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Nov 28, 2023

In the two decades since launching her eponymous Indian-inspired food brand, Maya Kaimal has introduced zesty simmer sauces, spicy rice dishes and piquant condiments to millions of Americans. And while she achieved a level of scale and success that few thought possible, there were also challenging times, like when she faced the prospect of bankruptcy and selling her house.

A former photo editor for Saveur magazine, Kaimal started Maya Kaimal Foods in 2003 behind the belief that Indian cuisine needed new context. Her vision was to make accessible and easy to use products for creating flavorful and healthy Indian food at home.

In its early days, the brand scored wins at specialty retailers in metro New York and later at Whole Foods stores across the U.S. In subsequent years, Maya Kaimal Foods pivoted from refrigerated to shelf-stable formulations and built a robust innovation pipeline that helped the brand gain distribution at thousands of new retail locations nationwide, including Safeway, Albertsons, Costco and Target. Throughout the process, however, Kaimal noted that there were many unexpected challenges and missteps, including some that in retrospect could have been avoided.

In this episode, Kaimal explained how focusing on placement in the perimeter of the store supported consumer education early into the brand’s development; how the company operates and innovates at the intersection of data, trends and retailer needs; aligning with an investor that should support her vision; and what she’s learned about hiring the right – and wrong – people.

Show notes:

0:43: Interview: Maya Kaimal, Founder, Maya Kaimal Foods – Kaimal spoke with Taste Radio editor Ray Latif about how both Julia Child and her parents influenced her passion for cooking, how she cut her teeth in food by writing a cookbook and how getting laid off in 2002 launched her into entrepreneurship. She also explained how relationships with retail buyers gave her a foot in the door, why she was adamant that the brand’s first products needed to be refrigerated (and how it benefited its merchandising strategy), and how she addressed questions about the scale and potential with investors. Maya also spoke about why innovation is “an ongoing conversation” and focused on “meeting people where they are,” how she identified North Castle Partners as the right fit for a strategic partner and why entrepreneurs should look from within their community to fill leadership roles.

Brands in this episode: Maya Kaimal