Ice cream in gluten-free cones

As you walk into an ice cream manufacturing unit, you might expect to see hordes of workers busy all day long on the production line: mixing, churning, freezing, packaging and transporting. But at Sage Premium Natural Ice Creams (formerly known as Frost), things are a little different. In the wee hours of the morning, or late into the night, is when Sangeetha Karunakaran and husband, Murali Natrajan, work their magic at their Vellakinar unit. While their children are asleep, the duo behind the brand — that experiments with unique flavours like turmeric, lemongrass and sweet corn — select ingredients, make the ice cream and package it all by themselves.

Ice cream in gluten-free cones

Since they launched last year, the only staff they employ are delivery personnel who door deliver 10-15 kg (₹720 a kg) of ice cream every Saturday to eager customers.

And one of their highlights: their gluten-free cones. While international brand Cornetto is launching these cones with vegan chocolate and soy ice cream in the UK soon, Sage’s latest signature line comprising heirloom grain (millet and ragi) waffle cones is a first for India. Superfood flavours (moringa leaves and matcha green tea) are also part of the line, which will be launched next month.

Apart from supplying their classic flavours for weddings, and their recently-launched kiosk at Perks Road in Coimbatore, they also have a kiosk at the women's hostel at Chennai’s SRM University.

Flavour bag

“It all started with an ice cream making class we attended when we were working in the US. We had a lot of fun and that got us thinking,” says CEO Karunakaran, a mother of two young girls. They returned to India in 2014 and wanted to venture into the food business. “While Murali continued to work in IT, we were keen on making something preservative-free for our children. Coimbatore did not have artisanal ice cream brands and that’s when we realised it was the way to go,” she says. After two years of studying the market, they imported machines from Europe and set up the brand in May 2017. “We both have an IT background, so there was a lot of trial and error before we launched. We also learnt from YouTube videos, read books and researched on the Internet. Our elder daughter (who is six) was our official taster!” she adds.

Ice cream in gluten-free cones

Karunakaran points out that people are unaware that industrial ice creams are made with food colouring, preservatives and vegetable fat. “We wanted to create something natural.” While they were confident that classic flavours like chocolate, coffee and even fruitier ones such as strawberry and mango would work, they wanted to experiment and create flavours that appealed to the older generation too. “Initially, we thought ice cream making is limited to certain flavours and ingredients. But we were so wrong,” says the 33-year-old who has experimented with vegetables like beetroot and ginger and even spices such as chilli powder. The duo makes fresh batches every alternate day and are stocked up for two-three weeks at any time. “Every time we try out a new flavour, we send out small batches to our regular customers. Based on their reviews, we make changes and then launch them commercially,” adds Karunakaran, who is excited about her experiments with green tea and vegetables.

Ice cream in gluten-free cones

All natural

They had launched their first line of out-of-the-box flavours at Gourmet Bazaar last August: a beetroot and ginger combination, cardamom, saffron, turmeric, sweet corn and cereal. “The response was great. Today, we have customers calling in to check what new flavour we are working with,” says Karunakaran, who sources her produce from local markets. Cane sugar is used for their chocolate and coffee flavours and for the light-coloured ones, they are working on finding a substitute for white sugar.

To ensure the waste generated is minimum, they ditched plastic cups and experimented with the waffle cone. “We replaced refined flour with wheat, and traditional grains such as ragi and millet. They turned out great and will be part of our summer line, which also has sorbets in seasonal flavours like watermelon and pineapple.” Fresh flavours are being worked on for the upcoming mango season, along with spiced ice creams comprising pepper, nutmeg and cinnamon and a diabetic-friendly range made with stevia leaves.

Scaling up

While most start-ups opt to franchise their business early on, Karunakaran believes otherwise. “We are open to franchising but the kiosk model works better initially as it requires low investment and brings in more revenue. People get to know about the brand faster.” In Chennai, Sage will soon expand to SRM University’s main food court and IT establishments.

Sage ice creams are available in Coimbatore at EatAlley and the Perks Road kiosk. In Chennai, at SRM University. 8825568691

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Printable version | Apr 16, 2021 5:04:47 AM |

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