By Inc42 Media

At a time when the country’s consumer houseware market is projected to become an INR 50K Cr opportunity by 2027 on the back of the evolving lifestyle of new-age customers and an increase in disposable incomes, the Indian school lunchbox market is screaming disruption in more ways than one.

For starters, this segment (lunchbox) is dominated by a handful of traditional players like Tupperware and Milton, and bland-looking steel tiffin boxes that have been around for decades. 

Also, this segment has been a laggard on the innovation front, mostly navigated by unorganised small manufacturers offering dull-looking lunchboxes made of cheap and unsafe plastic. 

Interestingly, it was not before their parenthood that the founders of the consumer houseware brand Basil, Harini Rajagopalan and Mahesh Muraleedharan, found themselves staring at this glaring gap when searching for compartment-style lunchboxes for their kids.

Triggered by their newly found peeve, the husband and wife duo then decided to take the reins of disruption in their hands and launched Basil in 2023. 

Since then, the Bengaluru-based D2C brand, Basil has been on a mission to craft aesthetically pleasing, innovative, high-quality kitchen and houseware products, with a special focus on bento boxes and water bottles.

The cofounders’ idea first got validation when other parents in their vicinity, too, were looking to replace unsightly lunchboxes with more innovative, designer options for their kids if given a chance.

“We found that other parents shared the same frustration with the lack of appealing lunchbox designs,” Rajagopalan said.  

From there started the duo’s journey of crafting perfect lunchboxes — pleasing to look at, non-toxic and spill-proof.

The startup floated its first product three months ago in March 2024. Since then, it has expanded its product portfolio to 25 water bottles and tiffin boxes made of premium stainless steel.  

According to the cofounders, Basil, on the back of the strong adoption of its products, is one of the top 50 lunchbox brands on Amazon. During its first month of sales, it harvested INR 22 Lakh in gross revenues. It has sold its products to over 5,000 customers across India since then. 

In February, Basil raised INR 3.6 Cr in seed funding in a round led by IIMA Ventures and Appreciate Capital, with participation from prominent angel investors such as Mohit Sadaani of The Moms Co., Aprameya Radhakrishna of Koo, Abhishek Goyal of Tracxn, Malini Adapureddy, founder, Deconstruct), and Brij Bhushan of Magicpin.How D2C Brand Basil Aspires To Take On Tupperware & Milton In The Indian Lunchbox Segment

Basil’s Inception Story

Call it coincidence but Rajagopalan and Muraleedharan could not have stepped foot into the Indian lunchbox market at a better time. Well, for one, the segment, which was valued at $400 Mn in 2021, is projected to grow to $690 Mn by 2029. Secondly, their foray happened when the concept of Japanese-style Bento boxes was gaining prominence in other parts of the world, including the US, and had yet to find acceptance in India.

“When we were looking to enter the segment, the concept of Bento boxes was catching up in the US and other international markets. While the trend was making its way in India, the concept wasn’t picking up. Back then, these products were largely sourced from China and had poor quality and designs,” she said.

How D2C Brand Basil Aspires To Take On Tupperware & Milton In The Indian Lunchbox SegmentHow D2C Brand Basil Aspires To Take On Tupperware & Milton In The Indian Lunchbox Segment

After over a year of experimentation, during their stealth phase, the duo realised that to make Basil’s lunch boxes stand out, they needed to focus on multiple fronts. The tiffin boxes had to be stylish, sleek, and leak-proof if they aspired to compete with established players like Tupperware and Milton.

Having identified the problem statement, the next biggest challenge was to set up a manufacturing line. Rajagopalan told Inc42 that the designs for Basil’s initial products were her own creations, inspired by her children’s preferences for their tiffin boxes.

However, she didn’t limit her designs to this input. Gathering a broader consensus on consumer preferences turned out to be a slightly extensive process. Collaborating with an experienced designer ultimately helped Basil perfect its designs.

For the manufacturing, the duo, at the outset, partnered with local tiffin box manufacturers. While many manufacturers were initially sceptical about the viability of their products, the startup’s confidence in its vision convinced a few to partner with Basil for manufacturing. With this, the cofounders zeroed in on the designs for their first product, The Unicorn Bento, in early 2023.  

Rajagopalan asserted that the extensive research conducted before the launch of their first product contributed to the company’s immediate success. The founder said that the company ran out of stock every two weeks. 

Basil Starts To Fly But Hiccoughs Remain

After the launch of Basil’s first product, the company’s equation with manufacturers changed completely. Interestingly, the ones that were not quite sure about the product’s viability began forming a beeline to forge partnerships with the startup. 

“Post our first launch, we started receiving inbound queries from manufacturers looking to tie up with Basil. As a result, now we see manufacturers being more involved in the complete production cycle as well as making investments in the product,” she adds. 

However, there’s a catch. Notably, Basil’s products are more assembly-heavy and take more manufacturing time. This particular challenge makes many manufacturers wary of committing to producing 5K pieces a month. 

Talking about other challenges, Rajagopalan said that the pricing of products is something that still bothers the startup’s founders. She said that the startup will be in a better position to compete with the likes of Tupperware and Milton once they successfully solve the pricing puzzle. However, she said, by the time that is done the startup is targeting customers who have enough disposable income to spare.

“We are targeting consumers with access to disposable income and who value aesthetics of the designs of the products they use. For them, the characters, collaboration of elements, colours in the backdrop of the images are critical to discern if they will be investing in a product. For such parents, Basil’s products tick all the boxes,” the cofounder said.  

What’s Next For Basil

Given the high prices, the founders anticipated resistance to cracking the non-metro market. As expected, the product has not gained much traction in rural areas, which still rely heavily on offline purchases.

Consequently, Basil’s vision for future growth focusses less on expanding deeply into the Indian market and more on international expansion by 2026. The founders believe there’s a greater overlap between consumer preferences in metropolitan India and international markets compared to the rest of the country.

However, before expanding its geographies, the one-year-old startup must address several looming issues. Despite its stylish design, Basil’s products are not insulated, a crucial feature for keeping food warm. Rajagopalan asserts that this key product innovation is on the anvil.

The second issue is limited availability and awareness. Currently, Basil’s products are only available on Shopify, Amazon, and the company’s website, with minimal marketing efforts. To address this, the company plans to expand its online presence before entering the US market.

Basil aims to achieve an ARR of INR 100 Cr before venturing outside India. Reaching this revenue milestone will also enable the company to diversify into other school-related product categories, such as bags and pencil boxes, while maintaining its strong brand identity.

As of now, despite having solved the branding and product puzzles, Basil is still faced with an uphill task to refine its inventory management, pricing, and product features. Once these key tasks are aligned, it would be a spectacle to witness Basil locking horns with Tupperware and Milton in the Indian houseware market.

Source: Inc42 Media