Business Insight

This India startup aims to deliver healthy meal from home-chef to your door : Here’s how they did

Jinny Kim
April 3, 2024

Unveiling the food, health problem startups are trying to solve

74.1% of Indians were unable to afford a healthy diet in 2021. 

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the UN released the Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition 2023. It struck that India is under a food/health problem. As the population and economy is growing rapidly, the more processed and unhealthy food Indians tend to consume. It leads to health issues such as diabetes, cancers etc.

No wonder that there are numerous food delivery services there. But fast, convenient delivery is more like a contributor to this problem than a solver. We can understand this as a trilemma : speed and price are quite hard to be along with quality. It seems inevitable for businesses (including) startups to sacrifice health for consumer’s needs.

Rules of the game can be changed.

Praba Santhanakrishnan, Co-founder and CEO of Cookr, states that three factors(speed, price, quality of healthy diet) can be achieved in balance. You might be able to get a healthy home-cooked meal with an online payment and a motorcycle delivery within a day or so. Their journey to find out the solution was featured as the Best startup of the Year D2C by The Economic Times in 2024.

What was the direct inspiration of this business? How are they planning to become a game changer for India’s food problem?

Asia Tomorrow met Praba and listened to his journey from Silicon Valley to India’s promising D2C platform.

(Credit : Asia Tomorrow)

Silicon Valley to India : Survival for healthy foods

Q.Please introduce your company and yourself. 

Hi. I'm Praba Santhanakrishnan, co-founder and CEO of Cookr. It's a pleasure to meet you. 

Cookr is a service that enables the delivery of 'home-cooked meals' through a mobile app. The platform allows home chefs to offer cooked-to-order food to customers from their homes. Currently, 500 chefs are enrolled on the platform. In 2023, the company raised around INR 8.25 Crores ($1 Million) in a pre-seed round.   

I worked at Microsoft for nearly 18 years as a software engineer and data scientist. I have also served as a Director in Microsoft India leading engineering teams for Xbox, hardware manufacturing, supply chain, and Windows OEM platforms. 

Initially, I received my Bachelor's degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering from Government College of Technology, Coimbatore, India. I then started my career in Silicon Valley, and earned my Master's of Science in Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), and Data Science from the University of California, Berkeley. Over the years, I have focused on AI, data science, and engineering.

Q.You've followed a very different career path than Cookr. What inspired you to start Cookr? 

Around 2019-2020, I founded a software startup in Seattle, USA, that tackled the problem of infertility through artificial intelligence. We wanted to develop a solution that would technically identify embryos with high fertility potential using AI vision recognition when fertilized eggs were cultured for IVF. However, due to the pandemic, we had to put this business idea on hold as my co-founder returned to work as a doctor. 

I came back to India in 2021. Unfortunately, my physical health deteriorated to the point where I couldn't even eat properly, let alone go out. Obviously, it was impossible to cook or buy food for myself. So, I relied on home delivery, which was too spicy and unhealthy for my poor health. 

My sister, who knew about my situation, cooked and delivered food to me (even though she lived far away), which gradually helped me regain my health. Then, I began to wonder. 

"Why couldn't I have the same healthy food delivered to my home?"

So in 2022, I founded Cookr with my current co-founder, who used to work in the catering industry.

Cookr's mission is to make home-cooked meals that feel like they were made for you at home available to everyone. Ultimately, we hope to grow into a company that "nourishes humanity with wholesome food and spreads the joy of wellness."

(Co-founders of Cookr, Source : Cookr)

Q.The inspiration for Cookr came from your own experience. I wonder if it resonated with others? 

The value of a home-cooked meal is getting scarcer and scarcer, especially for young people in India, who lead very busy lives. 

India's GDP growth rate in Q4 2023 was 8.4% per year, the highest it's been in a while. That means the Indian economy is growing rapidly.

Personal income is rising, and especially women are entering the workforce, which means two things. 1) Indians have more individual economic capacity these days, and 2) they can't afford to cook and eat at home instead. This is why food delivery services have taken off in India in the last decade or so.

However, restaurant-driven delivery has its limitations. Because it's cooked in large quantities, it's often 'overcooked' in terms of heat, ingredients, and spices. And, most importantly, it's hard to customize your food. Imagine eating only this kind of delivered food every day - it's not sustainable.

End game : Platform needs to satisfy both sides

Q.As a platform, it seems particularly significant who supplies the food and who delivers it. How do you find home chefs? 

In urban centers, it is already common to find individuals cooking and selling food at home. They take orders for food through online platforms like Facebook.

The problem for them is that it's not easy to make direct deliveries, and it's hard to make secure financial transactions. So early on, Cookr took a proactive approach to these home-based food sellers.

(Source : Cookr)

We convinced them that if they onboarded to our platform, we would do the delivery for them. So then they might be able to transact money safely and securely. So far, we've gotten a positive response, and now people who cook and bake personally are applying to become home chefs. 

Another option is to recruit home chefs publicly through Facebook or YouTube.

In any case, we receive applications, screen them, and see what kind of cooking each home chef can specialize in. Next, we visit the kitchen to check out the conditions.

If they pass several levels of verification, they're asked to cook dishes as a sample in their kitchen. After that, Cook undergoes some process to become fully certified to cook food by the government. From there, chef training follows.

Q.You're very particular about vetting chefs, so how does food delivery work?

We currently have 250 motorcycles and delivery drivers working with Cookr. The demand is growing rapidly, so we need to scale up our delivery operation system. 

Q.It's like Uber Eats for home meals. 

That's right. It's a mobile service that delivers premium home-cooked meals for everyone.

Value proposition and expansion of business

Q.In urban cities, there are probably a lot of home cooks, delivery drivers, and customers. How about the rural areas?

Even in rural areas, the demand for high-quality home meal delivery is growing.

Smartphone penetration in India is high at 83%. Even the elderly are now using smartphones freely. Even my 79-year-old mother uses her smartphone to shop for groceries. Just four to five years ago, many Indians were not comfortable using smartphones, but that changed quickly. Mobile delivery apps are becoming widely used even in non-urban areas

There are also cases of food from rural areas being shipped to urban cities for sale. Foods that can be stored for a long time, such as traditional Indian pickles, are often prepared in rural areas and sold to urban areas through Cookr. In this way, the supply and demand for home-cooked meals can be matched within the platform.


Q.That's a really interesting use case. So what's the biggest challenge for Cookr right now?

Getting consumers who are willing to order home-cooked 'slow food' or convincing them of the value of premium home meals is still a key challenge. 

In India, there is a perception that using a food delivery service equals "get food in 20 minutes". As such, we need to properly persuade users that home-cooked food takes time to cook and deliver. So it's essential to clearly communicate the value of "we don't deliver food instantly, but we deliver slow & healthy food".

A strategy to build a customer base that wants that is also required. We're constantly working on changing consumer behavior through influencer campaigns and other ways to gradually shift perceptions.

Essences to feed the India with healthy diet

Q.What are the plans for Cookr in the future?

Currently, Cookr is primarily active in South India. This year, we are looking to expand our reach to other cities in South India such as Mumbai.

Next year, we are looking to expand the footprint of home chefs and food delivery to North India. In the next 3-5 years, Cookr plans to scale the platform by partnering with 200,000 home chefs and more delivery drivers. 

(Source : Cookr)

We are also considering launching an online service to deliver Indian home food to overseas cities with huge Indian immigrant populations, such as the US, UK, and Singapore. Indian immigrants often buy traditional Indian food and ingredients online and have them delivered overseas during traditional festivals in India. So, if Cookr can do this for them, it would be an interesting start. 

Q.Sounds like a 'Solution for Home Sick'.


We believe that ultimately, people need to eat healthy food. At present, India is facing a lot of health issues like diabetes, cancer, etc. In Particular, the number of diabetes patients in India crossed 100 million in 2023. To solve this problem, we strongly suggest that we need to solve the 'food problem'. We want Cookr to be the solution so that more people have access to healthy food rather than fast processed, unhealthy food

Q.As an entrepreneur, what are your own goals?

Cookr will quickly grow into a unicorn startup. Once I've successfully established Cookr, I'm open to trying my hand at a tech startup that solves the problem of infertility (which I mentioned earlier), or perhaps participating as an angel investor in an early stage startup that tackles a similar idea.

After all, I'm a tech guy. I wish to spend my life helping to make people's lives better through technology.

Written by Jinny (Underdogs)


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Jinny Kim
underdogs. Media Manager & EO STUDIO. Freelance Writer