Interview with Soniya Ashar, Founder & CEO of NutriCal, UAE's First Food Intelligence Company

Interview with Soniya Ashar, Founder & CEO of NutriCal, UAE's First Food Intelligence Company

In an age where individuals have grown increasingly conscious about what goes into their stomachs, enters NutriCal, offering not just a solution but a transformative vision for the future of food in the GCC region. As the founder and CEO, Soniya's journey began with a simple frustration with the lack of transparency about the nutritional content of restaurant meals. From this personal quandary, NutriCal was born, evolving from a humble calorie calculator into a robust B2B platform.

Delve into the intricacies of NutriCal as Soniya Ashar, founder and CEO, reflects on her inspiration and the platform’s pivotal role in addressing the global shift towards healthier and more transparent eating habits.

Inspiration often arises from personal struggles, and Soniya Ashar's journey with NutriCal is no exception. She recognized a personal problem: the difficulty of finding nutritional content while dining out. In contrast to the detailed nutritional information available on products at grocery stores, restaurant-goers often found themselves in the dark about their meals. Fueled by the desire for transparency, she embarked on creating a restaurant calorie calculator.

As the health-conscious trend gained momentum, Soniya saw the opportunity to expand beyond a mere calorie calculator. Manufacturers, meal plan companies, and catering services approached the company. Recognizing a larger opportunity within the food industry, NutriCal identified challenges surrounding nutrition declaration, recipe management, and compliance within the food industry. Customer feedback became instrumental as NutriCal responded to the needs of manufacturers seeking nutrition labels, meal plan companies emphasizing macros, and the broader food industry seeking enhanced organization through recipe management solutions. Addressing the larger challenges faced by the food industry, NutriCal evolved into the comprehensive B2B solution it is today.

NutriCal offers a suite of services tailored to meet the intricate needs of food businesses. The platform offers a centralized solution for recipe management by securely storing the recipes. Beyond the basic organizational tools, NutriCal enables food businesses to create standard operating procedures, conduct recipe costing, and seamlessly manage their operational processes. Additionally, it provides food labeling solutions for manufacturers, meal plan management capabilities for diet nutrition centers, and menu management tools for restaurants. Catering to the diverse and complex requirements of any food business, NutriCal emerges as a multifaceted tool that encompasses food safety, operational efficiency, and compliance.

Soniya highlights the importance of food businesses being transparent about the quality of the food they serve. She believes that such transparency enhances brand value. She states,

"Today's consumers are really smart. They already know the quality of the food that you are serving them. And, by being transparent with customers about what you are feeding them, your brand value increases significantly."

There is a growing consumer focus on health, both physical and mental, particularly in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, where immunity has become a paramount concern. NutriCal plays a crucial role in catering to these consumer needs by providing a platform that benefits them.

With a global perspective and extensive experience in markets such as the United States and Europe, Soniya envisions seamless integration of the platform into various sectors in the GCC region. She acknowledges the region's advancements in government initiatives, particularly in food safety, and the booming food industry in Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, considering the growing emphasis on a healthy lifestyle within the demographic, she believes the platform is highly relevant and successfully addresses the increasing demand for nutritional information.

There is growing skepticism about the effectiveness of displaying calorie information on food menus. Soniya opposes the statement drawing examples from major food corporations like Starbucks and McDonald's that routinely publish such details. She asserts that consumers are already well-informed and base their decisions on the nutritional value of food items. She advocates for broader nutrition education, especially for children in schools. She continues,

"In schools, the emphasis should be on educating about nutrition rather than promoting diets. Providing insights into what's good and not-so-good empowers students to make better choices as they grow."

Furthermore, there is an increasing demand from health-conscious individuals who want information on protein content in food items. Beyond counting calories, individuals dealing with health conditions such as heart problems, diabetes, or obesity need to know what goes into their plate. Soniya asserts that food businesses with significant influence bear a responsibility to provide transparent information about the nutritional content of their offerings.

Over the course of a decade and across various countries, Soniya Ashar's personal and professional journey has given shape to her leadership style. From her upbringing in the UAE to pursuing her undergraduate studies in the UK and later navigating the dynamic landscape of the US during B-school and work, she has accumulated insights from more than 50 countries. Reflecting her profound understanding of diverse cultures, she is a pro at connecting with individuals from different cultural backgrounds. This skill proves instrumental in dealing with stakeholders, whether they are team members, customers, or investors. This adaptability and exposure to diverse experiences contribute to NutriCal's innovative approach in the tech and food sectors.

As a fitness enthusiast and spiritual individual, Soniya incorporates her philosophy into NutriCal's culture. She emphasizes the importance of maintaining a balanced and healthy lifestyle. Acknowledging the high-pressure environment inherent in running a tech startup, Soniya shares her commitment to fitness. She says,

“I often joke with my team that working out keeps me sane. The gym time during lunch or after work is something that is super important for me.”

She also extends this philosophy to NutriCal’s company culture, where a work-life balance is not just encouraged but actively promoted. Recognizing the significance of employees' physical and emotional well-being, Soniya strives to create an environment that prioritizes happiness and health.

Beyond her role as the CEO of NutriCal, Soniya has taken on the role of a fundraiser for Expat Woman through Sanabil KSA, a Saudi and US VC venture fund that invested in NutriCal. She addresses the low numbers of female expat founders raising funds. As a founder and representative of her startup, she believes they serve as an inspiration for female entrepreneurs with bold ideas, demonstrating that taking risks is not only possible but can lead to success. She also expresses her willingness to extend support and resources to aspiring female founders.

As International Women's Day approaches, Soniya Ashar has a powerful message for aspiring women entrepreneurs. She says,

"Take the risk, be bold, be loud, and just go for it."

Observing a common trend where women tend to undersell themselves or remain reserved in the business and startup arena, Soniya urges them to break free from these constraints. She advises that setbacks are a natural part of life, and the regret of not trying far outweighs the potential of stumbling along the way.

Soniya Ashar envisions a future where the food industry in the GCC region is connected, transparent, and healthy. She also aims for the platform to be a catalyst for transforming the food industry in the region. Positioned as a food intelligence platform, NutriCal provides essential information about the nutrition and carbon footprint of food items. When available to authorities, businesses, and consumers, this data will play a crucial role in realizing a broader and environmentally conscious future for the region.

With a commitment to health and innovation, NutriCal is a driving force shaping the future of food in the region.

Watch the full interview:

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