This N.B. Company Wants To Make It Easy For North Americans To Cook Indian Food

Sunny Zaman tells Sophie Leonard about his Master Indian Spice kits at Huddle's office in Saint John. Image: Mark Leger/Huddle.

SAINT JOHN – Master Indian Spice started as an experiment when founder Sunny Zaman was selling Indian food at the Fredericton Boyce Market in 2015. Now, the company’s spice kits are available in around 40 stores in New Brunswick and in nine locations in British Columbia, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, as well as online.

Zaman says he’s also in talks with stores in Alberta and B.C. to carry his products.

“Right now we’re at a point where we don’t really have to do any promoting for the product to move. People just get curious if they see the packaging…I figured it’s a good time to expand.”

The spice kits are made in a 4,000-square-foot facility in Saint John, where between four and six workers blend spices from India and Spain and package them, led by a production manager who will be working for the company full-time starting next month.

Zaman is working to get the facility certified to supply bigger stores and automate some of the packaging work.

“[The facility] has a lot of room, so if I need to add another line I can and it also came with a lot of commercial equipment that I can use later on if I want to,” he said. “That’s why I got the facility in Saint John.”

The spice kits, he says, aim “to make real authentic Indian food simple for the North American consumer.”

“It includes the time it takes to make the dishes, the type of dishes that we do, the grocery ingredients that are required, the spice level,” he said. “I want the customers to make the dish the same day they buy [the kits]. I don’t want them to wait around and think, ‘I don’t have time, I have to go shopping…I don’t want that to happen.’ ”

The company works with a chef in India who makes the recipes on the packaging. They’re designed so that the ingredients are easy to find in North American grocery stores and the dishes are easy for beginners to make. The chilli powder is separated from the rest of the spice blends, so customers can choose the spice level.

In the kits, various spice blends are separated and numbered based on the order of when to use them in the cooking process. Zaman says this is because in Indian cuisine the spices are added at different times, not all at once.

“This is one of the main reasons why Indian food taste very different when you eat at an Indian restaurant or when your Indian friend makes it compared to when somebody else tries to make it at home,” he said.

Zaman and his parents immigrated to Fredericton in 2006, when he was still in high school. He studied chemical engineering at the University of New Brunswick, specializing in the oil and gas sector. But when he graduated in 2015, the industry was experiencing a downfall. So, he started selling food at the farmer’s market.

“I was in the food business and I had all the different Indian spices in my home and I thought, ‘why not try to sell it?’ ” he said. “I basically took the spices and put the recipe of the dishes that I was selling and put it at the farmers’ market. I didn’t really expect much but it started moving.”

Soon enough, he noticed that half of his customers would return to buy the spice kits a week after they tried it for the first time.

That’s when he began looking into the Indian spice products in the U.S. and Canada. He found out that spices are either targeted to “people like my mom,” who grew up cooking Indian cuisine, or those who didn’t.

He also found out that North American customers care more about the purity of the spices, including that they’re allergen- and gluten-free, for example.

“My mom just wants the spice to be very fresh and very strong, and she wants a lot more because she knows how to use the spice,” he said.

Zaman is working to enter larger stores and he’s doing something else to promote his products.

“We are also starting a youtube channel with some incredible content from the Indian subcontinent. This is part of our long term marketing strategy,” he says.