New chip on the block
Geetha Jayaraman, an NRI in the US, has turned her passion for cooking and banana chips into a successful business venture.
Memories of home: Grab ’em gourmet chips and Geetha Jayaraman (below).
Armed with a kitchen knife, a blend of spices, a bunch or two of plantains, and fond memories filled with appetizing aromas from her mother’s kitchen, Geetha Jayaraman, an Indian who was raised in Malaysia before she came to the U.S. many years
ago, has not only succeeded in bringing the mouth-watering flavour of her mother’s fried plantains to the walls of her Indian-American home, but to those of several others across the country.
Filling a gap
Geetha is the proud owner of “Grab ‘em Snacks”, a gourmet snack company that her husband is also a part of, and sells elegantly packaged, easy on trans-fat, plantain chips in six flavours. Geetha personally chooses the plantains, and hand-picks the spices that she uses to season her chips with. She says that it is her nostalgia, her passion for gourmet cooking and entertaining, and simply the dire lack of quality snacks in the U.S. that led to the setting up of “Grab ‘em.”
“I would often make these plantain chips at home, and my friends started demanding that these chips be made widely available. Having worked in Corporate America in the food industry (Kraft Foods), with the encouragement I received from friends, and the urge to be the first to market a delicious and healthy alternative in the salty snack industry, I decided to take my passion a step further and started my venture,” she avers.
Geetha is an avid gardener, and also paints “Rangoli” designs on tile, wood, glass etc. “I have leveraged my love for painting in a very unique way of packaging for my chips,” she adds.
When asked if her target segment includes overseas customers, Geetha says that exporting overseas could get a tad tricky and complicated even, especially with food products. “We have, however, shipped to soldiers in Iraq who have ordered through our website (APO addresses only),” she adds quickly, and continues, “Gourmet and specialty stores and caterers, as well as people with dietary restrictions like gluten allergy, kosher and also vegans are our main targets.”
Given the current erratic market conditions for Indian groceries and spices, Geetha says that ongoing innovation is critical when starting up, and dealing with rare vegetables like plantains and changing commodity prices, more so without compromising product quality.
“As much as setbacks are expected in any business, Grab ‘em Snacks’ setbacks include volatile conditions in raw material prices, and raising sufficient capital to grow the business,” she admits.
However, when questioned about the highs of her entrepreneurial stint so far, she says, “Well, thanks to some of my first circle customers and their word of mouth advertising, I have received many compliments about my chips, and then with very good SEO through the website, I have been successful in luring many upscale grocery stores, caterers and individuals to taste my products and remain loyal.”
While that sounds like a wonderful array of accolades, Geetha has won some awards too; she was declared winner in the Fiery Foods Challenge, and had a close call with another win by being chosen as a finalist in the Gallo Wine Gold Medal Awards.
Success, as they say, comes in many colours, and in this case, flavours. Geetha’s chips are available in six zesty flavours, sea salt, black pepper, red chilli, chilli garlic, cajun spice and jalapeno. And she plans to replace all these ingredients with organic ones in the near future. She also intends to selectively expand into other healthy gourmet snack options. “We do have many ideas on the drawing board,” she adds.
I am tempted to find out the secret behind the name she has chosen for her range of snacks. “Well,” she says, “it’s simple, really. We wanted a very catchy and attractive brand name for our current and future products. And ‘Grab ‘em’ just fit the bill to a T.”
Geetha’s love for the good life and her epicurean instincts have come together in perfect sync, and not only are her chips easy on the eyes, and the gut, they also make great holiday gifts, and as she puts her witty spin on it, “go well with alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages too.”
Grab ‘ems are available exclusively on www.grabemsnacks.com.
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