Habbit Health and Nutrition, a fledgling business set up 18 months ago, is looking to shake up India’s ice-cream market, with a focus on low sugar, low fat and high protein.

The Delhi-based firm, founded in 2019 by entrepreneur Dhruv Bhushan and brand expert Dev Kabir Malik, is weeks into selling its first consumer products, including a range of ice cream marketed under the brand Wise Creams.

Habbit claims its Wise Creams products contain only 30 to 50 kcal per serving – compared to the 250 to 260 kcal found in regular ice cream.

The company also says its ice cream contains less fat than conventional competitors, with the fat content in Wise Creams at 2%, compared to the usual 17%. Habbit says it has replaced much of the fat with natural proteins sourced from plant fibres that can improve gut health and add creaminess to the product.

The results of a GlobalData market pulse survey show health claims such as “low calorie” and “no added sugar” are popular among Indian consumers. The percentage is even higher for claims such as “improves gut health” and “rich in fibre”. The same survey also reveals 78% of consumers from India are trying to reduce their consumption of fat.

Habbit also says it has replaced sugar with natural sweeteners such as stevia. In 2019, India was home to the second-largest diabetic population in the world, according to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF).

The company’s other new products are protein powders and protein shakes and, in that vein, the company’s ice creams are packed with protein. A GlobalData market pulse survey in September found 77% of Indian consumers say “high protein” claims are somewhat or very appealing.

Habbit charges a premium price for transforming a guilty pleasure into a healthier food, without, it says, compromising on taste. The brand targets affluent, educated, and health-aware urbanites who are willing to spend on a premium and aspirational brand. The image of the brand should catch the attention of the 26% of Indian consumers who, according to GlobalData’s analysis, prefer to buy premium and high-end dairy food products.

Habbit has been backed by investors including VC firm 3one4 Capital, AngelList India, Better Capital, First Cheque and Singapore-based RB Investments.

The company is not the only player plying sugar-free ice creams in the Indian market. Since the early 2000s, top brands such as Amul, Vadilal and Havmor have rolled out sugar-free, low-fat, or diabetic-friendly ice creams. However, these products have not been positioned as premium and have failed to strike a chord with urban elites, due to the lack of flavour options and value-addition such as protein fortification.

As a result, the healthy ice-cream segment is still in its nascent stages in India. For instance, the diabetic/dietetic ice-cream segment in India was valued at US$109.1m in 2020 – a fraction of the country’s $1.9bn ice-cream market.

Nonetheless, a spate of home-grown brands is out to change this scenario with their healthy and flavourful offerings. The year 2019 witnessed the launch of three healthy ice-cream brands, namely Good Fettle, NOTO, and Get-A-Whey. Besides claims of ‘no added sugar’, ‘low calories’, Get-A-Whey emphasises that its ice creams have five times the protein present in conventional ice-cream products.

Such healthy ice creams typically fall under the premium segment, with a price range of INR335 to INR450 (US$4.57 to $6.14) for a 500ml tub, compared to conventional products retailing at INR60 to INR 200 (US$0.82 to $2.73) for the same pack size. Consequently, the clientele for these players is mostly concentrated in upmarket locales of metropolitan and big cities.

Habbit has claimed its Wise Creams are the “healthiest ice creams ever made”. The proof of the pudding, as they say, will be in the eating.