Sujatha Duvvuri walked into her office, located in a busy Mumbai neighborhood, and asked whether I had tried her brownies yet. I shook my head no, and she said “You have to!” Minutes later, a young woman came in with a tray full of brownies of different kinds and a glass of water.
“This is a Top Indian Cricketer’s favorite.”
“Cricketers eat your granola?”
“So does most of Bollywood,” she said, as a smile swam across her face.
Sujatha Duvvuri, who graduated with an economics degree from the University of Michigan in 2000, runs a company called She Made Gourmet Foods, with offices in India and the USA. When asked about her company’s name, Sujatha explained: “I employ mostly women. It’s a social responsibility that I have taken up. Women from lower economic backgrounds and slums go through so much domestic turbulence sometimes that it destroys their confidence.”
In 1997, Sujatha moved to Livonia Michigan with her husband Prasad for his software job. At the time, she hadn’t even heard of Ann Arbor. However, on her first visit to the campus, she immediately fell in love with the University of Michigan and decided she wanted to go to school there. Sujatha applied and soon received a letter telling her that she was accepted: “I couldn’t believe it. I froze. I checked the letter again and again to see if it was really my name on it!”
Sujatha first began thinking about healthy, nutritious food when she became pregnant with her first child. She shopped around at the time, but couldn’t find anything she was looking for. So she made her own granola and landed up with a recipe for healthy baby food.
As she juggled with motherhood, her husband’s job eventually took her back to India, this time to Bangalore. After she moved back to India, Sujatha continued to experiment with her granola. Word soon got out in the neighborhood that she was onto something good. Mothers of the children who played with her son—a kid quite tall for his age—began asking Sujatha for her granola recipe. “We want our sons to be tall, too!” they said.
That is how Sujatha began supplying her food to friends and neighbors. As much as she found this validating and encouraging, however, increasing demand for her products put more strain on her. Her husband, Prasad, thought she was wasting her time and encouraged her to use her U-M degree to get a “real” job.
He would later change his mind. It was requests by her friends and family, first wanting her granola, and then her recipes, that gave Sujatha the courage to take her passion for healthy granola to the next level. She eventually diversified her line of foods: breakfast foods expanded into any-time snacks – brownies, crackers, biscotti, and other delectable items.
In the US, people take for granted that the foods they buy will be safe. It is easy to read the label and see what you’re eating. In India, though labeling laws are tough, compliance by food manufacturers is lax and people have to rely on the brands and people they trust. Many Indians in the growing middle class are well versed in global conversations about health and nutrition, yet find themselves adrift in Indian supermarkets, searching for foods that match their developing preferences and tastes, foods that are both healthy and sophisticated. The products produced by She Made Foods are designed to fill that gap.
“Our products mesh well with the demands for gluten-free and peanut-free products that satisfy the sophisticated palates of well-travelled people who do not wish to compromise on the nutritional content of what they eat,” she says. Her products aim to satisfy the fun, fresh, exciting, healthy and nutritious qualities that are essential to replacing fast-food snacks.
“With millennials and younger kids skipping traditional breakfast, our products form a timely alternative, addressing the growing demand for ‘all-day foods,’ starting from breakfasts to filling and fulfilling snacks,” she added. Ten years and thousands of clients later, Prasad spends a lot of time in supporting Sujatha’s health food business. Today, there are Bollywood stars and Indian cricketers who will not start their day without her food.
We asked Sujatha how the University of Michigan helped her become an entrepreneur, and more importantly, how it shaped her as a person: “When I started studying at U-M, I did not realize the impact it would have on me. The various courses that I took as a part of my general education shaped me slowly and steadily into a well-rounded individual. It gave me depth and perspective to deal with the variety of things life can challenge you with. LSA taught me so much. Psychology, anthropology, linguistics, statistics, and of course, economics. It taught me how to think and dream. That's the most important thing any school can teach you. I am thankful that I am where I am. LSA prepared me for a marathon, not a sprint.”