The Manduva Project – artisinal food business with origins in the Southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh
The Manduva Project (TMP) is an artisanal fresh food business with origins in the Southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. We specialize in handmade, preservative free pickles, sprinkles (known as podis), spices and crisps (known as vadiyalu) which are inspired from family heirloom recipes and those concocted by the women of our village.
The smell and taste of quintessential Indian cuisine often involves fond recollections of childhood memories for many. For some, its parents, for others, its grandparents fondly hand making delicacies, during family gatherings or the more mundane every day meals. Food is an integral and indispensable part of Indian culture where there’s subtle competitiveness for who makes the tastier, more authentic dish.
To cater to these nostalgic palettes, especially for Indians living abroad, we have recently also started providing customers with gifting options in the form of hampers with our beloved products that can be bought as they are or, customised and combined with others.
The founders’ vision for TMP vision is to scale its operations by growing it as a cottage industry by empowering women – they employ women in the village to make our products which are all handmade with love and care, which also provides them with additional livelihood.
One of the Co-founders, Usha attended boarding school in the 1960s, in the Nilgiris, a hilly district in Tamil Nadu, a neighboring state.
She fondly reminisces coming home for the holidays during her summers.
They were fortunate to have grandparents with a home in their ancestral village, a tradition that is slowly waning across India with migration. She says that is precisely where the story of this business began.
Manduva houses are modest old village homes in Andhra, with a centrally located courtyard flanked by intricately carved wooden pillars.
The courtyard held the pulse of the family, where everyone got together for chores to be done for the day. It is here that the exchange of recipes and trade secrets on minor improvements to them were discussed, which later made them their family trademark recipes. In the Godavari region, each family was known for their speciality and in one of their villages, Annadavarapeta, it was the “Bellam Avakaya” (sweet mango with jaggery). Avakaya is one of Andhra’s speciality mangoes – much like many of the thousands that are relished with joy in India.
For years, Usha received sweets, pickles and savories from home, but over time, this changed. “So many of us in urban areas have lost the connection to our villages and homes. What better way to re-connect than to keep mouthwatering pickles & podis alive? Uma, who married my cousin, was a keen and quick learner and enjoyed compiling recipes from the elders in the family. This was when the roots of the business began. Uma & I knew the recipes but to scale it as a business was serious business”, she says.
The Godavari area is primarily agri-based so the wives of many farmers do not go out for work, but they are willing to help us with this as it meant an opportunity to earn an independent livelihood. Usha and Uma started taking orders from family. With the help of six ladies they began to make seasoned powders called sprinkles, and pickles. Samples & tasting was a must, suggestions from experienced elders saw standardized recipes take shape. Operations in an agrarian state also means access to the best produce, their state’s villages are home to many of India’s best crops.
Last year, during the peak of the pandemic, Usha’s niece, the Co-founder, Neha came into the picture, with the eventual brand label and Manduva lady.
The packaging stands out – it is an ode to Andhra’s culinary heritage and legacy. Different coloured saree-clad ladies (depending on the product line) holding a pickle jar and walking down the stairs of a manduva home – an emotion that many treasure even today.
With Neha, the business began to take shape with a focus on packaging, photography, social media, advertising and pop-up events across India. She has brought in a new angle to using pickles and sprinkles – traditional products in modern age cooking which inspires and resonates with modern cooks.
Today, The Manduva Project enables a livelihood for 25 women who participate in procuring, producing, packaging and dispatching of orders and hopefully in the near future the number will increase. Like Uma & Usha, several of their older clients enjoy Manduva products, which has given them the opportunity to reconnect to their childhood palettes.
“The market for this product range is extremely competitive and crowded. Especially over COVID, several home businesses came to life where Indians turned into home chefs or monetized hobbies like cooking. Some have lasted, some have not”, says Neha.
There are also ago old condiments’ businesses that have existed which are stiff competition for smaller players like TMP. However, the key differentiators remain pleasing palettes, the ability to make small batch products with fresh produce and innovative ways to market them. However, India has a large enough consumer market that capturing less than a fraction is large in terms of turnover and market size.
Food businesses like Manduva also need to constantly innovate to surprise loyal customers and capture new audiences. It never gets boring or repetitive for the same reason as there’s huge opportunity in doing things in a new way or doing what exists in better ways. There’s also a growing population within the working force and upper middle class who are always looking for new, high quality products with a focus on healthy and clean eating. These are opportunities that yet to be captured in entirety.
The Co-founders named one of their product lines, ”sprinkles” instead of podis, the age old term for hand pound powders. The term sprinkles is an ode to how these products can be used extensively by all, even amateur cooks. They can be used as marinades with meat and garnishes on salads and soups instead of exclusively in Indian curries or tiffins, which is South Indian breakfast.
Their pickles are all made by a growing army of women under Uma. All of them are her own recipes, some passed down to her from a generation above. For example, the Tender Avakaya Pickle Sweet & Spicy known as Jheedi-Aa-va-kaa-ya is made with the first crop of seedless, shell-free baby mangoes infused with seasoning. It has a strong taste of mustard powder and jaggery, both not overwhelming but just enough to leave you wanting for some more. The Pumpkin and Brinjal Red Chilli are some of Uma’s many recent experiments that customers have grown to love.
The Manduva Project’s crisps are an interesting product line as well. They are sun-dried in Southern India’s scorching heat making them seasonal and hard to make if ingredients are unavailable or short in supply .
The flavours are an assortment of carrot, tomato, sago, beetroot and additions like sun-dried moong, a lentil and spinach. While machine made varieties are available, hand-made ones infused with fresh juice from vegetables like Manduva’s are not as widely available.
“Most people think pickles, sprinkles and crisps are products are for the older lot. The assumption is that Indian cooking is tedious. But that’s a myth. A lot of quick cooking is possible with these ground powders bursting with flavour like curry leaf, moringa, peanut and sorrel, to name a few. I really want these to be an important part of cooking for working professionals and those like me”, says Neha, a home chef herself who has a blog titled “The Zesty Foodist” which she started in her late teens.
You have to be top of your game and trends in the market to last. Consistency in quality and taste are two indicators that will ensure that loyal customers remain and that new ones try products especially with food businesses like The Manduva Project. Their instagram page showcases innovative, out of the box recipes, like Red Chilli Pickle Chicken Roast, Sesame Sprinke Shrimp wraps and soup with sun-dried lentil crisps.
While their origins are traditional, Neha is eager to expand into newer products and experiment with products that do not fall into these product lines exclusively. Their spices are indigenous and sourced carefully from remote parts of the country. Manduva’s Allspice leaves are not as accessible as allspice powder that is readily available in the market. Their newest health line boasts a Ginger Palm Jaggery, without worries of refined sugar and processed ingredients. Since their products are preservative free with ingredients fresh from farms, customers are open to paying a higher price.
“Our business thrived during the pandemic and through the last 1.5 years despite global turmoil and volatility across markets. Food never goes out of style!”, says Neha.
This has kept them and their women busy with orders being sent across the world. The Manduva Project has all the reason to succeed and we welcome you to be apart of our family by trying our gourmet products. Every spoonful has a story to tell!