Vancouver newspaper publisher and entrepreneur Harbinder Singh Sewak is a master of cultural niche marketing.
And he has made a fortune doing that from Malaysia to New Zealand to Thailand and now in Surrey, B.C.
“In order to be successful in cultural niche markets, you need to know your target audience, where they live, what they love and the values by which they live their lives,” said Sewak, the publisher of the Post Group of newspapers.
In multi-cultural Malaysia, where he was born, Sewak financed part of his schooling by organizing groups of foreign workers to work as security guards when local workers were hard to find.
“I rounded up the unemployed migrant workers,” he said.
In New Zealand, local Maori men would not work harvesting Kiwi fruit when it rained.
“Local policies at that time was to still pay them but the fruit and trees were not being attended to, so I found workers who would work in the rain and made a small fortune doing that.”
In Toronto, Harbinder saw a huge demand for studded denim wear by the local Italian community and promptly set up an operation in Thailand to feed this fashion trend.
In Vancouver, during the early 90’s he set up the Asian Pacific Post newspaper to fill a need for rapidly rising numbers of new Canadians from Asia. He today owns and operates three papers that specializes in ethnic communities.
When Canada’s military wanted to extend its reach into the Sikh community, Sewak founded the country’s first cadet corps supported by the Sikh community after organizing their attendance at the mammoth Vaisakhi parades in Surrey
This month, Sewak launched Alooatta.com – North America’s first online Indian artisanal sweets and savories operation that offers free deliveries of these mouthwatering snacks to your home.
“The world of healthy Indian sweets and snacks is largely unexplored in the West,” said Sewak, whose latest venture arrow is pointed directly at the booming demand for diverse foods in Canada.
Alooatta’s offerings of Indian sweets, also referred to as Mithai and Namkeen snacks, is made locally by independent ‘chefs’, who often modify the traditional with creative additions for the local palate.
“Our artisanal chefs usually give it a little twist to reflect the local palate like petha with chocolate topping.”
“They are environmentally conscious and use biodegradable or recyclable packaging while the snacks have less sugar, with gluten free options and healthy ingredients like flax seed.”
Alooatta’s signature item is the 'gol gappa', or pani puri found in every street corner of India.
Always on the lookout for a cultural niche, Alooatta’s intrepid chefs have found that these little savoury balls are the perfect spill-proof container for almost anything you'd put on a cracker, and even some things you wouldn't.
Here they are called ‘Canuck Crunch’ and can hold a dollop of whipped cream with pineapple slices for a dessert dish, or a vodka-infused masala vegetarian-mix as an appetizer.
The sturdy yet delicate 'gol gappas' are also perfect to hold seafood like salmon or prawns and Alooatta also offers the Mexi-gappa.
“Many in the Alooatta community also order the gol-gappa for parties and use them in their own unique ways to create individual dishes,” said Sewak, adding the unique creations are often shared on Alooatta.com.
Alooatta’s menu is fresh, mysterious, and exotic and offers variations on world cuisines to make the traditional foods more fun, said Vancouver food writer, Samantha McLeod.
“As an avid cook and dinner party host I find I never have enough time to make dessert. Having desserts like the buttery, nutty, cardamom-infused Kaju Roll on hand makes my sweet finishes effortless.”
“Ditch the mass-produced chips for Channa Dal the next time you crave the crunch. These spicy snacks taste like it was roasted moments ago,” she said.
Alooatta.com’s drive for healthy snacks comes in the wake of a BC government initiative called Apnee Sehat to make changes to South Asian kitchens and help South Asian residents eat healthier.
“We know that simply making healthier food choices can have a dramatic impact in a person’s health. The Apnee Sehat program is an impressive example of what can be done when you find ways to address healthy eating within a particular community,” said BC Minister of Health Terry Lake
“These changes in the kitchens work as a springboard to start a movement towards better health outcomes,” said Deljit Bains, Manager, South Asian Health Institute (SAHI).
“The South Asian health Institute through the Sehat program has successfully engaged the community to live healthier lifestyles. Engagement of the community is the foundational principle of the South Asian Health Institute,” said Dr. Arun K Garg, program medical director of SAHI.
“Alooatta.com is an innovative concept that truly embodies what it means to be Canadian,” said Jeremy Dunn, executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association.
“Traditional Indian sweets and snacks including seafood is a great twist, one that we hope has great success both here at home and abroad,” he said.
"Alooatta's menu showcases the diversity of healthy Indian snack foods with distinct Canadian flavours," said Barinder Rasode, director of social responsibility at Resource Works.
"It’s another example of a small business making it work in B.C."