Cracking the snack code

Think banana chips and the crispy delight will instantly transport you to the bustling streets of Kerala, where the air is filled with the irresistible aroma of freshly-fried yellow goodness made from Nendrangai (a variety of banana). But, just 70 kilometers away lies Nagercoil, a town known for its distinct variant of Nendran chips. Thicker than the Kerala chips, these Nagercoil chips are puffed on the surface and boast a distinct flavour infused with the warmth of black pepper. Despite their exquisite taste and appearance, these chips have often lived in the shadow of their Kerala counterparts, overlooked and underappreciated.

Unleashing the flavours of Nagercoil

It was this realisation that stirred Viswanathan Anand, a native of Nagercoil, to embark on an entrepreneurial journey to put Nagercoil’s Nendran chips on the global map. “I moved out of my hometown after class 12 to pursue my Engineering degree in Coimbatore and eventually joined Infosys after graduation. But my keen passion for photography and documentary brought me to Chennai for an internship in 2017. I decided to surprise my friends with some chips from my hometown. To my delight, they were amazed by the taste of the chips. Deep down, I knew that I wanted to pursue something purposeful that would fulfill my passion and also meet my monetary needs,” recollects Viswanathan, who saw an opportunity to create a brand that could throw a spotlight on the delicious Nendran chips. With this deep-rooted sentiment, EnChipsu was born in 2017.

Based in Nagercoil, EnChipsu pays homage to the rich culinary heritage of Nagercoil. The brand takes pride in crafting each Nendran chip with care, using the finest ingredients and traditional techniques. Their chips are not just a treat for the taste buds, but also a celebration of nostalgia associated with the snack. Despite being driven by the novel idea of reviving a forgotten snack for the modern audience, Viswanathan faces challenges along the way because of the misconception that banana chips are exclusively associated with Kerala. But he is undeterred about the addictive taste of his chips and wants everyone to experience it at least once in their lifetime.

His clientele mainly consists of people from the southern part of Tamil Nadu and Nagercoil who had moved and settled in other parts of India and the world. These chips evoke nostalgia in them. Viswanathan feels emotional when customers in their 50s call and share their stories associating the chips to enjoyable memories from the past. I initially thought that my target audience would be between the ages of 22 to 35, but soon found that the majority of my clients were above the age of 35. Some of them even purchased large quantities of chips, ranging from Rs 4,000 to Rs 5,000. Chennai became a major market for EnChipsu, although we had customers from other parts of India such as Kashmir, Mysore, and Bengaluru. Deepavali and festivals are busy seasons as people give packets of chips to their loved ones as gifts. We add a customised note to make the whole affair special,” he explains.

From local specialty to global sensation

With a limited budget, Viswanathan focuses on simple yet meaningful social media marketing strategies to promote EnChipsu. “Our social media pages educate customers on the cultural and culinary significance of Nendran chips and other delicacies of Nagercoil. We also share fun memes and insights on landmarks of Nagercoil to promote local tourism,” he says.

Viswanathan’s strategic focus on packaging for EnChipsu products reflects his belief in its value as a brand differentiator. Rather than being intimidated by competition from industry giants like Lays and Bingo, Viswanathan is committed to maximizing the potential of available resources. He collaborates with locals in Nagercoil to continuously refine the chip-making process, and actively explores diverse avenues for innovation and improvement. EnChipsu also introduced innovative flavours, such as peri peri, to attract younger audiences. However, Viswanathan is always mindful of maintaining the core idea and authenticity of the chips. Apart from banana chips, EnChipsu also offers 20 other products such as jackfruit chips and karupatti halwa, which are presented in the most authentic way possible. “For instance, we offer thenkuzhal mittai made using karupatti. The snack is synonymous with all functions in Nagercoil. People relish the piping-hot staple, prepared on pushcarts, parked in every corner of the district, outside churches,” he explains.

Run by a small but passionate team based in Nagercoil, EnChipsu has been making waves in the snack industry. “Uma is our skilled packaging design expert. With her vast experience and keen eye for detail, she has helped us create packaging solutions that ensure our delicious chips reach our customers with minimal to no damage. Vishnu ensures that every bag of chips is carefully packaged and delivered to our customers with the utmost care. Murugan, the man behind the taste of chips at EnChipsu, has 40 years of experience in the field. He is a true master of his craft, blending the perfect combination of spices and crunch to create a snacking experience that is second to none. It’s this collaborative effort that makes us a close-knit family rather than just a team,” Viswa admits.

Chipping in for the comfort food

The brand’s journey has been a rollercoaster of obstacles and opportunities. Lack of capital, limited support for entrepreneurship in Tier 2 and 3 districts, and the stigma associated with starting a business have been obstacles that they have had to overcome. The government’s GST policies  and the time-consuming process of obtaining FSSAI certificates have also posed challenges for them. “The complexity of the government’s GST policy poses challenges for businesses due to multiple tax rates, compliance burdens, technology requirements, regulatory changes, and awareness gaps, making it difficult for businesses to comply effectively. On the one hand it seems promising to notice that the government has come up with plenty of schemes recently to support entrepreneurs. But we really need someone to walk us through them and decode them for simple understanding. Otherwise most of us are not aware of how to make the best use of them,” explains Viswanathan.

Against all odds, EnChipsu remains determined to improve its marketing strategies, study its audience, and learn from the community of entrepreneurs already in the business. They acknowledge that the direct-to-consumer model is a different category that takes time to build a brand image, and surviving in this competitive industry is a milestone in itself. They are also keen on improving their packaging to extend the shelf life of their products and enhance their brand recognition.

The name EnChipsu holds a special meaning for them, as it represents a sense of belongingness and emotional connection. The team believes that customers should buy their products only if they genuinely enjoy them. “A problem we small businesses grapple with is the Cash on Delivery Option. It can be a disadvantage due to increased risk of non-payment, higher operational costs, limited scalability, delayed payment realisation, and security concerns, which may hinder the brand’s growth and profitability. Second is the rapid dissemination of negative reviews about food products is a concern that requires attention. It would be helpful if people are mindful of their feedback because a lot of effort goes into this business. A single comment can make or break it. A few years down the line, we want ours to be a brand that everybody associates Nendran chips with and that’s all we are striving for,” smiles Viswa.

EnChipsu is a story of passion, pride, and perseverance. The brand has been taking slow but steady steps towards transforming Nagercoil’s Nendran chips from being a local specialty to a global sensation, one delectable bite at a time. “We have customers who are keen to invest. My aim is to eventually open outlets abroad. The present goal is to sustain in the market for at least a decade and make a mark. We have a long way to go,” he signs off.

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