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BW Businessworld

The Healthy Food Sector Has Been Evolving With Different Segregations: Chef Sunil Chauhan, Founder and MD of FabCafe

COVID has paved the way for a healthier lifestyle. Now more customers will reach out to healthy options. We plan to reach these customers in different cities through our FMCG. Our products will be available even in cities where Fabcafe is not present, said Chef Sunil Chauhan, Founder and MD of FabCafe in an interview with BW Businessworld.

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How are you managing the authenticity of the brand Fabindia in the food?
Fabcafe was conceptualised to be the part of Fabindia Experience Centers, with an aim to complete the whole shopping experience with a restaurant for the Fab Family. We started with our first cafe in 2017 at Vasant Kunj, Delhi and are currently operational in 21 locations across 12 cities. Going with the Fabindia ideology, our menu is primarily about Indian food with a modern twist. Many of our raw ingredients are organic. Our menu is all about re-introducing forgotten grains and supporting local produce. Our motto of “Eat well, Feel Good!” is centered around the concept of conscious eating - in fact the “No Refined Sugar | No Refined Oils” rule we set for our dish design is now being echoed by many. We are also highly considerate of the environment in all our processes, in tune with the Fabindia spirit. Starting from procuring ingredients focussed on traditional Indian produce to our packaging material which is eco-friendly and sustainable and eventually how we minimise food wastage.

As per the brand's perception, is Fabcafe serving only healthy food?
The term healthy is interpreted in many ways currently. Our complete menu has been designed, keeping in mind a balanced meal based on alternative ingredients that would appeal to an Indian palate but also deliver a much more positive nutritional value. Even most common Indian Street Food like Tikki, Papri Chaat and Samosas are made with healthier ingredients like Beetroot, Kuttu, Bajra & Jackfruit Flour. Also, even though the food is healthy it should be eaten in the right proportion - that’s how we’ve designed our portions too. Even clean eating in improper proportions is not right for your well-being. Therefore, our approach to offering “healthy” food also includes keeping an eye on ensuring the least negative effects on your body.

Other than healthy food, what allures people to the cafe? What is an average footfall in a different location?
All Fabcafe’s are a complete soul-satisfying zone. Other than the healthy eats, the café ambience has its own story to tell. The lush green space with loads of natural lighting, contemporary minimal furniture around doesn’t let anyone walk away easily - actually, it’s a place to lounge and contemplate. The earthen tones of the café are soothing to the eyes and mind too. Our “Eat well, feel good” wall murals iare definitely Instagram worthy. Another big highlight of the café is the music by Indie Artists - we celebrate a mix of regional and modern music at the café. Our playlist has been curated keeping in mind the happy, calming vibes one would want at the café. Generally, our lunch and early dinner hours are super packed. We typically get a daily average of around 50-80 customers at our cafe.

How is Fabcafe coping with COVID situation?  

The impact has been felt across the industry, and we took our share of hits. But are now revving back. While we worked aggressively with aggregators to build our delivery channel, the last 2 months has seen dine-in revive reasonably well too. In line with government norms, we are working with 50% capacity at all the cafes to ensure social distancing. We’ve strengthened our digital interface to provide a Contactless payments solution and online menu to surf through on own phone. We are trying to adapt with the changes by bringing different additions like Meal Trays, Park n’ Dine through which one can enjoy their Fabcafe meal in the comfort of their cars. The idea is to deliver a safe and trustworthy experience to all our patrons that they’ve expects from a gourmet health food chain like us.

What are your expansion plans and how do you finalise a place for the cafe?

Though, things will not go as planned last year. This year we will be focussing on limited projects. The most exciting one is Fabcafe by the Lake, that coming up at Sunder Nursery, Delhi’s Heritage Park. We are super boosted for that one. The whole vibe of the place is a full-fledged Fabcafe experience on its own. Another recent launch was of Rajouri Garden café that opened up just last week. This year our all focus will be limited new projects and our FMCG line.

Our locations are majorly decided by Fabindia since we are part of the Experience Centers. But right now we have been exploring quite a few standalone opportunities like the Sunder Nursery one.

How are you different from the existing competitors?

We are one of India’s most loved eateries with a total of 21 cafes pan India and another 2 being launched soon. We really don’t have a competitor of this scale, though a lot of regional ventures are doing really well in the health food space. What makes us different is our approach to defining healthy while catering to popular dishes from Indian cuisine - that too with a level of standardisation commonly found in Quick Service Restaurants. You would find some rarely used ingredients like jackfruit flour, almond flour, banana flour being used in multiple dishes on our menu. Customers can find their favourite dish in a much healthier variant at Fabcafe without compromising on the taste. Another factor that differentiates us is the consistent taste across cafes.

What has been the biggest learning so far?
I would say health food is one sector where learning never stops learning from the ever changing trends and continuous R&D being done around the world. Strangely, people think healthy food cannot be tasty. At Fabcafe, we have been proving that wrong since day one - and our thankfully, the learning curve has been reasonably short. We have repeat customers because the health & taste aspect of our food and look forward to continue building on it.

The healthy food sector has been evolving with different segregations within the preparation of food like Vegan, Gluten-Free, Paleo, etc - and we cater to many of these dietary needs already across categories. But the demand has been louder in metros - the smaller cities are still learning about Veganism, Wheat-free diets and more.

What is the market size and opportunity?
The pre-covid health food sector market size was around Rs 40,000 crores growing at 5 per cent every year. This included both Food service & Food retail. Though we are expecting the dynamics to change after covid. Now more customers will reach out to healthier options. We definitely plan to reach these customers in different cities through our FMCG. Our products will be available even in cities where Fabcafe is not present.

What are some of the new additions to the café?
Fabcafe Meal Trays are most recent addition to the café experience. They have been very carefully designed keeping in mind the customer need and our environment. You can easily enjoy your Fabcafe meal in the comfort of your car using these sustainable Meal Trays. You can also check our recent debuts to the menu. The Almond Crunch and Espresso Cake is already winning hearts.

The most exciting launch for this year will be the Fabcafe FMCG line that includes a variety of different products like Chia Bajra Biscotti, Super Nut Butter (made with almonds, hazelnuts & cashews), a Saffron Chai Masala.  
Another exciting concept that has peaked interest in our Fabcafe experience will be the new addition by the scenic lake view - Fabcafe y the Lake, at Delhi’ Heritage Park, Sunder Nursery that’s launching on 1st of November.

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Fabcafe Chef Sunil Chauhan