An organic whey to hack food

Kasi Saravanan’s young, bootstrapped and ambitious OMG! Labs creates flexible protein supplements that work with everything from gym-friendly milkshakes to everyday dosa batter

Published - June 28, 2017 03:29 pm IST

“How do we hack food?” asks Kasi Saravanan. He adds earnestly, “I’ve always been interested in biohacking. In finding ways to make my body more efficient.” His earlier experiments involved hacking sleep when he was at university. In an attempt to find a way to function on the bare minimum, he and his room mate tried 10 minutes of sleep every 2.5 hours, with two hours at the end. “The idea was to sleep five instead of eight hours,” he says, adding with a chuckle. “It didn’t really work.”

Fortunately for him, and some committed body builders in Bathinda amongst others, his protein hack did. And that’s how city-based OMG Whey, which recently turned a year old, was born.

The young, bootstrapped startup, OMG! Labs, has made impressive progress in a startlingly short time. It’s more than 1,000 loyal clients include hospitals, gyms and smoothie bars. Their success could have to do with the wide demographic they target — elderly vegetarians who add it to dosa batter to boost protein value, little gyms in Punjab that order it off Amazon and, of course, everyone’s favourite contemporary target market, millennials.

For starters

According to the OMG website, the founder reached out to a “bunch of his mega-brainy biotechnologist friends and pitched the idea of making transparent, organic, cutting-edge nutrition, and they said ‘yes’, so was born OMG!” Elaborating on the process, Saravanan says it began with his search for a flexible whey protein. “Everything is filled with preservatives. They are overly sweet. Have a bunch of chemicals in them... I don’t eat anything I can’t pronounce. And I wanted a clean product. No flavours. No sweeteners...”

So he decided to create his own whey. “We first created it just for me and my friends to use. When we tried the test batch, we found it was a product that showed results. So we thought, ‘Why don’t we take it somewhere where it’s useful. Where there are lots of vegetarians’.” Which is how OMG! Labs sprung up in Chennai.

Born in Blackpool, in North West England, Saravanan grew up between Singapore, India and Italy. His grandparents were in Chennai and Madurai, so he visited occasionally. “I moved here because I could speak Tamil. I did my market research here. But it’s a very difficult market,” he says, discussing how slowly they grew at first. “We didn’t have any employees till about five months ago. My mom was not happy: Two years ago, I was working in an investment bank. Suddenly, I had a backpack filled with whey, and was going to gyms to find buyers.”

No easy feat

He adds, “It takes a lot of runway to create a whey protein. You need a network, you need to get certifications...” On the plus side, they now have the advantage of individuality. “In terms of organic nutrition, I think we are the only ones here. Our whey is created to comply with EU laws. The market here is so disorganised. There’s a lot of counterfeit whey,” he says, rolling his eyes and adding, “It’s basically sathu maavu in a better bag. Peddled by better trainers.”

OMG claims to have more bio available protein in each scoop. “It means your body absorbs more. This is because of our patented cross-filtration process, but also because it’s very light with no chemical nasties. You can put it in dosa batter. We’re trying to put it in rasam and sambar as well. Also muffins, cakes, protein bars... You can even use it in hot drinks.”

This versatility enables them to target a large market. “We have mothers buying it for their kids. Professionals for their parents... It’s taken a long time to convince people, but we’re noticing that once they are convinced, they become loyalists,” he says, discussing how he challenged customers to send his product to labs for independent testing. Some took him up on his word, then signed up.

By the whey

Whey is created via a filtration process, says Saravanan. “It’s a by-product of hard cheese — since there are no actual units in India to make whey powder, we make it in Lancashire. We have a network of dairy farmers, and a majority of our milk comes from The Netherlands and Germany.” Hence the tag line, ‘Engineered in the the UK, created for India’.

He didn’t stop with whey. “We also created Creaplus, a creatine. It’s a product which lots of athletes use and it has all natural ingredients. Then there’s their popular ‘meal of champions’: a meal replacement product. “We use locally-sourced ashwagandha and reishi mushrooms,” he grins, “Think Patanjali meets sports nutrition.”

Saravanan’s cautious about growth. “I want to build intimacy at scale,” he says, before pausing delightedly. “I think I should trademark that phrase!” Stating that community building is an “overwrought term” right now, he’s working towards establishing touch points instead, by connecting with different, established communities.

In the meantime, he’s busy creating protein balls. “It’s a cottage industry thing we came up with: pressed protein balls with dates, cashews, turmeric and honey. It’s in the works and should be out in a couple of months,” he says, adding with a chuckle, “I plan to brand it ‘baller.’ It’s good to be provocative sometimes.”

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