KandeeFactory is a sustainable Indian confectionary brand started by CEO Mahesh Dharam in 2013. Hailing from a background of family businesses, Mahesh began his entrepreneurial journey right from his college days, be it his first venture to supply and trade automation products or to take over his father’s business at a ripe age of 19. His co-founder, Anusha Mahesh Dharam joined KandeeFactory full-time, four years into the journey. She handles the business development portfolio to expand it in modern retail channels. She has been instrumental in getting the right taste profile of the market of their products. Follow our conversation as Mahesh explains his journey from working in corporate firms to successfully creating and selling India’s first ever vegan brand of marshmallows and more!
From the Kitchen to KandeeFactory – The Inception
Being brought up in a business-oriented household instilled a very strong entrepreneurial mindset in me. While I was dreaming of starting a business, life had other plans for me – my father suffered a heart attack when I was 19, halting the operations of his 30-35 year-old company. It was not doing well which led me to make really heavy decisions at a young age and settle it up successfully, before I could go a step further.
I then moved on to working a corporate job in Citicorp for a few years after which I moved to working in life-insurance. All through this, my ambition of building a company of my own was at the back of my mind. In 2010, I visited Europe on an assignment, where I was amazed by the wonderful assortment of candies and chocolates being sold exclusively. As a teenager, I was passionate about baking, which is why this collection of candies really piqued my interest. Cut to a father-son trip I took to Goa, a big swirly lollipop candy being sold in one of the shops there caught my son’s attention. Upon talking to the shopkeeper during the purchase, I was enlightened about the excessive demand of such candy in the country. However, this demand was barely fulfilled with selective imports of candy coming into the country only at specific times of the year. It was a major Eureka moment when I decided to make this candy at home.
After spending one and a half years perfecting a candy recipe at home, I decided to sell my creations at various exhibitions and malls in the city. The massive response I received for this product was enough confidence for me to quit my job and start working on KandeeFactory on a full-time basis in 2013. We are now a funded startup selling our products in over 1000 stores in India and plan on expanding globally as well.
Sustainable Creations – Recipes that are one of a kind
Our main motto is to create vegan candy that appeals to a sweeth-tooth audience like any other candy in the market without being unhealthy and artificial. All of our products are made from natural produce with no added preservatives and are 100% cruelty free.
One of the candies that we have completely altered is marshmallows. Marshmallows are generally made from gelatin, while some companies across the world offer vegan marshmallows, we have managed to perfect a recipe to replace the gelatin component completely. Moreover, all of the flavors we offer are infused with natural ingredients sourced from within the country. We also added a desi touch to the products with flavors like Rasmalai Marshmallows that make the indulgence more exotic for our customers. We have replaced gelatin in gummy candies with plant-based proteins, eliminated the use of talcum powder in the production of hard candy. Our Villa Nour Chocomallows are also probably the only vegan marshmallows coated in chocolate.
All of these products are doing really well in the market with an equal revenue generated from offline and online presence through marketplaces like Big Basket, Swiggy and Zepto. We also plan to increase our export channels and make a presence in the global market. We are also planning to market our business offline through sampling and product promotions in physical stores. Being a part of major food expos also aids in marketing our brand to a focused group of B2B trade partners.
All Roadblocks lead to success – Game-changing Innovations
The biggest challenge I faced was that I had no experience as a food technologist. Entering this industry came with a significant amount of prior research and careful discussions with people from this background. Despite the multitude of advice we received, we were clear that our confectionery line would be 100% free of preservatives and artificial ingredients. After years of experience, we were able to consider factors like taste, shelf-life and scalability and create our products. Since we started out with a loan from the bank as our investment, we could not afford to waste any of our capital. This pressure in hindsight, led us to using every bit of our capital in the right way. Today, we are funded, have received multiple accolades and were recognized as one of the best startups and D2C brands in the country. My biggest learning from this journey is that problems will arise at different stages of a business, but it is important to find their root cause to come out better than before.
Local yet Global – Alignment of values with NICEorg
NICEorg and KandeeFactory have a lot in common, especially our belief of having a circular kind of economy. For instance, our motto to use natural ingredients stems from an agricultural produce perspective. In India, almost 20-25% of a farmer’s produce is not saleable, mainly because of a lack of the right shape and form. All of this produce, be it beetroots, spinach, etc that cannot be sold is used for natural color extraction. This is how we incorporate color and flavor in all of our products by utilizing local produce and creating a market on a national as well as a global scale. We are fortunate enough to have two notable investors from the NICE community. We were referred by the TiE-Chennai team to Vidya Shankar who was instrumental in guiding and closing the funding round with investors from NICE as well as other angel networks. We hope to connect with other angel investors in this network for subsequent rounds of funding. The common synergy we share encourages us to collaborate with NICEorg as we take our sustainable and natural confectionery brand to the next level.
NICEorg wishes KandeeFactory the best of luck in its journey ahead!
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