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American Battle for Authentic Achaar: Can Brooklyn Delhi Take on Trader Joe's?

'Brooklyn Delhi' CEO Chitra Agrawal says Trader Joe's version of her achaar misrepresents Indian cuisine.

Updated
Indian Diaspora
4 min read
American Battle for Authentic Achaar: Can Brooklyn Delhi Take on Trader Joe's?
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With a passion for food running through her veins, Chitra Agrawal has blended her love for cooking with her expertise in marketing. This Indian-origin culinary expert launched Brooklyn Delhi, a US-based Indian food brand that brings authentic Indian condiments to kitchens in the US.

Agrawal was working on her first cookbook, titled Vibrant India: Fresh Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Brooklyn, when she decided to quit her job in marketing and pursue her true passion full-time. It all started with achaar, an Indian pantry staple, sometimes also referred to as the Indian pickle.

"I had been writing, teaching, and serving food inspired by my Indian-American identity since 2009, and in 2014, I decided to bring the recipes I was creating to a wider audience through Brooklyn Delhi."
Chitra Agrawal, Brooklyn Delhi CEO, to The Quint

Chitra Agrawal, CEO of Brooklyn Delhi. 

Brooklyn Delhi's official website. 

Agrawal's achaar recipe is her own creation inspired by her north and south Indian heritage. She said her recipe has 75 percent less sodium and no artificial preservatives compared to the other varieties sold by leading brands in Indian stores across the country.

"I started making my own versions from a lot of the fruits and vegetables that we got in our farm share," Agrawal told The Quint.

Preserving traditional recipes is integral to Brooklyn Delhi's ethos. Every year, Agrawal and her husband Ben Garthus visit India not only to see her family but also to conduct research and taste different foods.

"Food is a way for people to understand the culture, in a very sort of visceral way," said Ben Garthus, in a video on Brooklyn Delhi's website.

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Agrawal's recipes are inspired by her upbringing and family-style dinners, where different recipes are tried and tested on a regular basis.

"I think it's very important to preserve a lot of these recipes from my family. My aunts and my mother help me gather a lot of this information," she said in the video.

However, the Indian food industry in the US is not without its own share of drama.

Battle of the Achaars: The Row With Trader Joe's

Trader Joe's, a leading grocery store in the US, chose to sell Brooklyn Delhi's Coconut Cashew Korma after several meetings between the two companies. However, soon, communications came to a halt. After about three months, Agrawal learned that Trader Joe's had a new item on its shelves called, 'Indian Style Garlic Achaar Sauce,' which was similar in branding and taste to her product.

Many consumers messaged Agrawal thinking Brooklyn Delhi had privately labeled the 'Achaar Sauce' on Trader Joe's shelves. She said that was not the case.

"Trader Joe's 'Indian Style Garlic Achaar Sauce' was a cheaper, watered-down version which used a roasted garlic purée made from water and citric acid instead of fresh whole garlic that we roast in our product."
Chitra Agrawal, Brooklyn Delhi CEO, told The Quint

"If consumers try their [Trader Joe's] version, which is not really an achaar and don't like it, they will be less likely to try ours and experience a real achaar," Agrawal said.

Agrawal wants to share her love for authentic Indian recipes with the world through her products. However, with it being almost impossible to trademark a recipe, it might prove to be a herculean task to take down the "unauthentic" and "watered down" versions of the achaar circulating in the market.

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What Do Customers Prefer?

Several Indian American consumers choose to go to mom-and-pop Indian stores in their respective neighbourhoods as opposed to chain stores, such as Trader Joe's, for international food items. If they have to buy basic groceries, they prefer Trader Joe's. But if they want to cook something Indian, they venture out seeking a traditional Indian store.

Rena Verma, a New York resident, said she had seen Trader Joe's 'Indian Style Garlic Achaar Sauce' and thought it was Brooklyn Delhi's product.

A supporter of small businesses, Verma said that she would recommend companies like Trader Joe's to partner with small businesses and offer a variety of authentic international foods.

"Perhaps, they can offer different spice levels, and not only sell sauces but also actual Indian spices, such as turmeric and garam masala," said Verma.

That would be a way to make the authentic taste of Indian cuisine available for all, Verma added.

Indian Flavours in American Grocery Stores

Trader Joe's not only sells Indian condiments but also frozen foods such as Veg Biryani, Tikka Masala, Butter Chicken with Basmati Rice; Indian breads such as Tandoori Naan, Garlic Naan, Indian Fare Kitchari; and a line of packaged ready-to-eat curry recipes ranging from Tadka Dal to Tikka Vegetables.

Some examples of pickles and concentrates that are sold in Indian-food specific stores and other International food grocery stores include Laxmi Corriander Chutney, Joy Natural Tamarind Concentrate, and Mother’s Recipe Pickles to name a few.

Even though many mainstream stores such as New Leaf Community Market, Whole Foods, and Safeway, have started to carry different types of Indian recipes, the search for the authentic taste from home remains elusive.

'Find Your Community': Chitra Agrawal's Message to Indian Americans

As an entrepreneur and businesswoman, Agrawal urges Indian Americans across the US to start pursuing their passion immediately, even if it means putting in the extra hours.

"Seek out other entrepreneurs in your space to build a community. Don't be afraid to fail, you learn the most from your mistakes," Agrawal said.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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