Spicing It Up With Brooklyn Delhi
By: Rich Rickaby
Full disclosure. I know Ben Garthus, Co-Owner of Brooklyn Delhi & Principal at GardenHaus Branding. Like many of us today, he wears several hats and being a Freelance Package Designer is one of them. As the Studio Director for Wallace Church & Co., I’ve booked Ben to work on projects with us.
It was during one of our first discussions that I learned he had launched Brooklyn Delhi, a line of Indian condiments, with Co-Owner Chitra Agrawal. Outside of his booking with us, he was getting ready for an upcoming trade show.
In the past, as a teacher at Parsons New School, I’ve used the book Kern and Burn: Conversations With Design Entrepreneurs for a Senior Thesis class. The parallels were too obvious to ignore, designers have always prepared what others bring to the market, and along the way, some realize, “Hey, I could do that.”
We met one cold, wet Tuesday to discuss Brooklyn Delhi’s foray into the CPG world.
Rich: So what is achaar?
Ben: Achaar means pickled or preserved in Hindi. It’s also known as Indian pickle. But it’s not like the vinegar based dill pickles that are common in the states. Instead, fruits and vegetables are preserved with spices, oil, and salt.
Rich: Since storytelling is all the rage, can you tell me how you got started?
Ben: Chitra wanted to enter the Brooklyn Public Library’s Power Up! Business Plan Competition. This is where entrepreneurs compete for funding to establish their Brooklyn-based businesses. She didn’t know exactly what she wanted to do. I suggested that we bottle her Indian tomato pickle that she had been making for her pop-up dinners. I would design the label for it.
Rich: How did that go?
Ben: Well, we didn’t win the competition, but in the process, we developed a business plan and packaging. This put us in position to take the next step.
Rich: How’s that?
Ben: At the time, Chitra had just gotten a book deal with Penguin to write a cookbook, Vibrant India, based on her food blog the ABCDs of Cooking, which focused on her family’s Indian recipes using seasonal ingredients. She decided to leave her career in marketing to pursue her passion for food, so the timing was just right. Given Chitra’s background and my experience designing food packaging, we were able to get to market with all the elements - recipe, logo, branding, and tagline pretty quickly, within a few months.
Rich: But this was your first time designing your own brand. How did that differ?
Ben: There are challenges to both, but what I’ve found is when I work on an existing brand, I have set parameters to create within, as opposed to designing my own brand where I’m making up the rules as I go.
Rich: So when did it really started happening? What was the, ‘We’re on our way!’ moment?
Ben: Brooklyn Delhi attracted the attention of food critics at leading food publications like Saveur, Food & Wine, and Zagat. We even got flown to India by the New York Times because they were interested in sharing our story. That felt like something was happening. I had never been to India before, so it was all new to me. While there, I saw these amazing hand-painted graphics on trucks that had such a raw, surprising sensibility. Each truck is completely unique. The photos I took in India became the inspiration for the design of our trade show booth and branding elements.
Rich: Walk me through your final label.
Ben: Having "Brooklyn Delhi" as our name really helped to inform the design. The awning holding shape was a natural place to go. I looked at many different versions of it in the process. In the end, the simplest version seemed most appropriate to the tone that we were going for. I also made my own font for the flavor type. It was based off a pre-existing font, but I added the little scallops on the top and bottom so it mirrored the scallops of the awning and it felt more Indian. The strip on the bottom is borrowed from the old-school bodega awnings in Brooklyn. The “try it on” callout guides shoppers down to the serving suggestions. We really worked hard to make the labels educate the consumer.
Rich: When I look at the labels, I see Brooklyn Delhi on the awning. You’re owning red as a brand, but for on-jar, colors change per flavor. Perhaps Tomato Achaar is your lead item since it’s red and re-affirms your brand color? Your architecture is consistent with graphic flavor illustrations swapping out on the left, and consistent chili peppers on the right. I find these clear and easy to read. It really feels like a step above homemade, in a good way.
Ben: Thanks, that’s what we were going for. I know that typically larger brands use a consistent color for their logo but in this case, I liked the simplicity of 2 colors per label. Besides saving on printing costs, it gave the designs more of a handmade, screen-printed aesthetic. I also like how the whole jar communicates flavor as opposed to just a flavor banner. Red is our default brand color because it’s the strongest color and Tomato Achaar is our first SKU and bestseller.
Rich: Take me to your first market.
Ben: Well for starters, we didn’t have labels. Due to a snowstorm, our labels did not arrive in time, so I ended up having to design abbreviated labels last minute that I printed out at Staples.
Rich: Did that work against you?
Ben: Those labels actually weren’t too shabby, and it was a holiday market, so they fit into the DIY aesthetic perfectly. We ended up selling out, but I contribute that to Chitra. Going back to storytelling, when she’s there, talking to you about her creations, you’re with her in the story, and then you try one of her recipes, and you’re sold. We found this to really be true at grocery stores when we set up a sampling table. We’ve tried hiring people to represent our brand in stores, but when Chitra does it, the difference in sales is incredible. The label may draw you in, but the flavor is what really sells it and gets people to return.
Rich: So how many stores are you in now?
Ben: We’re in over 500 specialty stores in the US and Canada, including 7 Whole Foods. Blue Apron now includes our tomato achaar product in their meal kits distributed nationally.
Rich: Things seem to be moving in the right direction.
Ben: It feels that way. At our last trade show, I designed a number of concept sheets of new products and their packaging, which resulted in selling through our Curry Ketchup and Curry Mustard to the Whole Foods National buyer. They will be debuting nationwide at all of their locations come June!
Rich: Congratulations on your success thus far. I’ve heard that most new businesses close before the 3-year mark and you’re now into your 4th, that’s something. Any advice for other designers looking to bring a product to market?
Ben: Go to the type of stores that you want your products to be in and figure out where they can live on the shelves. Do as much work as you can up front to position yourself correctly and work with a brand strategist if possible. Also, put out a product that is filling a need or solving a problem.
Rich: And have a great label.
Ben: And, of course, a great product.
Rich Rickaby is the Studio Director for Wallace Church & Co, a Manhattan-based Package Design and Brand Strategy studio. Going to a supermarket is like a gallery to him. Outside this arena, he enjoys painting, playing guitar and filmmaking.