In 2013, when Anurag Dalmia’s wife was expecting and their doctor suggested switching to organic food, he realized how challenging it was to get hold of fresh organic fruits and vegetables on a regular basis. “It was restricted to a few pockets, the quality wasn’t consistent and there was never enough variety or stock," recalls Dalmia. It was to address these pain points that Dalmia joined hands with friend and former colleague, Gautham P.B., to launch Healthy Buddha in 2014. With over a decade of corporate experience in India and abroad, the duo had always wanted to launch their own enterprise. In fact, Gautham, who had grown up on farm fresh produce on his father’s 50 acre organic farm in Tamil Nadu, managed to glean a lot of information on organic farming as well as farmer contacts from the latter.

Today, Healthy Buddha delivers organic vegetables and fruits to customers in Bengaluru and north Goa, apart from which they also stock both perishable and non-perishable products such as foodgrains, cereals, pulses, oils and dry fruits in retail outlets across Bengaluru as well as a few stores in Mumbai and Hyderabad.

Growing as a movement

While they started out cautiously—Gautham, who was still employed with Capgemini in 2014, talks about how both of them would take orders and do deliveries on weekends. They soon realized that there was enough demand to make this a full-time business. “Today, we have 50 employees and a 6,000 sq. ft warehouse in Marathahalli. Our business is growing 40% year on year," Gautham claims. Dalmia attributes this growth to how awareness about organic food has become more commonplace today. “In the first two years, we had to convince customers about why they should be eating organic food. Now, the conversation has changed to customers questioning us about how they can verify if the produce is truly organic," he adds. To facilitate this, they organize monthly farm visits to show customers how the produce is grown. “I must have taken about 300 customers last year itself," Gautham says.

Challenges in the segment

Since they deal with naturally grown produce, Gautham says that there is an element of inconsistency in terms of quality or availability due to external factors such as weather conditions and pests. To counter this, they have partnered with several farms in and around Bengaluru apart from setting up their own model farms where they grow 80% of the greens and vegetables. For fruits, they source from across India—for instance, oranges from Nagpur, apples from Kashmir, grapes from Solapur, etc. “Also, on our website, customers can specify things like whether they want slightly raw bananas, fully ripe tomatoes or a medium or big sized cabbage," Gautham explains. Typically, the vegetables are delivered within 24-36 hours of being harvested.

At the back end, it took some time to convince farmers to grow organic produce since yield or productivity is initially lower compared to non-organic farming. According to Dalmia, less than 1% of cultivated land in India is under organic farming. Due to this, they have had to pay a higher price to the farmers for the produce as well. “In the last 50 years, most of the know-how related to organic farming has been lost," says Gautham, adding that they supply technical inputs as well as seeds to their partner farms.

Organic makes sense

According to Dalmia, most of their customers switch to organic food due to some illness in the family or if they have children. Then there are the health conscious millennials or those who have travelled or lived abroad and have been exposed to the benefits of eating organic. “Many of our customers come back to us to say that their doctor visits have come down, immunity has increased and gastro problems have reduced," he reveals. Even though organic produce is more expensive (30-40% at the basket level, which translates to 1,500-2,500 per month for a family of four, as Dalmia says), the pay-offs in terms of promoting healthier lifestyles and supporting eco-friendly farming are much higher.

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

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