Food connoisseur and book writer Odette Mascarenhas believes she opted for this field because of her passion – from teaching youngsters in the hospitality industry to documenting it for GenNext. Publishing her first book was a challenge in 2004 as Goan cuisine was not seen as a commercially viable book. She ended up publishing it herself. Distribution was also an uphill task till the global awards came in.
“It’s not easy to build a reputation as being knowledgeable on food, the chefs have to accept you as one,” says Odette who spends a long time learning and understanding the combination of ingredients and traditions of the older generations.
Odette’s intention of documenting the age-old recipes is making our present generation realise that it is important to be flexible and receptive to change. Many chefs in the business come from out of Goa with no knowledge of Goan cuisine. Since their jobs are transferable learning the local cuisine is also not needed. “Colleges rarely focus on local cuisine; usually they train students for cruise ship,” feels Odette. On why there aren’t many women in the hospitality sector, she points out to long working hours and inflexible shifts as the important reasons.
Women in food processing industry in Goa are handful and Laxmi Saraf happens to be one of those few. After her first start-up which was in healthcare didn’t work out, she did some research. She realised that Goa didn’t have convenient fresh food products which are healthy and without preservatives. That’s when Soul Food Factory came into existence. Laxmi manufactures pre-packaged ready-to-make Idli-Dosa batter, Vada batter, Chapatis, Podi chutney, Desi ghee.
Amongst the main challenges Laxmi faced was difficulty in raising finance for a new start-up, availability of good blue collared manpower in Goa and lastly managing the logistics and distribution of low shelf-life products. When nudged to speak about the lessons learnt in business she elaborates, “If you are in business you learn every day. You have to be good at problem solving. We faced various problems in every vertical of our business. Initial reaction was self doubt and disappointment; but when you manage to solve it you realise that you are opening doors to more opportunities.
In Goa very few women are in the food processing industry while most are involved in the making of traditional foods. Laxmi explains, “Lack of collateral free loan is one of the main reasons why women do not make the switch. That’s where the confidence is lost and they keep on reinvesting the profits from the small businesses they have. Lack of support on the home front is also another reason.”
The last of the foodpreneur H2-Health Habits is a nutritional food delivery start-up by Shalakha Shet Teli and Sneha Kavlekar. What differentiates them from the other food delivery portals is their mission is to build a healthy society by providing nutritious and safe food. They started H2 in January 2022 at Curchorem initially operating from home but later incubated from Fiire (Forum for Innovation Incubation Research and Entrepreneurship) and chose Panaji to be a suitable place for this kind of service. Soon they started their operations at Bambolim with 10 clients and today are serving more than 400 clients. At H2 they give you healthy and balanced meals to meet your fitness goals as also special meals for specific ailments.
Both the co-founders are certified nutritionists who wanted to help people live a fit and healthy life just by providing healthier food choices which will keep them away from several lifestyle diseases. They operate a 100 sq mtr cloud kitchen at Santa Cruz. Initially, when they started they got limited response but gradually grew through word-of-mouth beyond their expectation. They started with 15 customers which grew to 450 customers now and from 55 meals per day to currently delivering 250 meals a day. Future plans include starting three cloud kitchens, increasing geographical service areas, health mobile app and tie-up with fitness hubs, private corporate offices, industries, institutions and healthcare sector.
As the Chinese philosopher Confucius said, “It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” Let us hope these gritty women foodpreneurs inspire generations of women in the future to push the envelope, keep innovating and carve out their names in the F&B industry.
(The writer is ASSOCHAM Goa –Women Empowerment chair and former chairperson of Women’s Wing at Goa Chamber of Commerce and Industry)