A breakfast staple of not just Tamil Nadu, but the whole country, the idli is on the verge of a major cosmetic transition. A city-based start-up is set to launch Teflon-coated idli moulds in the shape of scallop-shells. Branding their innovation as shell idli, the team from Wannawill Inventorium want to take kitchenware product design to the next level.
A mining engineer turned ad man and co-founder of the one-year young enterprise, Anantha Narayan, says, “We believe it’s a breakthrough in a category that has remained dormant in innovation for over a century now. Our aim was to choose a category that required minimal resources. And, it had to be something Tamilians would be proud to use. We zoomed in on kitchenware as that seemed to offer the simplest scope for innovation. While the dosa had already gone through many variations, the idli was untouched.” Along with art director and 3D modeler-sculptor, Joseph Babin, the hobbyist inventor hit upon the novel idea during weekend brainstorming sessions. The non-stick Teflon-coated idli plates/moulds have grooves modeled after the shell of a scallop. A well-entrenched brand in kitchenware had previously experimented with heart-shaped idlis, but there was no breakthrough per se.
“Our idea was to make the idli look beautiful from a consumption point of view. We studied the chocolate and pastry market and found texture could be the key differentiator. While food revolves around taste, aspects such as presentation, aroma and texture are also vital,” says Anantha, who decided to back the concept with engineering.
Last November, when the product video was uploaded on YouTube as a trial, the number of views exceeded 14,500. When the team pushed the product on WhatsApp, enquiries from the rest of the world too started pouring in, says the man with a passion for design, who calls 3M and its ‘tiny’ products his muse.
He adds, “We work on an invent, operate and transfer model but we had to tweak our business model post demonetisation. We were looking to license it either on an exclusive or multiple users’ basis. But now, we have 3,000 plus orders on hand and by Deepavali, we will have our shipments ready. Malaysia is one of the markets where we expect great traction.” Homemakers, who grapple daily to offer exciting foods to their children, restaurants and creative artists (foodies) are the target audience.
“Our market survey estimates this (four-plated shell idli) to be a Rs 100 crore opportunity. Taj Falaknuma Palace in Hyderabad expressed interest in our project and we also see the possibility of using shell idli as a part of innovative plating options for sea food,” says Anantha, and adds that the Inventorium has lined up an investor from Tamil Nadu, with whom they will enter into one-year license arrangement.
The distribution model has not yet been put together but the platform for the appetising breakfast item has been created on the back of a ten-year patent. Wannawill also is preparing to bring ‘zing’ into other “boring” categories across 20 segments, including apparel.