There is always something exciting to try out or get hooked on for a foodie in Amchi Mumbai. Ruchira Sonalkar’s Native Tongue offering over 22 products – jams, stone-ground nut butters, savory spreads, fruit cordials, and dessert sauces, is one of them. The all-natural and preservative-free artisanal products made from lesser-known indigenous produce have become a rage with Mumbaikars. The sustainable brand uses glass jars and recycled paper to pack products in the gourmet condiments brand. Native Tongue is now an all-India favourite travelling from Mumbai to Mizoram and Kashmir to Kanyakumari.

Tumbling into Taste

Ruchira is not an alumnus of any catering college. She has no professional culinary training. For 13 years, she worked as a product head for a digital news company leaving the job to look after her newborn in 2014. But the love for food and a simmering desire to do something made her head into the kitchen. Soon, she jumped onto the pop-ups bandwagon that was trending in Mumbai. There she served lesser-known Maharashtrian dishes. Later, she diversified into jams and sauces.

Her very first order in 2018 to prepare jams and spreads for a friend’s baby shower received a good response. 

Image credits: The Better India

Brand Strategy

Spurred by compliments and more orders, she and her husband Rohan decided to utilize their 180 sq ft kitchen to manufacture their first product – Jams.

After much deliberation, Ruchira and Rohan arrived at a strategic decision. Firstly, every product must have something special about it and must invoke forgotten flavours of India. Secondly, the products must use lesser-known produce or ingredients that have a GI Tag. Lastly, the ingredients need not be mainstream but should be organic and sourced locally. For example, they made mulling spices with gondhoraj lime, a close and seldom-used Indian variant of the kaffir lime grown on organic farms on the East Coast of India.

According to Ruchira, “We did everything in-house, from recipe formulation to printing out the labels. We started with six flavours — strawberry jam, salted caramel, rum caramel, honey mustard, peanut butter with chillies, and garlic confit. It was our pilot run to see if these flavours would be interesting. The response was phenomenal. People who had never eaten peanut butter liked our product with chillies, because it reminded them of shengdana chutney. Peanut butter could connect with a 20-year-old as well as a 50-year-old. There’s also the honey mustard that was a spin on kasundi.”

Ruchira Sonalkar with her Native Tongue food products. Image credits: The Better India

Native Tongue it is!

In December 2019, the couple renamed their brand Native Tongue. The orders kept rolling in. In January 2020, they moved to a third-party manufacturing unit with a larger space. But as luck would have it, the news of the pandemic and lockdown hit, and Native Tongue relocated to its 180sq ft kitchen. 

In January 2021, Ruchira Sonalkar, the enterprising woman entrepreneur, got funding and decided to scale up production from a new 1,500-square foot kitchen. Today, the company is again getting around 1,500 orders per month, and is expecting over 3,500 orders during the upcoming festive seasons. They also have a tie-up with two brands – Baker’s Dozen and Fortune Hotels, to sell their products.

Native Tongue believes, “When the produce quality is good, you can keep the recipe simple, and let the ingredients shine on their own. The product then speaks for itself.” Yes, and so do many foodies believe. Healthy ingredients, simple cooking, and unique products make a winning recipe.

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