India is home to a third of the world’s malnourished children – 3,000 of whom die every day from hunger-related illnesses.
This is one of the biggest barriers to education. Hungry children cannot concentrate, but millions of Indian parents cannot afford to educate their children, let alone take care of the additional cost of school meals. As such, typically the female offspring is kept at home and never has the opportunities to advance.
According to Falu Sha, founder and CEO of Howdah, research has found that free school lunches has increased girls staying in school, especially in the more rural areas of India. She is now on a mission to change this status quo.
The heart of the business
Howdah has partnered with Indian NGO The Akshaya Patra Foundation to get a school lunch out to kids in need – with over 260,000 delivered to date. However, Shah’s ambition is much higher – targeting one million meals by the end of 2021.
“There is so much charity fatigue, especially in current times … but it’s even more important to think of others,” Shah told us.
“I just want to continue giving back school lunches – that’s really at the heart of this whole business.”
The Akshaya Patra Foundation is one of India’s biggest non-government organisations that churns out 1.8 million school lunches daily, distributed to government schools in disadvantages areas across 16 Indian states.
“I really want more girls to get an education and stay within the education [system]. I was one of the lucky ones; I was allowed all these massive opportunities to do different things, but I know firsthand – I’ve seen it myself – that girls don’t get opportunities so easily in India,” said Shah.
Growing up in a large family in Mumbai, Shah was involved with the family business for many years before turning her hand to Howdah – the name of the basket on the back of elephants normally reserved for royalty to ride in – so named, “because we want people to travel with us to go on this journey to try something very different – not just another potato crisp.”
Go on a tastebud adventure
Howdah’s portfolio currently includes four SKUs:
The best-selling Bombay Mix – which features more than 10 spices like caraway seeds, turmeric, cumin, ginger, mango and coriander powder
Onion Bahji – crunchy crescent moon-shaped snacks that have a little kick of chili
Bakarwadi – described as ‘sweetly warming with a blend of spices and honeyed heat’
and Masala Dippers – ‘feisty, earthy and tangy’.
“Howdah is a challenger brand, so it’s taken its time to get people to really understand what we are bringing,” Shah told us. “Up until now, Indian snacks have been perceived to be oily, and spicy and salty … you know, like the corner curry house grub – but Indian snacks are not that and that’s what we want to education people about.
“I wanted to bring very classic Indian colours and flair for creativity and beauty in the packaging, based on the classic Indian saris [the three-piece, richly brocaded garment tradition worn by women in India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal].”
Shah believes the product speaks for itself, but Howda’s trajectory journey has also been powered by partnerships with retailers like Sainsbury’s Ocado, Harvey Nichols and Selfridges. New NPDs are expected out later this year.
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