Entrepreneur

Uncle Saba's: How A Father-Son Team Took The 'Ethnic' Out Of Poppadoms And Made Them Global

Poppadoms are as addictive as potato chips; it is impossible to wolf down just one. Fortunately, that’s where the similarity ends.

Unlike potato chips which are exceedingly damaging to the body, poppadoms – an Indian cracker commonly sold at banana leaf restaurants – are quite another story. The paper-thin crunchy snack is crammed with heart-healthy lentils which makes them a nutritious snack food alternative.

Take Uncle Saba’s Poppadoms, for instance.

“Made with 4X the protein, the description reads. “3X the fibre, 40% less carbs and 30% less saturated fat than your average chip.”

These poppadoms are packaged like potato chips; one glance at it and any unobservant healthy eater will look the other way. A closer look, on the other hand, will draw attention and curiosity.

Uncle Saba's poppadoms
Image credit: Uncle Saba’s

Way Beyond An Indian Poppadom In A Can

“We didn’t want it to be typecast as an ethnic snack. We wanted it to have global appeal from the get go. It was very important for the product to be pitched as a healthier lentil chip and not just as an Indian poppadom in a can,” says Uncle Saba’s co-founder, Sreenivas Saba.

Currently, there are four flavours available in the market: Original, Barbecue, Tomato, and Sreenivas’ personal favourite, Sweet Chilli. The poppadoms are gluten and cholesterol-free, and suitable for vegans.

Uncle Saba's founders
The Sabas feature on The Edge Malaysia

Uncle Saba’s product packaging is an echo of Innocent Drinks, a company known for its smoothies and juices in the UK. Its description is compelling, playful, and witty.

Don’t worry about carbs and snack shamelessly with Uncle Saba’s Poppadoms,” it says.

“In homage to [Innocent Drinks], we imbibed some playful elements in our packaging, such as ‘plenty of love and care’ as one of the ingredients. The entire experience of Uncle Saba’s should be fun, and we have tried to make this ethos manifest in every aspect of the product, from packaging to flavouring to the website.”

A Father And Son’s Dream

Uncle Saba’s isn’t just Sreenivas’ dream; it’s his father’s, too.

The younger Saba fondly recalls how their grandiose idea for the family business came about, “When I was in boarding school in the UK, I remember buying a pack of Walkers poppadoms and showing it to my father.”

Uncle Saba's co-founder
Image Credit: Sreenivas Sabas

An idea erupted and stuck in his head since then.

Back then, technology had not caught up with their vision; but Sreenivas’ father never stopped looking for an answer. Once the father-son pair started working together, they begun going on trips to countries like Australia, India, and China in search of the ideal machinery for their company. They eventually settled on Malaysia.

Naming their latest food venture was an easy decision.

“Since it was my father’s dream, we had to name it after him and call it Uncle Saba’s,” Sreenivas says.

A Big Family Affair

Sreenivas and his father may be the main kahunas behind Uncle Saba’s, but the business is very much a family affair – everyone pitched in. From what the young entrepreneur has described in our interview, it’s crystal clear the whole brainstorming process was chummy and engaging.

“Every member of my family provided their own unique inputs that we have managed to imbibe in order to perfect our poppadoms.”

Uncle Saba's nutrition information
Image credit: Uncle Saba’s

Sreenivas spoke highly of his partnership with his father and the experience was nothing short of wonderful. “I enjoy working with my father and learning from him. He thinks like an entrepreneur and is willing to take risks to bring his dreams to fruition.”

The humble entrepreneur also believes, had it not been for his father, there wouldn’t be Uncle Saba’s. “At the end of the day, it was his idea to make Uncle Saba’s. I just helped him by executing it and adding my own little spin on it.”

Currently studying for his Master’s degree in the UK, Sreenivas needs to get used to being separated miles away from his family. This also means that the Sabas have to rely on video conference for their business meetings. Seniority plays a little role in the workplace.

”For all major decisions we consult each other before moving forward,” Sreenivas reveals.

Uncle Saba's poppadoms
Image Credit: Uncle Saba’s

Gritty And Unstoppable

Like his dad, Sreenivas was born to be an entrepreneur – he can’t picture himself doing anything else.

When his first entrepreneurial stepping stone involved working with a fellow entrepreneur on a major logistics project in India, he knew he was in it for the long haul.

“I learnt to think, plan and execute. A lot of my ways of doing business was influenced by my first job.”

Sreenvivas then went on to launch two e-commerce websites called eCourierz.com and eShipz.com in India.

The wealth of experience he amassed gave him insights on web design, social media marketing, and harnessing the web to hyping up new products, into the bargain.

Uncle Saba's poppadoms
Image Credit: Uncle Saba’s

These acquired skills are transferable to his latest venture, to boot. “I managed to apply a lot of what I have learnt from this experience into Uncle Saba’s,” Sreenivas admits.

Hard skills aside, Sreenivas counts his resilience as his strong suit. He’s used to knock-backs, the part and parcel of his career. “It goes back to my days in sales where I had to keep knocking on doors till I got an order.”

A Tradition, A Big Future

“Part of my job now is to launch our Poppadoms in the UK and also export to the European market,” he shares. According to The Malaysian Reserve, the poppadoms’ future flavours include wasabi and satay paste.

Taking an innovative approach, Uncle Saba’s always welcomes suggestions from the public for their next flavour. Since their launch, the startup has received multiple wacky requests such as butter chicken masala, strawberry, and tulsi (Indian mint). Sreenivas wants a durian flavour himself.

Sreenivas Saba
Image credit: Sreenivas Saba

“You never quite know where the next great flavour comes from,” quips Sreenivas.

“My favourite is Sweet Chilli. It reminds me of what I used to have in England when I was 15 or 16. Every bite takes me back to those school days. That is exactly what I want people to feel when they taste our products. Every bite should take them to some wonderful memory or some exotic locale, at least in their mind.”

And perhaps this is what Uncle Saba’s all about – a snack in which it stirs up a multi-sensory experience that freely sets the light-hearted nostalgia confetti in everyone.

Featured image credit: Sreenivas Saba

 

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