Neha Arya Sethi and Aakash SethiImage: Aditi Tailang
Sweetish House Mafia founders Neha Sethi and Aakash Sethi have raised Rs 12 crore from investor Adar Poonawalla to further grow the cookie brand, looking to revamp their cafes and set up online and retail product verticals, the company announced on Wednesday.
In April 2013, Sweetish House Mafia (SHM) started with a secret ‘cookie-mafia’ travelling across Mumbai in a Tata Nano selling homemade cookies. No one knew who was behind the venture, and a social media account would announce the location of the Tata Nano on the day, attracting many Mumbaiites to line up for their fill. A few years later, the baker revealed her identity: investment banker Neha Arya Sethi, who never anticipated the brand to turn into what it is today—a cookie chain with 12 stores across India.
Apart from retailing via aggregators like Swiggy and Zomato, SHM is planning to set up online stores across the country, starting with cities they are already present in—Mumbai, Pune, Kolkata and Bengaluru. While the duo is positive, Aakash says the customer acquisition cost and creating a robust delivery network to compete with aggregators will prove to be a challenge. “We will be looking at a two-hour delivery period, and if you’re going to fight with the hyper-local guys, you have to make sure the customer gets the product as soon as possible,” he says.
“The brand seems to be moving in the right direction to scale up by creating these verticals rather than investing solely in brick and mortar cafes, whose return on investment will inevitably be lower,” says Anoothi Vishal, author of the book Business on a Platter: What Makes Restaurants Sizzle or Fizzle Out. “The proprietory product is distinct, with a strong recall, so having a few stores plus strong e-commerce presence is a good expansion strategy.”
As part of the third vertical of the expansion plan, SHM will also be moving its products to retail outlets. Apart from three different cookie flavours, the brand has recently launched a cookie premix, which will be available at retail outlets. “We haven’t seen a good gourmet cookie brand that is available on shelves for the mass market. That is the market we are tapping into,” says Neha.
Diversifying from its core competency, cookies, was a conscious choice to help scale and appeal to a larger demographic. “An extension into retailing product mixes again is smart strategy and can contribute to the business,” adds Vishal.
Since 2013, not only has the brand evolved, but the market has grown as well. At the time, there was some education required, recalls Neha. “For people here, cookies were biscuits that were meant to be super hard,” she says. “People were conservative with flavours too. Our signature Nutella sea salt flavor, which mixed salt with sweetness, was unheard of—now, it’s on every menu.”
Going forward, SHM plans to expand its product portfolio to include breads, chocolate syrups and new concepts the brand is working on, including a cookie in a mug. “In the next five years, we are looking at becoming the default option for desserts as well as everyday bakery needs,” adds Neha.