The “convenience breakfast food” scene just got a major upgrade with a new line of whole grain breakfast biscuits that proudly bring South Asian spice-forward flavors and climate-smart grains to the ”better-for-you breakfast” category for the first time. Inspired by heritage-driven flavors like Chai Spice and Turmeric & Ginger and the native Indian superfood pearl millet as the core ingredient of each biscuit, Kanira brings a healthier breakfast ritual to spice up the mundane morning routine.
The creative approach was to transform a South-Asian breakfast staple of a flavorful pearl millet porridge and warming spices, called Bajra Khichdi, into a sumptuous biscuit that delivers sustenance, energy, and nutrition.
On a mission to elevate South Asian flavors in the snack scenes of the Western world, founder Vishal Ramakrishnan is gearing up to put Kanira on the “munchies” map! He graciously chatted with VEGWORLD about his inspirations and visions for Kanira.
VW: Tell us about Kanira, your brand mission, and why American consumers should try biscuits for breakfast.
VR: Kanira is a South Asian-American health food brand that makes delicious, wholesome products using climate-smart ingredients. We’re on a mission to create healthier mornings while sharing the diverse origin stories behind our ingredients and celebrating the communities & heritage behind them.
While eating biscuits for breakfast might seem like a new concept for some American consumers, many Americans are already customers of big brands that provide breakfast biscuit options in the market.
Our breakfast biscuits can be eaten as a quick, on-the-go breakfast alternative or a morning snack with coffee or tea. They are made for busy individuals who either have long commutes, work in high-stress jobs with long hours, juggle multiple responsibilities, or regularly skip breakfast due to a lack of time or clean, tasty options. Anyone trying our biscuits will be positively surprised at how delicious and filling these are while also hitting key dietary requirements.
VW: What makes your biscuits different from other competitors?
VR: We like to approach this question in two parts: 1) Nutritional Differentiators; 2) Brand Differentiators.
To address the first point, we are a clean alternative to all the other breakfast biscuit options currently in the market. Compared to competitors, our biscuits contain 50% less sugar, more protein, and more prebiotic fiber. In addition, we do not use any refined sugars or sugar alcohols, instead utilizing unrefined coconut sugar to sweeten our products. Our products are also gluten-free, vegan, and free from artificial preservatives, gums, starches, or lecithins. Lastly, our biscuits are baked in MCT-rich coconut oil as opposed to palm or sunflower oils.
Brand-wise, while creating a healthier alternative to existing options was important to us, it was also crucial that our brand represented something beyond just another “healthier snack”. This is why our products are centered around pearl millet flour as our hero ingredient and highlight the origins and communities behind this amazing superfood, with minimal environmental impact. Drawing inspiration from pearl millet’s origins and consumption in South Asia, our breakfast biscuit flavors pay homage to the subcontinent while also capturing the mainstream rise of drinks from golden milk and cardamom coffees to chai, and matcha lattes!
VW: What was the inspiration behind Kanira’s biscuits and what void in the market did you identify?
VR: The inspiration for Kanira came after I noticed the rise of Eastern wellness ingredients such as turmeric, ashwagandha, coconut oil, and chai in the “better-for-you” industry. Multiple conversations with friends, family, and fellow South Asian Americans led to the same feelings of partial contentment and partial disenchantment with the rise of these ingredients. The contentment was born out of finally achieving mainstream recognition for ingredients that are commonly used in South Asian cuisine. Moreover, many individuals who had grown up in settings where bringing school lunches with these ingredients was looked down upon, felt vindicated. However, the disenchantment was borne out of the lack of proper representation of the communities or heritage behind these ingredients or products.
Similar to brands such as Siete Foods, A Dozen Cousins, Dang Foods, and others, Kanira is a brand that creates wholesome products utilizing heritage-inspired ingredients and flavors. Our goal is to allow South Asian Americans to feel represented by a mainstream, “better-for-you” brand, utilizing ingredients and flavors they may be familiar with. In addition, we want to speak to a larger American audience and educate them on how better-for-you products can be healthy, delicious, and sustainable while telling a heritage-led story.
While creating Kanira, I wanted to create a product that was easy to understand & consume and had the potential to become a part of someone’s daily routine. Upon observing snacking habits across the different day-parts, I noticed the rise of snacking in the morning along with a decreased consumption of a full breakfast, due to multiple factors such as a lack of time. All these factors led me to create a truly healthier alternative to breakfast biscuits as Kanira’s first product.
VW: Was it a conscious decision to develop an entirely plant-based formulation?
VR: Absolutely! I created Kanira to establish a better-for-you brand that incorporates South Asian heritage-inspired flavors and ingredients into our products but is created for mainstream consumption. This is why each of our pouches and cartons has the message “Inspired by South Asian heritage. Created for everyone.” In formulating our products, I wanted to ensure that our products adhered to standard dietary practices such as being gluten-free, dairy-free, and free from artificial ingredients or preservatives to widen our potential consumer pool as much as possible. Kanira also aims to create more excitement and diversity in the “better-for-you industry” and allow communities that may not see themselves represented on the shelves of grocery stores like Whole Foods, to find recognition in our brand and products.
VW: Who is your target audience?
VR: Our target audience can be split up into three segments:
- Millennial South Asian-Americans: We are targeting 1st or 2nd generation South Asian-Americans that have grown up with one foot in either culture and appreciate the nuances of South Asian cuisine but largely follow mainstream diets and eating habits & are conscious of their health
- Busy, on-the-go working professionals/parents: We are also targeting individuals that regularly skip breakfast due to a lack of time or those who simply “forget to eat” due to their busy schedules.
- Health-conscious individuals: Lastly, folks who follow specific health-conscious diets, especially as current options in the breakfast space may fall short of their expectations and needs.
VW: What were you looking for during the R&D process?
VR: When researching, testing, and selecting ingredients during the R&D process, I was looking for three main things:
- Taste: This is an extremely crucial factor for us as I have had my fair share of poor-tasting “better-for-you” products. Each ingredient is chosen based on its taste both individually as well as how it pairs together with other ingredients.
- Nutritional Benefits: We are committed to offering the highest quality ingredients and a holistic nutrition profile. We have strict guardrails in our recipe development process and do not use any artificial ingredients, fillers, or gut-irritating substances in our products, and strive to exclusively use organic ingredients when possible. We meticulously research each ingredient to determine the validity of its nutritional benefits and benchmark its usage in other health foods to understand overall market trends and consumer preferences.
- Fit with overall brand image/story: Our ingredients are not selected out of a hat. Rather, each ingredient has either a nutritional or cultural connection to our brand or both! In addition to pearl millet’s strong connection to South Asia, ingredients such as amaranth flour, our spices, and coconut oil have had a strong basis in South Asian cuisine for centuries.
VW: What has the feedback been so far?
VR: The feedback for our products and brand has been extremely positive up until this point with customers citing the taste and innovativeness of the products as some of their favorite aspects of Kanira. In addition, our heritage-led storytelling is strongly resonating with the South Asian-American community, who are learning more about the benefits of forgotten ancient grains such as pearl millet that they may have grown up eating. Lastly, our bold, bright, spice-forward flavors are also resonating with mainstream taste preferences and a general consumer interest in exploring new flavors! While the overwhelming response has been largely positive, we know that we still have work to do on improving the overall texture of the biscuits and dialing in the flavors to meet consumer preferences. We are constantly iterating on our recipes and manufacturing processes to make these changes.
VW: We appreciate consumer-driven businesses that value the feedback of their customers! Taking a trip down memory lane, did you have any favorite snack or go-to munchie growing up?
VR: I don’t think I ever had a staple favorite but had a steady rotation between Ellio’s Pizza, which in my opinion was the best mini frozen pizza ever created, Maggi Noodles–the South Asian crew needs no commentary here, and banana chips. Probably not the healthiest choices but they certainly kept my tastebuds happy and satisfied!
VW: Did you enjoy Indian/ South Asian flavors as a kid? Or was it something you grew to appreciate when you got older?
VR: I always enjoyed Indian/South Asian flavors as a kid, as I grew up in places where South Asian culture was quite strong. My family moved to the US when I was 8 years old, so our diet at home mainly consisted of a wide variety of fruits & vegetables native to India. However, as I entered my college and young professional years, my diet diversified significantly, as a result of where I lived, the people I spent time with, and my professional obligations. As I focused more on eating healthier, I spent time looking for healthier ingredients in South Asian cuisine, which were often limited in availability/accessibility depending on where I was located. One of the reasons for starting Kanira was to bridge this dichotomy of experiencing South Asian flavors and heritage while eating healthy. This is something that I think is missing in the market today and a void we hope to fill!
VW: Here’s a creative question for you– what is a conventional American snack you’d like to put an Indian spin on and how?
VR: I don’t think there is any particular American snack that I would like to re-invent but I do believe that we can benefit from more diverse options in the better-for-you breakfast category. Our goal as a brand is to utilize millets as our platform to reinvent snacks consumed in this daypart and be a substitute for some of the more conventional, generic options such as overnight oats and sugar-filled granola.
VW: Are there conventional stereotypes about Indian flavors and foods that you are consciously intending to break?
VR: While it is not our primary focus, we want to move the conversation needle around Indian/South Asian cuisine beyond a focus on curries, tikka masalas, or overly spiced foods. While these elements are indeed part of our culture, Kanira is more focused on shifting the conversation towards highlighting the wide variety of superfoods that originate in South Asia and incorporating them into our products. We don’t want to idly sit and watch another multi-million dollar health brand appropriate flavors or ingredients that originate from South Asian culture.
VW: Fantastic! For our snack foodies out there, what is your favorite way to enjoy the Kanira biscuits? Do you have a favorite flavor?
VR: I love anything with Coconut so my favorite flavor is Coconut & Cardamom. I typically enjoy these as a mid-morning snack with my 11 AM coffee and dip them in my coffee for added flavor and scrumptiousness! They also make for a great breakfast substitute on the days when I’m rushing out the door to attend early morning meetings!
VW: Sounds like a comforting morning routine! What are the flavor profiles you wish to see in “American” snacks to expose diverse palettes to South Asian flavors?
VR: I would love to see the industry focus on less sugary flavors. I feel like our brains have been conditioned to only view flavors such as chocolate chip, mint chocolate chip, snickerdoodle, etc. as being delicious. And so every bar, cookie, cracker, granola, etc. whether it’s found in a conventional grocery store or Whole Foods features the same flavor sets. Incorporating more spice-forward flavors such as those adopted by coffee chains and tea companies would go a long way in exposing individuals to various flavor profiles!
VW: Very well said! Are there any exciting plans for the future you would like our readers to know about?
VR: We’re just getting started on re-inventing the breakfast category! We believe that there is a lot of room for flavor and product innovation in the category and look forward to introducing more products made with South Asian heritage-inspired ingredients and flavors. Our goal is to use various types of millets as the main basis for our products, advocating for increased adoption of these nutritionally dense, wholesome, and climate-smart ingredients in our diets. We truly believe that their superior nutritional characteristics and ability to withstand high temperatures and drought-like conditions will make millet a larger part of our diets, as our food & agricultural systems adapt to the effects of climate change.
To learn more about Kanira and how to get your hands on these game-changing biscuits, check out their website and follow them on social media!