A few years ago, while working in Morgan Stanley, New York, I had begun to notice a trend in food revival. Chefs and individuals were trying to go back to their traditional cuisine and rediscovering ancient grains," explains Aditi Malik. The 53-year-old had, by then, already started consuming organic food herself. She realized that Indian grains and traditional cuisine could have its own revival movement by making them more relevant to the present day. That was the trigger she needed. With an offer from Conscious Food’s owner, K.M.S. Ahluwalia, Malik decided to switch to a job, which in her own words, “was more meaningful".

One of the first things Malik did after joining as director in 2016, was to launch their online presence. “This made it easier for people to order from us—even in small quantities. Now we have so many followers—people who engage with us daily and on various social media platforms as well," says Malik. The Conscious Food website offers a variety of products from grains to honey, oil to asafoetida, spices to khakhra. A separate section on the website hosts recipes such as pudding made from black rice, amaranth energy bars and jowar daliya tabbouleh. Malik says, “I get excited when people write to us for recipes or for information on how to use a product. For example, someone wrote in to ask if apple cider vinegar should always be diluted. People ask about the difference in honeys—wildflower and harde. We love answering these queries as it demonstrates interest in food and that is our ultimate goal."

A growing movement

In the last two years since she has joined Conscious Food, Malik has seen the interest grow around organic food products—be it individuals choosing to eat healthier or chefs incorporating organic, home-grown produce in their menus. “More and more people are becoming mindful about their food—how is it grown, is it healthy—is it ethical and with that mindset it is inevitable that organic and sustainable is the way to go. We get so many queries about how to use a particular ingredient, or what all have been put to make any snack, or where has a particular jaggery come from. It just shows how much the awareness and interest is increasing," she says. The increased interest shows in sales as well. Conscious Food net sales has been growing 30-35% year-on-year , she claims. Among the customers, Malik has noticed two distinct segments. The first is the long time, middle-aged users who have chosen the organic food path because of some illness or nutritional consulting. They are from all income groups and largely city-based. The other, millennials from across metros, are trying to follow the organic lifestyle choice not because of ailments but because “they are very conscious, proactive and believe that this is the right and ethical thing to do—in terms of food, or treatment to the planet and to the farmers, etc".

Challenges in the segment

Getting consumers to think about food standards and not just price, is a continuous effort for Malik and her team. “Food is living. It connects families and friends—and we need to be mindful of that. Making food only about price is to lose the essence of good food," she says.

Add to that, the attempt to balance environmental and customer needs and managing the chain from supplier to retailer makes it a hard day’s work. Malik says, for example, ideally her company would not like to pack any of their goods in plastic but it is the only way that they can currently protect the shelf life of the product. When it comes to scaling, companies selling organic goods always have to keep multiple back up options. “Sometimes a producer cannot give the quantity required or the quality of the products can change from one harvest to the next. The quality check team makes sure that the end product is up to the mark through several rounds of taste, colour, smell testing. All of this makes the process not just expensive but also time consuming," explains Malik. In her two years, she knows one thing for sure: “You can’t be complacent in the organic food business. Consumers think that because they are paying more, they should get the products, just like they get from any other store which is not really true," she says.

Organic makes sense

Malik says her family and friends think she has the coolest assignment, ever. She agrees that while buying organic is expensive, “going organic for a month would roughly mean adding the cost of dinner for a family of four at an upmarket restaurant, once a month to your household expense".

Ode to Organic is a series that looks at organic product sellers and suppliers and why consumers are choosing this range

Close