Q&A | Dilip Doshi

The only reference Dilip Doshi makes to cricket is while answering an unrelated question, saying he will keep his answer brief “so you don’t have to shorten a five-day match into a 20-over one". The former left-arm spinner, who played 33 Test matches between 1979 and 1983, moved on quickly from cricket after retirement to start his own company. Entrack Group of Companies, of which he is the chairman and managing director, is currently the distributor for Mont Blanc pens in India.

Last year, the London-based Doshi started Organic Haus in India, a store with imported, vegetarian food and homecare products sourced from Europe and in particular, Germany. The next step will be a deal with Hypercity stores in Pune, Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Mumbai for shops-in-shops for Organic Haus.

On a recent visit to Mumbai, Doshi spoke about the organic business. Edited excerpts:

What was the reason for starting Organic Haus (in Ahmedabad in November and Mumbai in March)?

Organic as a generic term is often misused and not clearly understood by people who consume it. The reason why we have chosen to represent a lot of German brands is because Germany has been the creator and front-runner in organic food for around 100 years. We thought authenticity of organic food should be the No. 1 criteria. We wanted people here to try these without worrying about authenticity.

Did you study the market before starting this venture?

No studies will tell you whether there is a need for organic products. The reason I don’t believe in them is they are never exhaustive and can give a lopsided view. As an entrepreneur, you go by gut feel, whether the market is ready today or tomorrow. But people are more aware that they should preferably eat products which have not been tampered by any artificial means. There is a market for this. My common sense tells me it should be big enough.

Do you intend to stock locally produced stuff?

We will encourage local producers to aspire to higher standards. The kind of products we have can’t be produced locally. I am giving you value addition, things that don’t grow here; juices you can’t dream of having. We want to complement our stores with locally produced fruits, vegetables and grains, but we should be confident about the source and processes. Eventually, I believe we will be open to this. Also, everything is vegetarian and eggless—the word organic doesn’t constitute killing. It’s my personal philosophy and I make my team suffer with that.

Why does organic cost so much more?

The available organic land in the world would be such a small percentage that it’s shocking. A lot of farming land in the world is used for animal farming, to feed the animals that are sent to slaughterhouses. From the rest, the land available for organic farming is extremely limited. So the intensity of production cannot be as high as it is for conventional food. If you don’t use artificial means to enhance production, the cost will be high. If you have the mindset of eating food that’s not been tampered with, then the additional 50-70% you pay does not represent its value. Anything that is in limited supply and has a limited shelf life will be more expensive. The cost difference will remain. I have not seen the organic food business created for money-making; it’s a principle. If it works, it will be profitable.

I also think organic food should be duty-free because the margins are so thin. You have to think what is good for society.

The logistics must be challenging to store products with a short shelf life, particularly when they are imported?

In most countries, the food will get cleared in matter of hours and days; here it takes weeks. The average shelf life, depending on the product, is three months to three years. If you look at the ingredients and how they are produced, the typical organic product will have the least number of ingredients. If anything extra is used, it’s within acceptable standards of artificiality. When you use preservatives, it’s not organic. Our products have ingredients that may naturally preserve them but not for prolonged periods.