If you asked Kunal Kohli when he was starting a career in finance and investment banking, if he ever envisioned himself in the food and beverage industry, he would probably say no. But today’s he’s Chief Operating Officer and Co-Founder of BOU, a company focused on bringing big flavor to your plate—without sacrificing your health.
Kohli became interested in the food and beverage industry while working with an Italian food company on a management consulting project. “I got involved in their sales and marketing, and it was my first time understanding everything that goes into both,” Kohli says. “The ultimate satisfaction comes when you see customers putting your products on shelves and people purchasing them. Even now, I travel across the country, just to see our products in stores.” It was at that company that he met his BOU co-founder, Robert Jakobi.
He then moved on to form his own consulting company, Perennial Brands, in which he worked to help startups, before being hired as the US general manager of the UK company Metcalfe’s Skinny & itsu grocery. With both roles Kohli continued to strengthen his skills in sales and marketing and eventually used them to constructively disrupt the bouillon market. “Bouillon was a category that hadn’t seen any innovation. A lot of it is due to the fact that the technology behind it is quite difficult to replicate,” Kohli states.
Enter BOU, a whole foods solution to flavor. Keep reading to learn more about the lessons he’s learned as a founder, as well as how he manages stress and stays fit.
How did you settle on the bouillon cube? What inspired the idea?
Bouillon cubes in general have a very bad rep. A lot of people call them salt cubes. They’re full of a lot of MSG and preservatives. But what a lot of people don’t know is that bouillon cubes are primarily made outside of the US.
Our manufacturer—I was working with them while at itsu grocery—is the only manufacturer that makes bouillon cubes in the US. They came to us, my partner Robert and myself, with this idea for the bouillon cube. I’m going to be honest, I didn’t buy into it— bouillon is not the sexiest category out there. But my partner Robert did because he comes from the UK, and bouillon is a very big market globally.
We knew that if we were going to be successful, there was going to have to be certain claims that we were going to have to make, such as gluten-free, lower sodium, no added MSG—but at the same time it also had to taste as good as all the other products. It took us around 8 or 9 months to develop the flavor and health components of BOU.
How did your experience working primarily with startups help shape BOU?
Startups have a very limited budget. You really have to learn how to build awareness for your product, get it into people’s hands, and turn them into loyal customers. You have to get creative because you don’t have big budgets available to you.
Digital marketing was just becoming big at that time. I took a big interest in that side of the business and learned how to tie it in to what’s happening on the store level. That’s very important at BOU as well because when you know how to play with your budgets and your strengths, it gives you a different perspective on how to build a brand and do it in a way that you’re not optimizing so much cash.
What has been your best day as the COO and co-founder of BOU?
Every day since I started. We’re a startup, and it’s a roller coaster ride. You have highs and lows. Every day could be different. But my best days are related to what I’m most proud of. Our team really has evolved and grown. We have a lot of new team members, but seeing them buy into the vision and what we stand for has been amazing. Everyone comes in and works hard every day. They know what the goals are. They know what BOU is setting out to do, and it’s great to see.
What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learned as the COO and co-founder of BOU?
Mistakes will always be made. The biggest thing is that you need to learn from them. You need to believe in your brand, your vision, your team, and yourself. That’s ultimately what will make you persevere.
As someone in the food and beverage industry, are you a label reader? Do you cook?
I definitely like to consider myself a cook, and I do enjoy it, especially now, because it helps me de-stress and clear my mind. I also get to spend time with my almost four-year-old daughter, who enjoys cooking as well. It’s a great way for me to bond with her.
I have become a label reader now to make sure that I’m taking care of myself, eating better, and just taking part in health and wellness in general. I’m always looking for products that don’t have added sugars or unhealthy fats. I try to eat clean as much as possible.
Do you like to work out?
Absolutely, I love working out. I need that 45 minutes to an hour to de-stress and think about what’s going on that day, that week, that month, and to make the right decisions going forward. I box and also go to the gym two to three times a week to do cardio and lift weights. It’s a great place for me for a whole host of reasons, but the de-stressing part is extremely important.
What is your vision for BOU?
The way that people eat is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle. With BOU, we really take that seriously. There was a survey done by Peapod with around 1000 people. It found that people want to and are trying to cook more at home. They believe it’s healthier because they actually know what’s going into the food, and they obviously get to save money. But, a lot of people are intimidated by cooking because they see all these complex recipes that require all these different types of ingredients.
We try to make it easier for people—that’s the whole purpose of BOU. We have the ability to bring you great flavor in a convenient format—think of us as your kitchen sidekick. We think it’s truly important that if you workout and try to stay fit, it’s just as important to eat healthy.
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