Sundeep Thakran and K Vaitheeswaran, Co- Founders, AGAIN. (Source: AGAIN)

India’s First E-Commerce Entrepreneurs Bet On Sugarless Beverages

Two persons who co-founded India’s first e-commerce firm have teamed up after nearly two decades to launch a startup that will make and sell sugarless beverages.

K Vaitheeswaran, Sandeep Thakran and four others co-founded Fabmart.com in 1999—that sold books, music CDs, among other merchandise, and was branded as Indiaplaza.com—which shut in 2013. The duo has now launched AGAIN, whose beverages will have a shelf life of 90 days without refrigeration and won’t contain preservatives.

“We researched and realised that there’s no drink which is healthy, tasty and nutritious at the same time,” Vaitheeswaran said. “We worked for about 18 months to arrive at the right formulation and process setting to achieve shelf stability without using preservatives and sugar.” The market for healthy beverages—also comprising fruit and cold-pressed juices and dairy-based drinks such as yogurt—is estimated to grow to Rs 15,000 crore by 2023, Vaitheeswaran said, adding that they’re targeting a 2-3 percent share.

Arvind Singhal, chairman of the retail consultancy Technopak isn’t convinced, though. “By and large health foods haven’t done well in India in any volume,” Singhal said, adding that existing players are already struggling to reach desired volumes in a crowded market. He said the beverage will face other challenges like brand-building and acquiring shelf space to begin with.

AGAIN unveiled two milk-based and two yogurt-based beverages each, and said it has tied up with online and offline retailers such as BigBasket, Namdhari’s Fresh and Godrej Nature’s Basket. We’re finalising more partnerships, Vaitheeswaran said, adding that they target a slow expansion in Hyderabad and Chennai. The company looks to invest Rs 50-100 crore in the next 2-3 years for brand building.

Vaitheeswaran said that their product being a no-sugar, no preservative healthy drink, with a higher shelf life gives them the edge. “The reason the players are losing their sheen with time is because consumers are getting wary of sugar content in their food.”

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