When it comes to Indian flavors, Indian American Lalit Kalani and Bandar Foods co-founder Dan Garblik don’t monkey around.
Initially started as a joke when Kalani and Garblik were at school vying for their MBA degrees at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, Bandar (means monkey in Hindi) Foods became the real deal in a very short time.
“The concept was developed in 2011 when we were going for our masters and Dan asked for hot sauce at an Indian restaurant, and they gave him a bottle of Tabasco sauce,” Kalani explained to India-West.
Kalani said after that night, he and Garblik discussed a way to make a hot sauce with an Indian flavor. And Bandar Foods was born.
“Indian food is not mainstream; it hasn’t been marketed or tailored to the mainstream American palate,” said Kalani, who was born and raised in Mumbai before coming to the U.S. for college.
Bandar Foods started with condiments in squeeze bottles, to use on all types of food. They pureed a jar of Indian chutney and used that condiment to win a school innovation tournament.
After raising about $26,000 in a Kickstarter campaign, the San Francisco, Calif.-based Bandar Foods was founded in January 2013, unveiling its first two squeeze bottles of Indian flavors: spicy mango chili and mint cilantro chili.
“I don’t crave Indian food all day, every day,” Kalani added. “But I love the flavors of Indian food and use the sauces on eggs, sandwiches and all foods.”
Bandar Foods expanded from two sauces to six, and now offers green chili garlic and original cumin lentil crisps, as well as naan chips. The company’s products are sold nationwide at roughly 2,000 retailers like Whole Foods and Target, as well as regional grocery chains.
Kalani, who lives in Philadelphia and oversees production and the East Coast operations, told India-West that he and Garblik, who runs the marketing and West Coast operations out of the main San Francisco headquarters, were working separate full-time jobs for a year before being fully self-sufficient off Bandar Foods profits in January 2014.
All of Bandar Foods’ products are made in India and monthly shipments of the condiments and snacks are sent to the U.S., said Kalani.
The company now has one full-time employee aside from Kalani and Garblik, and Kalani says they anticipate more growth.
“We want to grow as quickly as we can,” he added. In two years, the company grew 10 times from the start of 2013 to the beginning of 2014; and about three times that from 2014 to the start of this year, noted Kalani.
“There has been a great response from stores and consumers,” Kalani said. “We have helped increase sales in the international foods sections at most grocery stores.”
He added that less than 2 percent of the contracts Bandar Foods has with retailers have been cancelled due to lack of sales.
As to what the key is to the quick success of his company, Kalani cites strong relationships built with the vendors.
“Instead of going too wide too fast, we work with individual stores and build strong personal relationships,” Kalani said of his and Garblik’s methods to fast, sustainable growth. “If you build the relationships, you can grow quickly.”