowhere close to the total food market in this country. “So rather than look at it from the narrow lens of the RTC / RTE segments, I would say it’s competing against everything from home-cooked food and tiffin services at workplaces to food that’s orders in via delivery apps and restaurant menus,” he explains.
Talking about the ad itself, he opines that it’s a sincere attempt at trying to get the attention of the audience from the first few seconds. “The format of ‘I could’ve done this or this or this but I didn’t’ does a good job of reeling you in to an extent. Where I felt it could’ve been better is keeping that attention that it has acquired in the beginning. The film plateaus with informative content as soon as it begins and doesn’t recover, except in small parts. However I quite liked the tagline “Your secret sauce”.”
(Jubilant FoodWorks is part of the Jubilant Bhartia Group and is one of India’s largest food service company. The company holds the master franchise rights for two international brands, Domino’s Pizza and Dunkin Donuts, addressing two different food market segments.)