Founded by former Unliever India marketing manager Shashank Mehta, The Whole Truth (TWT) is a premium protein product in formats like bars and balls. In the crowded, ‘healthy snacking space,’ TWT’s early success is notable. Starting with a sale of 15,000 bars in November 2019, it has sold over 700,000 bars and 200,000 immunity balls as of end-December 2020.
The numbers are even more impressive given TWT’s premium pricing: a 50gm bar with 12 gm of protein retails at ₹100. This is almost double when compared to other brands in the market and on a per-gram-of-protein basis, even higher than international brands of whey protein powder.
Mehta attributes his company’s success to “maniacal focus on design and customer experience, and 100% honesty both in food and communication.” We dug deeper into the branding and design decisions that have powered TWT’s journey so far.
From Blog to Product
Mehta has always been interested in fitness and used to run a fitness blog called Fitshit. It is then that he realised that the Indian consumer knew she was being lied to about her food. “I had an idea of creating a 100% clean label brand, one that declared all its ingredients upfront. So a consumer wouldn’t even need to turn to the back of the pack,” he says. A year of tinkering in the kitchen led to a product he believes is cleaner than anything else in the market.
Early customers were his blog readers and colleagues and the “marketing fuel” was provided by 20-30 Instagram mentions a week, along with unboxing videos. It wasn’t too long before the brand started showing strong organic growth.
Currently, TWT has a range of seven protein bars, five vegan energy bars, eight ‘mini’ bars, and two immunity balls. It has also released limited edition variants for Diwali and Christmas.
When asked how he deals with the high price point barrier, Mehta says, “Trial is the only problem. Once people eat the product and their tongue tells them this is the real shizz, price point issues evaporate. And to justify charging a premium at trial, you need a strong brand. And a strong brand is built on consumer insight. For us that insight was 100% truth and people find value in that”.
Building the “Anti-Food Brand Brand”
Every good story has a villain. And for The Whole Truth, the villain was dishonest food advertising. The brand’s stated mission is to “rebuild the world’s trust in food” and TWT’s communication is the antithesis of every trick in the food marketer’s playbook.
“If they use sexy models, we will use an un-sexy founder. If they put food porn on the pack, we will not put any photo. If they make tall claims with star marks, we won’t make any claim at all. If they hide ingredients in a microscopic font at the back, we will declare them in a big bold font upfront.”Shashank Mehta, Founder, The Whole Truth
Borrowing a leaf from the famous the Dollar Shaving Club launch ad, Mehta created this ad along with The Harkat Studio.
The ad gained 80,000 organic views in two days before paid promotion kicked off and is closing in on 5 lakh views as of date. Mehta says the ad resonated because “Brands have been lying for so long, that someone just saying the truth out loud cuts the clutter. It feels like someone finally said it!”
Truthful Content as Moat
All content that TWT produces supports its ‘anti-food brand brand’ positioning. The company has experimented with multiple formats: social platforms, a blog, a podcast (The Whole Truth Project), an e-book on weight loss, a newsletter (Truth Be Told), and a new series of low-budget ads busting the myth of so-called healthy foods.
All of this seems like a lot of effort for a young brand. However, while it may be difficult to measure these efforts in the short term, Mehta is convinced that building a brand via content is the only long-term moat in a world dominated by Google and Facebook.
TWT has raked up 100,000 followers organically on Instagram by “posting things that add value to people’s lives, not to ours.”
Not all experiments have been successful. For instance, a Facebook group on intermittent fasting gained 6000 members quickly, but activity has now dwindled.
Mehta is not too worried, because TWT is still “very much in the seeing-what-sticks stage.” Other initiatives that have not worked well include paid partnerships with influencers for promotion. “It just felt so forced and fake, not our brand at all. Now we only send our products to people whom we vibe with. If they like what they eat, they talk about it. No strings.”
“Aesthetics matter a lot to us,” says Mehta. “I feel most people miss infusing beauty into food brands. But when you do, magic happens.”
TWT’s packaging is minimal and distinctive because it is a departure from the image-heavy norm of the category. This was a conscious choice, according to Anushka Sani, whose studio, Thought Over Design, developed the brand identity and packaging.
“Most product images are shot in near-perfect scenarios or even rendered and are therefore not the whole truth. We wanted to create an identity that conveys factual, truthful information directly and clearly.”Anushka Sani, Founder, Thought Over Design
Apple & Croma: The Dual approach to Distribution
Like most D2C brands, Mehta sells on marketplaces, including Amazon, Flipkart and Swiggy Instamart. However, over 70% of its sales currently come from its own ecommerce site, and 50% of these are from repeat customers. TWT also offers subscriptions, both fortnightly and monthly, at a 25% discount.
Mehta says that their own site is like the Apple store – a place where you get the gold standard brand experience. Selling on Amazon is like being on a multi-brand site like Croma – you need to approach it differently. He also acknowledges that ‘Android-like’ competitors are all around, trying to woo consumers with lower prices.
Competitors can strike in more ways than one. After listing on Amazon, and becoming “Amazon’s Choice” in just three weeks, TWT’s page was flooded with 1 or 2 star reviews. Many of these had been copy-pasted from each other and were clearly an attack on the brand.
TWT is also listed as a reward on the CRED store, which Mehta says is a great place for brand discovery, thanks to the target audience match.
Physical retail is definitely in the offing because “you can’t scale a food brand in India without it.” With its ex-Unilever team, TWT has the requisite retail chops. However, Mehta says that they know what a cash and time guzzler physical retail can be. The idea is “to go to retail when retail wants us, not the other way around.” Given this outlook, TWT’s focus and investment on brand-building makes perfect sense.
THC Hot Seat: Shashank Mehta, CEO & Co-Founder, The Whole Truth
Advice for anyone trying to build a digitally-first brand.
- Think brand and distinctiveness from day 1 – why do you deserve/need to exist?
- Be anal about product: Remember that a great product can pull through with an average brand but never vice versa.
- Figure out the money. The last thing you want is to chance upon a Ferrari with no money to put fuel in it.