Pakistani food writer, blogger, cookery teacher and mother Sumayya Usmani is passionate about the rich diversity and flavours of the food of her homeland, and she has made it her mission to introduce British palates to this delicious culinary repertoire. She is also the creator of the Masala Monsoon Garam Masala spice range we sell in The Foodie Bugle Shop. They are a blend of mixed, aromatic spices that feature jasmine, marigold and rose petals, as well as other traditional Garam Masala spices.
We have found them to be invaluable in the kitchen, for making aromatic rice, for marinading chicken, for using in curries and dals, and also for sprinkling on top of porridge, yoghurt and creams.
As part of our “Meet the Maker” series we wanted to find out more about the birth and development of this brand and here is what we discovered about Masala Monsoon and its creator.
Q. Sumayya, what made you think of setting up Masala Monsoon in the first place?
A: Writing about and teaching people how to cook my heritage Pakistani cuisine has always been a passion that became a full-time career three years ago. To combine the two was a natural transition and Masala Monsoon is the result. I never wanted the brand to be only Asian focused, however, but rather to be versatile without taking away from authenticity.
Q: How did you go about sourcing the raw ingredients that go into the Masala Monsoon mixes?
A: Fudco is a company that I have worked with for a long time as a supplier for spices and for my cookery classes. It was natural for me to make them my first port of call and the support they have given has been invaluable. Soon I discovered I had what I needed in terms of quality, costs and a good working relationship.
Q: How did you go about sourcing packaging, finding branding, finding boxes?
A: Nothing else speaks for you as well as good branding and a heartfelt story behind you brand. Graphic designer and childhood friend, Moneeza Khan of Lotus Blu designed the logo and a brilliant designer Antonia Glenton of Bellaboo Creative created the labels. Both understood the emotion behind the brand, this wasn’t just important to me, it was key to bringing Masala Monsoon to life. As for packaging, looking at other brand packaging, eco-friendly options and finding a balance of appearance and cost lead me to WBC .
Q: Where are the mixes made? Is it in your kitchen? How do you juggle the business-family-motherhood challenges?
A: Masala Monsoon is made on my kitchen table and it is passion and commitment that allow me to juggle the job well with motherhood. I have always involved my daughter in my cooking, and she understands and respects my workspace. Keeping the equilibrium between the two is best achieved by giving both the balance of attention they deserve.
Q: How did you find a route to market in the early days of your product?
A: I did market research by walking into the sorts of shops I wanted to be listed in and seeing what spices they stocked already. This helped me pinpoint exactly where my brand could fit in. Actually getting in front of the buyers isn’t as simple. I began by first approaching people I knew, such as Divertimenti where I teach my cookery classes, and they became my first stockists. Our blends are also stocked in The Organic Grocer in Maida Vale which is local to me, The Foodie Bugle Shop, as I wrote for the print magazine and Billington's Deli in Glasgow which came from the recommendation of a friend. Some people have been extremely generous with their knowledge of markets and food businesses. Tessa Stuart (Packed Branding) has been an endless source of encouragement, and her book, ‘Packed’, has been invaluable. Also Rekha Mehr of Pistachio Rose gave professional advice on setting up a food business.
Q: What have been your successes, failures, highs, lows, laughs, tears?
A: My greatest success would have to be first creating three distinct blends of spices that evoked memories of home-cooking, as I had hoped, and then listing in my first store was a very high note in the beginning of my business.
It is very discouraging when buyers reply that they are currently not stocking your range of product as I always feel that given a chance to taste, they might change their mind! So I would say not being given that chance is a real low in this business. But I always walk away learning that if I restructure my pitch or find alternative methods of approaching buyers such as turning up personally with samples, sometimes they change their minds. It’s worth not giving up. Rejection of the brand you believe in can bring you to tears but what makes up for it is when I do get to meet buyers and have the opportunity to showcase these flavours.
Q: What would you like to achieve with your brand, where would you like it to go and reach?
A: Masala Monsoon to me is about the limitless uses of spice, always authentic, never unimaginative. I hope to explore more flavours, grow into many other avenues for floral spices, celebrating homely comfort food. Experiencing spice that’s fresh, fragrant and simple to use is the core message and I hope I continue to communicate this. I am currently in talks with some prestigious retailers and listing with them will be a real achievement in the future.
Q: Any advice to aspiring foodpreneurs?
A: If you have something to share then simply do it well, as there has never been a better time to start a food business. Yes there is a lot of competition out there but if your product is authentic, tastes unique and has an endearing passionate story behind it, you are half way there. As clichéd as it may sound, believe in yourself and your product and always surround yourself with positive energy!
Follow Sumayya @MasalaMonsoon