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From Chips To Healthy Snacking: How Ahana Gautam Changed Snacking

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From Chips To Healthy Snacking: How Ahana Gautam Changed Snacking

Cravings can strike anytime, anywhere. Whether it’s a movie night, a friend’s surprise visit, or the aftermath of a tough day, we’ve all given in to the charm of chips, cookies, and other convenient, yet often unhealthy, snacks. But have we ever stopped considering the hidden costs of these “guilty pleasures” on our health and well-being?

Today, we have the story of a busy professional who was once just like us. Her diet was a minefield of processed snacks, and her love for unhealthy snacking left her feeling sluggish. But unlike most of us who gave in to the cycle, she did something extraordinary. She sparked a revolution, not just in her own life but in the lives of countless others.

Want to know who we are talking about? Read on 

A Dream Childhood Sparked

Raised by a single mother in Bharatpur, Rajasthan, Ahana Gautam’s snacking memories were woven with ghevar and bhujia, a far cry from the processed world she later navigated.

Living in a state with the lowest literacy rates in India, she witnessed the limited opportunities available to girls in her state. So, Ahana set her sights on IIT Bombay just like her brother, as she knew education was her key.

Opposition To Higher Education

Many opposed Ahana’s dreams. Neighbors advised her mother to stop encouraging her daughter, as her son was in IIT already.

However, her mother did not pay heed to the neighbors and encouraged her daughter to chase her dreams.

With her mother’s unwavering support, Ahana Gautam set her sights on IIT Bombay first and later Harvard Business for her MBA.

Entrepreneurship Calling

While at IIT, the entrepreneurial bug bit her. The theatre group and the entrepreneurship cell nurtured her storytelling spirit, igniting a desire to build a brand from scratch.

However, it wasn’t until later that she decided to set up a business from scratch.

The Rude Awakening

While studying at IIT, Ahana’s eating habits remained poor as she resorted to junk, falling sick often. She continued eating at Harvard with a cuppa joe and two croissants.

She did not lose weight despite hitting the gym. The culprit? Her friend pointed out the bread and butter she had for breakfast.

A revelation that made her aware of how unhealthy her diet was.

The Impetus

What’s more, her niece was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at 15 months, and her sister-in-law struggled to find nutritious snacks for her daughter.

At this time, Ahana Gautam realized how unhealthy her diet had been since childhood.

From Frustration to Fuel

As Ahana embraced healthier choices, the transformation was undeniable. A visit to Whole Foods Market in the US, which sold food free of hydrogenated fats, artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives, planted a seed of possibility – why couldn’t such options exist back home?

Two generations facing the same challenge – the lack of healthy, accessible snacks. This dilemma planted the seeds for ‘Open Secret.’

The Quest Begins

In 2018, Ahana returned to Mumbai armed with a mission and a burning question: why were families and professionals still stuck with unhealthy options?

Surveys confirmed what she knew: people craved healthy yet tasty snacks. This and her experience at P&G and General Mills became her compass.

Building a Dream, One Cookie at a Time

2019 Open Secret was born, backed by her mother’s unwavering support and a paid-up capital of Rs. 2 Lakhs. The next nine months were dedicated to crafting the perfect “unjunked” snack. 

Drawing on her past experiences and customer feedback, she focused on replacing maida with nutrient-rich dry fruits and millet, minimizing sugar.

The Journey wasn’t Easy

Whether dealing with contract manufacturers, who invariably were men, or dealing with shopkeepers, retailers, and bankers (again mostly men), Ahana Gautam faced gender bias constantly.

She credits her resilience to her upbringing in a challenging environment and her minority status in a tech institution. It instilled in her the “survival skills and instincts” needed to thrive.

Finding a manufacturing facility prioritizing women workers was a challenge, eventually leading her to set up a factory run by an all-women team. 

Crafting the perfect recipe

Drawing on her consumer insights and feedback from a dedicated group of “Chief Innovation Officers” (mothers!), Ahana cracked the code.

Her “unjunked” cookies replaced maida with nutrient-rich dry fruits and millets, reducing sugar content significantly. The taste was just as good, if not better.

The Bestseller Is Born

It took nine months and 1,000 cookies, but the first bestseller, the nutty cookie, was born. But manufacturing presented another challenge.

This unique product required a customized assembly line, a task Ahana Gautam tackled with her engineering skills and also worked to increase the shelf life of her cookies.

Strategic Planning to the Rescue

Finally, in January 2020, Open Secret launched online and offline. Free trials, strategic placement in stores, and blind taste tests helped spread the word.

Their USP? Replicating the taste of junk food without the guilt, fulfilling cravings the healthy way.

Pandemic Strikes

The chaos of COVID-19 was totally unexpected. But Ahana, a fighter at heart, pivoted to online channels, thriving under the “essential goods” category.

A cooling system breakdown? No problem. Her refrigerator from home saved the day!

Open Secret Grows Stronger

Selling over 10 lakh cookies and expanding to over 30 products, from chips and dry fruits to chocolates and cereals, it became a brand to reckon with. 

Today, they’re present across major online platforms like Amazon, and Flipkart, their website, and quick commerce chains like Zepto, Blinkit, and Big Basket.

The products are selling like hotcakes at supermarkets, and they’ve partnered with other healthy brands.

On-track With Growth

The company is well on track to reach Rs 100 crore this year, aiming for a Rs 10,000 crore future. 

Ahana’s fearlessness and leadership qualities have won over investors like Avnish Bajaj, who prioritize founder potential over market trends.

The Secret Ingredient: Women

But Ahana’s vision extends beyond taste. She believes in empowering women. Her factory has become a haven for female employees, employing more than 200 women.

With over women accounting for 50% of the workforce, she challenges the status quo in a male-dominated industry. This dedication to inclusivity has become a cornerstone of Open Secret’s identity. 

A Legacy of Change

Open Secret, is Ahana’s love letter to her single mother, who showed her daughter that nothing is impossible. “It is an ‘open secret’ that we are who we are because of our mothers,” says the proud daughter, dedicating her brand to all mothers.

So, the next time you reach for a snack, remember Ahana’s story. Remember that a “convenient” bite doesn’t have to come at the cost of your health.

This Women’s Day, let’s celebrate the spirit of Ahana Gautam, the unjunking of snacks, and the power of women to create a healthier, more equitable world, one delicious bite at a time.

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I’m Archana R. Chettiar, an experienced content creator with
an affinity for writing on personal finance and other financial content. I
love to write on equity investing, retirement, managing money, and more.

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