Andrine Mendez on How Pling Is Bringing Healthy and Local Snack Options in Kerala

Andrine Mendez, is an entrepreneur who has attracted FDI with his previous ventures and has sold a three-year-old brand to a French group. His latest venture is Pling, which aims to create world class ethnic Indian snacks, while staying true to its Kerala roots.  The flagship products of the company are flavoured banana crisps, flavoured roasted peanuts, and peanut candy. The products will be launched in late July.  In conversation with Raghul Sudheesh,  Andrine talks about his expertise in branding and exploring the FMCG space in Kerala. 


How did the B. Tech graduate Andrine Mendez turn into a serial entrepreneur?
B.Tech actually taught me the art of management. On an everyday basis, crisis management, people management, leadership, failure management, and being street smart were the key components behind surviving an engineering degree. In fact, it is the best management course out there. I have this notion that engineers can be excellent entrepreneurs, because both finally do the same thing – solve problems or find solutions.
My B.Tech degree shaped the entrepreneur in me, made me realise that I am good at working on my own, than working for someone else. I learned teamwork and coping with failures in those four years (wrote 120+ papers, instead of 64 papers).


 Your last venture was in the media/branding industry and now you shifted to the FMCG sector?
I wanted to do something new, learn something new, and make something new. I’m in a constant state of being unsettled and have a personality of doing and conquering. Moving on has a lot to do with the switch in domain.


Can you tell us more about this shift?
Every day is a new challenge, a new learning. I had to let my ego go after having done something successfully, nearly undo all the learning and attitude, and start from scratch. It was not easy. After saltmangotree got acquired, I got cozy and was in my comfort zone. There was good pay coming in every month. I just had to do what I do best. It was around this time that I met my better half, who actually helped me go back to the state of being ‘unsettled’.


I exited the company I started and explored new terrains. A technology product was the first option.
Getting out of the services industry was of course the anchor thought behind this. After having run an advertising agency for five years, I realised that a business model that is based on your own intellect or human intellect in general is not a one.
I am not the guy who wants to make quick money. Doing business and not working in a corporate is all about freedom and scalability. It’s about making money while you sleep. Else, you might as well work for someone else.


 How did you come up with the idea of Pling?
While having quit saltmangotree, I started an initiative called The Kitchen and through this, I met successful and failed entrepreneurs. In fact, food or FMCG was never the plan until I realised this tech stuff isn’t for me. I strongly started following a food entrepreneur friend of mine – Kiran Kumar (Life Tree Agro), who has been passionately working on the project for five long years.
I realised that I could leverage my expertise in branding, sales and marketing and also leverage the expertise of my friends in the FMCG space. An important factor in any business for me is that it has to be pro-Kerala or have a Kerala connection. So, the first plan was to launch tender coconut water, with Kiran doing the manufacturing for me. I went deep and realised that almost all food processing units in the State only use nearly 20-30% production capacity. I started looking for a concept/name which is universal, so that I could sell beverages to toothpaste under the same brand. The search ended in what you see now as ‘Pling’


Can you tell us about Pling’s present products?
Though we started with tender coconut water, we decided to make banana crisps our master product, after a lot of research and economic viability study. We launch with banana crisps and peanuts to begin with, which will be followed by chocolates, beverages, organic spices, etc.


Can you give details about the sourcing of raw material and production?
The key factor is that all raw material is sourced from Kerala, which is good news for the farming community. The banana comes from farmers in Wayanad and so do the organic spices. The production units are in the districts of Malappuram, Muvattupuzha, Kottayam, and Wayanad.


Which is the market Pling is aiming to capture?
It’s a tricky question with the present single-brand strategy, because we will have products in multiple domains/markets. However, we hope to capture 10% of the ethnic snack market in India in the next 3 years.


Where do you see Pling, three to five years from now?
We want to be a 40-crore company in three years and launch at least 150 SKUs. We also want to have a presence in India, UAE and Europe.
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