Vol. 127 - NO. 39

Blog Startup CPG

SINCE 2019

The Birth of
Popcorn 2.0

Aarti Kochhar Kaji and Aditya Kaji are the founders of Taali, a snacking brand designed to revolutionize the idea of guilt-free snacking, using Water Lily Seeds (Or as they’re known in India: Makhana). The idea came about when Aarti and Aditya were in Business School and they launched Taali in 2018.

The Birth of Taali

The idea came about from a latent need while Aditya (my co-founder and also my husband) and I were both in Boston at the Harvard Business School together. Having lived in the US for many years, we realised that most of the snacks were very fatty, highly processed and made from ingredients like potato, corn and wheat! Being an avid snacker and a foodie, I was in search of a better snack to munch on while going through business school. We looked back to our childhood and remembered ‘Makhana’ – a snack that we grew up eating at home in India – roasted with some salt and pepper.

Makhana or Popped Water Lily seed was then an unassuming Ayurvedic SUPERFOOD ingredient that is Native to India and has been eaten in homes in India for 100s of years. We started carrying some back with us to Boston when we visited our families in India, and whoever tried it absolutely loved it! Aditya always said, I spent most of my life learning and playing with numbers and equations, so he framed a simple equation in his mind which he wanted to solve: Delicious + Nutritious = ? That was our ‘Aha!’ moment and the idea behind Taali was born.

We wanted to share this hidden gem of an ingredient with the rest of the world. The fundamental objective for us was to make a nutritious product which didn’t compromise taste. Popped water lily seeds had been used in Ayurvedic medicine for decades due to its health benefits. It is high in antioxidants, has anti-inflammatory properties, a low glycemic Index, and is also naturally Non GMO, Corn Free, Grain Free, Gluten Free, Nut Free, Soy Free and Dairy Free.

The Brand

Taali is a Hindi word which means ‘High-Five’. We built Taali to be a celebration of finally finding a snack that is healthy and tastes great, something that you can share and is worthy of a high-five. That’s how the name was born. We wanted our branding to be fun and playful, showing our customers that better-for-you food doesn’t have to be boring. Little did we know that one day, that one Taali would multiply itself to a million more!

We started with savoury flavours, when we launched and now Taali now has also gone festive with two new sweet flavours as well. We wanted to take advantage of our Superfood base ingredient – The Popped Water Lily Seed – that works perfectly with Sweet or Savory to create something exciting for our customers. Similar to caramel flavored popcorn, we have developed delicious sweet variants that maintain the crunch but offer something more to the consumer – a light & crunchy guilt-free sweet snack with lots of protein! They fill the white space of fulfilling sweet cravings in a guilt-free way and can be eaten almost at any occasion – as a guilt free snack, after a workout for your protein fix, in place of a cookie with your coffee, for breakfast in place of cereal, or as desert. 😉

Baby Steps

By 2018, Taali was a packaged snack with a manufacturer to produce it. These were still the early days, but we cherished every milestone they reached, something we still feel is vital to keep up morale. One of the most important phases of our journey, as we had to teach the people about what Roasted Water Lily Pops were, something that was completely alien to all of them.

The Challenge of Launching a New Ingredient in the US

We knew that Water lily pops was a functional snack, but we had to carefully think through how we could best introduce customers to this new SUPERFOOD ingredient.

Designing our packaging was a crucial but fun part of the process. The colors we have chosen are bright and attractive. The contrast with the pattern makes our bags stand out and pop on the shelves. Having each flavor be a different color emphasizes and distinguishes each flavor in a stronger and clearer way.

Our water lily pops have 67% less fat, 20% fewer calories and 50% more protein on average than popcorn. We realized that making this comparison to something as familiar as popcorn is crucial on the front of our packaging so customers know why we are better.

Making sure we have the right mix of flavors was important to incentivize customers to try our products. We wanted to have some classics like the himalayan pink salt and white cheddar, but also some fun and innovative flavors so there is something for everyone. With Turmeric being in trend, we launched our Tangy Turmeric flavor to give customers their turmeric fix for the day, blended with other spices for the perfect blend. We also added Sriracha Spice to be a better-for-you version for people who love flaming hot cheetos, and Tikka Masala to represent the roots of water lily seeds.

It’s definitely been a long walk, but it has been the one we have thoroughly enjoyed. Whilst trying to make the quintessential snack for everyone, let’s not forget that Taali is basically all about spreading love, togetherness and high fives.

The Water Lilies Begin to Pop

Taali grew from being available online on Amazon to multiple other online channels and stores across the country.

As the days passed, Taali had a stronger core team, and newer opportunities started opening up. People have begun to notice the brand, and are more welcoming to the idea of Roasted Snacks made from water lilies. Taali has won the people’s hearts and more importantly, their trust. We won the ‘Best Savory Snack at Expo East 2018, got featured on the Today Show and were also selected by Y combinator to be part of their accelerator. Although, what felt like a bullet train, was actually more of a rollercoaster. Launching a product made from an unknown ingredient was never going to be easy, which made it all the more rewarding. We strive to continue to grow, get more reach online and offline, touch the hearts and pallets of many more customers and continue to increase the awareness of our Super ingredient, as we keep walking on!

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