Interview by Mibu Minami
Christmas is just a few days away and despite the global situation this year, we are pushing on and getting ready to celebrate together (or virtually) with our loved ones. If anything, the year 2020 has taught us to realize what we have and that the greatest holiday gift is to be able to spend it with those we hold dear.
This year it seems more expats will be staying in India to celebrate Christmas, like Oliver Mirza – Managing Director & CEO Indian Subcontinent of Dr. Oetker India. Dr. Oetker India is responsible for the authentic German stollen we’ve been seeing at our local supermarkets along with other FunFoods products. We caught up with Mr. Mirza (via email) and asked the German born veteran India expat about his love for the country, his roots, favourite destinations and a little history on Stollen cake.
Mangoli Mag (MM) I have been seeing Dr. Oetker Stollen cake being sold at our local markets and online. It is a tradition to have Stollen in Germany and recently common throughout Britain. Can you tell us a little history behind the Stollen cake?
Oliver Mirza (OM): Stollen has been regular on Christmas tables for many decades, it is a rich fruit bread from Germany. Stollen was invented in Dresden, Germany, where a huge stollen is traditionally paraded through the streets at the annual Stollenfest and has been around since the 15th Century. Today’s stollen is sweeter and is studded with golden raisins, dark sultanas, dried fruits, marzipan and often with Christmassy spices. For a traditional German, the aroma of a freshly baked stollen as early as November heralds the advent season.
MM: How has Stollen cake been received in Delhi?
OM: This is the third year of Dr. Oetker Stollen in India and I am happy to say that it has found a loyal customer base over time. Expats remain the key buyers of the product but we also see this product as a huge hit amongst people who have travelled abroad or have family members outside India. We did a lot of exhibitions last year which helped us connect directly to consumers. With the pandemic this year we have offered to deliver to consumers at the convenience of their homes – so that they don’t miss their favourite Christmas Stollen! They simply write in to firstname.lastname@example.org
MM: This Christmas may feel quite different… how are you planning to spend your Christmas?
OM: The year 2020 has changed everything and having lived in India for 13 years now, our family too has learnt to adapt and take life as it comes. We were all disappointed not to go to Germany over Christmas this year as we had not celebrated Christmas in Germany for the past three years. Instead we will celebrate Christmas here in Delhi with some Gluehwein, several slices of Marzipanstollen and a few traditional Christmas cookies that we baked at home during December. We plan to go to the Sacred Heart Cathedral. It has a very popular midnight mass on Christmas. A few days later we will fly to Goa, our favorite holiday destination in India.
MM: Your roots are in Germany and India… what could you say are the contrasts and similarities of these two cultures? How has it helped in introducing Dr. Oetker FunFoods into Indian food culture?
OM: The two cultures are very different indeed. Germany is a monochromic culture, where people focus on one thing at a time, things are perhaps a little more planned, structured and predictable. India is a polychromic culture and everybody seems to multi-task. Indians are unfazed by last minute changes and are relatively flexible to accommodating changes. Indians are also great at ‘’Jugaad,’’ a term I soon imbibed. Historically, the Indian subcontinent has seen a series of migrations from across the globe. There are millions of people who belong to different religions living together. When I am in Germany I do miss this diversity, the vibrant colours of Indian fashion and the never ending energy levels 130 crore people.
At Dr. Oetker India, we have strived to take the best of both worlds – and in our range of products under the brand name Dr. Oetker as well as FunFoods we bring in the low cost, innovative mind set of Indians and combine it with the quality, safety and long term focus of Germans. This makes our brand a trusted one and our products a favourite with Indian consumers.
MM: Having been in India for over a decade, you must see many changes in Delhi’s culture of food trends. What is most significant?
OM: When Dr. Oetker first came to India, we imported in some of our global range to test in the market and soon realized that to continue in India we would need to find a different point of entry. We scouted for a brand that would allow us to slowly adapt as the consumer palate in India evolved. We acquired FunFoods, a brand that today unites family members around the table enabling them to create their favourite western comfort food dishes with our mayo, sauces and spreads.
Whilst the Delhi consumer loves traditional north Indian fare (which I admit is my favorite cuisine in the country), we notice many have international exposure and are willing to explore and experiment. Earlier Mexican and Chinese were the top choices for a Delhite wanting to dine out – this has now changed. The younger generation loves pizzas, pasta, subs, sandwiches and burgers and the lockdown brought this even more into highlight as people suddenly were buying more of our mayonnaise and sauces than ever before, with a desire to replicate their favorite QSR recipes at home.
The more evolved consumer is looking for an authentic taste but yet adapted somewhat to the Indian palate and we offer a range that appeals to this consumer also with our premium range of Pestos – Basil Pesto and Sundried Tomato Pesto.
MM: You are known to have great passion for food and make your own cheese. How is that coming along?
OM: I am a self-professed foodie and love to experiment with food. When I came to India, I missed the variety of cheese that we take for granted back home. Europe has a mind-blowing array of cheese from the Brie, Crottin and Camembert culture of France or then the famous Pecorino, Parmigiano, Gorgonzola and Asiago of Italy to the simple Dutch Gouda or Swiss cheese. I took to making my own cheese, simply to create a taste of home for the family. Being a perfectionist, my ambition was to craft cheeses that matched the taste we yearned for. That coupled with our family being animal lovers, we decided to adopt some goats near our home and now I make all kinds of raw milk cheeses ranging from chèvre, soft cheese, soft ripened goat cheese, aged goat cheese and Feta in my spare time.
MM: For many expats, finding foods familiar to their culture can be a challenge in India. What were your initial challenges and how did you adapt?
Coming from Europe I have always appreciated fine wines, cheese and meats. All three were missing when we moved to India. Over the years that I have spent, I find that I can access great imported wines from the wine cellar in Gurgaon or then I quite enjoy the local Sula Zinfandel Rosé, a fresh and fruity wine for the hot summer months. For the cheese we missed, we found the perfect solution and make our own for friends and family.
Accessing quality meats was the toughest initially, but now we have found a way to meet this too. Our freezer is always stocked with German sausages and meats from Arthur Foods, which is a German meat processing company based in Bangalore and in the summer months we often simply barbeque some meats, have some cheese on the side with some good wine to wash it all down.
Our favorite restaurant to eat out over the years when we want some authentic home food is Tonino, an Italian restaurant near Ghitorni. At the same time we love local fare. Very often we would be eating tarka dal and rice or Shahi Paneer with rice at home or we go to Punjabi by Nature.
MM: You may agree that there is never a dull moment in India… what do you love the most about India and can you share some advice for new expats?
OM: Yes, it’s never a dull moment in India. Whilst adjusting to India initially was hard, it helped that I interacted with the local Indians at the office. This gave me a good insight into the local cultures and foods. Often at lunch time I would walk in to the office cafeteria and share lunch from some of the team member’s tiffins. I think the most important part in any new culture is to be open and curious. Be willing to try something new. I have spent many hours walking the streets of Old Delhi and I know more about the nooks and crannies of Chandni Chawk, Sardar Bazaar, Kinari Bazaar etc than any of the locals. I think what’s hard for most expats when they come here is being stared at and often asked for photographs.
This we have grown used to by now and just feel like local celebrities.
It’s just about changing the way we view the situation. I love the vibrancy, colours and flavours that India offers. I now speak Hindi fluently and can converse easily with my blue collar workers on the shop floor.
MM: What are your favorite places of India?
OM: I have many favorites. I love Goa, Pondicherry and Mumbai as cities to spend time in. Each is distinctive in nature. Goa for its vibrancy, tropical climate, sand and sea. Pondicherry for its quaintness, fabulous food and Mumbai for the pulse of the city, its people and character.
If we choose to stay on in India, my wife and I are quite sure we would buy a house in Goa and retire there.
MM: Tell us about new products or projects of Dr. Oetker for the coming year.
OM: Last year we entered the market with an exciting product – Ready to Eat Soft Waffles. Available in 6 variants, it’s the first of its kind product for in home consumption in India.
During the lockdown we delivered our products to a lot of expats who were missing waffles, cakes, pestos. As part of our Project Agile we have recently introduced a D2C (Direct to Consumer) channel for cakes, stollen & waffles. We are working on extending our range in 2021 in this area.
A month back we have introduced Clausthaler, Germany’s No. 1 Non-Alcoholic Beer brand, in a few markets and are eager to receive consumer feedback.
Our endeavor is to constantly come up with new and innovative products which are relevant for the market and will continue to bring new and exciting products in the coming years.
Dr. Oetker’s authentic German Stollen, Ready to Eat Soft Waffles & Clausthaler can be purchased at several stores across South Delhi such as Foodhall, Modern Bazaar, Steak House and Pal Store in Vasant Vihar among many others
Also can be ordered via writing to email@example.com
Or message via Whatsapp +917290074452, 9717765777
FunFoods products are available in more than 1lakh stores across the country. They are also available online (Bigbasket, Amazon India)