Aloo gobhi, gobhi parantha to gobhi matar–cauliflower has been ubiquitous as a starter and main course sideshow in many Indian fare. But thanks to a young Kiwi-Indian entrepreneur, the humble vegetable is now yearning to be a showstopper as a dessert star.

Mrinali Kumar is shaking up Aotearoa’s food industry with her innovative plant-based ice cream brand ‘EatKinda’. The company’s co-founder, fondly known as Milli, says she is on a mission to offer sustainable and delicious cauliflower-based frozen treats to ice cream lovers.

Cauliflower is the main ingredient in the ice-cream Milli helped create. The sweet treat made its debut at 90 Countdown stores a few days back in October, months after it became a runaway hit in its maiden foray at Hell Pizza outlets across the country.

The EatKinda journey began nearly three years ago when Milli met her co-founder Jenni Matheson at a startup weekend in Taranaki. At the time, Milli had just completed her food technology degree from Massey University, and she connected with Jenni's idea of creating cauliflower-based ice cream. Being a lifelong vegetarian, and now entirely plant-based, Wellington-based Milli says she could relate with the values behind the concept.

Mrinali Kumar (left) with Jenni Matheson

“We had good support from our local community and entered accelerators that gave us some initial funding to test and trial and set up the business,” she says.

“We spent more than two years scaling up the recipe, from Jenni's kitchen to 50-kg batches at Massey University Food Pilot to now Foodbowl in Auckland.”

The brand’s first big market rendezvous was via Hell Pizza, when the fast food chain began selling the ice cream at 79 of its stores in March 2023 as part of a six-week trial period.

“We almost sold out in four weeks!” says the proud 25-year-old. We now have a year-long contract with Hell Pizza. Moreover, we launched at 90+ Countdown stores nationwide last week. This is a big milestone for us, as it is tough to get an arrangement with Countdown within the first year of launch.”

Ask her why cauliflower and pat comes the reply, “The world is changing, and consumers want more sustainable food options. The current alternative plant-based options didn't provide the same eating experience as dairy ice cream, so we wanted to solve this problem.

“Cauliflower is the magic ingredient that helps with replicating the product's texture. We endeavour to provide a dairy-free ice cream that rivals traditional dairy options in taste and texture while significantly reducing the environmental footprint.”

Milli points out using cauliflower as the main ingredient offers a long-term sustainability solution. “Compared to dairy milk, cauliflower uses 93 per cent less land, 81 per cent less water, 84 per cent fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and 53 per cent less nutrient runoff.

“Plus, it's entirely free from animal products. We are working with farmers to utilise cosmetically imperfect cauliflower that would otherwise go to waste.”

Milli says what sets EatKinda apart even further is the band’s commitment to environmental sustainability, as the ice cream is packaged in home compostable and plastic-free containers.

The initial lineup includes three flavours– Strawberry Swirl, Chocolate Swirl and Mint Choc Bikkie—all packaged in 473-ml tubs and priced at $13 at Countdown stores.

Apart from her business, Milli, whose parents migrated from the Indian capital of New Delhi more than 30 years ago, enjoys connecting with her Indian heritage and visiting her extended family in India. She has fond memories of attending Wellington Hindi School, and is passionate about Bollywood movies and TV shows as a way to unwind.

Her mother Neetu Kumar is a teacher, while her father Varinder is a chef, having operated various establishments over the years. As a child, Milli spent her time at the family's takeaway ‘Curry Central’ in Island Bay.

“From a young age I have been exposed to beautiful food and cuisine as well as entrepreneurship,” says Milli, as she segways into her future plans. While currently focused on growing the New Zealand market, she has her eyes set on taking the business overseas. 

“We are a high growth ambitions start-up. I travelled to Singapore, Australia and the United States earlier this year. We are following early leads to take EatKinda global,” she says.

Despite the brand’s rapid success, Milli acknowledges the challenges the team faced. For her, it was a steep learning curve in business, as she didn't have a background in business studies. She also noted the financial sacrifices they made to bootstrap the business, which has been rewarding given the positive response from customers.

As a parting message to aspiring entrepreneurs, Milli says, "Just do it! Believe in yourself and surround yourself with qualified advisors and mentors. And always make the best decisions for the planet and future generations."