Have bitcoin? Buy atta. In these yeasty days of e-commerce, rotis are the next frontier. At TWF (The Wheat Flour), which revels in its ‘ground-to-order technology’, Internet-connected, specially-designed, dynamic stone mills grind your wheat only after you have placed an order online.
Not surprisingly, Pranjal Y Kumar and Arjun Rungta, the founders of TWF, are ex-investment bankers and technologists, who enjoy dabbling in crypto-currencies almost as much as they enjoy tracking down delicious wheat.
Today, their company offers three varieties of unadulterated, unbleached and unprocessed wheat flour. There’s organic Indie flour, Highland flour made with sharbati wheat from the Malwa plateau, and an heirloom flour called Relique, made with a 10,000-year-old wheat strain.
But when they began in 2014, all they were trying to solve was an ‘analytics problem’. Says Kumar, “Both of us are computer engineers and we were trying to create a platform that would allow people to automate their consumer purchases.” They began with atta, since it was a common staple, and launched a store in Delhi.
“We noticed different profiles. Some people would buy 10 kilograms every 20 days: usually if it was a family of four or five. Customers from the West or South India would consume that much in 45 days. It began as an anthropological project, then spiralled into something very different.” They were soon stocking 104 varieties of wheat. “Products from Bengaluru, Mumbai... every place we could find. All we wanted was data. We needed to make sure we had all possible options, so that even if customers switched their flour, they still bought from us.”
By 2015, they decided to create high-quality flour themselves, so they set up a small home mill. “It took us 20 minutes to process five kilograms then, which is really slow.” Now, each of their machines can process about 20 kilograms in 20 minutes. In response to requests from a growing band of loyal customers, they began to expand.
Last year, Kumar and Rungta finally launched the company with three varieties of flour. A sample pack with all three, weighing about six pounds, costs ₹799.
“We never really thought about how expensive it was in relative terms,” says Kumar, discussing why they feel it’s priced just right. “We choose the wheat strain, then the region where we get it from. The Highland variety comes from Madhya Pradesh and Indie from Rajasthan.” Highland is a rain-fed crop, while Indie is sustained by irrigation.
“Highland tends to absorb a lot more moisture, so rotis stay soft for longer. Indie absorbs less, but is certified organic.” Then there’s Relique, which resembles spelt, einkorn and farro in its nutrient profile, and has a gluten structure similar to farro. Kumar says, “This is one of the gifts of the feudal system. Every zamindar had a patch of land where he would grow crops for his own family. Where he wouldn’t spray fertilisers. Our Relique ancient wheat comes from one such feudal region in Karnataka. It took us two years to find it: this strain hasn’t been artificially hybridised or altered in 10,000 years. There are other varieties like this around the country: In South India, there’s khapli. And in the Bundelkhands there’s kathiya wheat. But they have their own peculiarities and flavour profiles. We tested about 13, and then chose the wheat that we felt yields the best-tasting flour.”
Meanwhile, sales are steadily picking up. Kumar says, “After a year of hard work, we broke even last month. We serviced 26 States/Union Territories in April. We believe we have reached a product-market fit with our product range and the next goal is to get into hyper growth phase.”
He says Delhi NCR is their biggest client base, followed by Bengaluru, Mumbai and Pune. And then there are the hardcore fans: “A customer on the West Coast of America asked for 15 kilograms of flour recently. And paid about ₹10,000 just for shipping!”