Diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease, about five years ago, Pallavi Gupta found herself making repeated visits to specialists for six months. “As part of the treatment, I was taking a lot of steroids and at some point I came to the realization that there’s no cure for my condition in modern medicine," says Gupta, who decided to change her lifestyle following a friend’s advice.

“I became vegan, went gluten-free and dairy-free. Within six months, I was at my healthiest best," reveals the 42-year-old who used to manage restaurant chain with her husband. It was this experience that led to the genesis of Nutty Yogi, Gupta’s organic health food brand launched in July 2017. “I realized how difficult it was to get hold of organic products such as cold-pressed oils, spices… even a packet of Himalayan pink salt was so expensive," Gupta adds. With over 150 products ranging from flours, millets, pulses, spices, oils, snack items, pickles, chutneys, etc., Gupta spent nine months travelling across the country to build a network of organic food suppliers.

A growing movement

According to Gupta, consumers today have become far more knowledgeable about the benefits of eating organic. “Over the last one-two years, there has been a growing awareness regarding the connection between what we eat and our health. And it’s not just an urban phenomenon," says Gupta, sharing the example of an uncle she had visited in Delhi recently. “He’s over 75 and his wife has been battling breast cancer because of which the whole household has been eating organic, healthy food. My uncle spoke about how growing up in Rampur, they never ate aan (grain) but relied on jowar, bajra and amaranth most of which was grown organically. If someone in that age group understands the merit of going organic and gluten-free, then I think these learnings are going quite deep in the Indian psyche and this isn’t just a passing fad," she says.

Nutty Yogi, which is available pan-India on e-commerce sites such as Amazon, Big Basket, Qtrove and Flipkart as well as at about 30 retail outlets in Bengaluru, has noted a 40% growth every quarter. “Our primary customers—almost 65-70%—are homemakers and women in the 28-50 age group who are concerned about their family’s health. These are people who read labels and ask questions," Gupta explains.

Challenges in the segment

Earning consumers’ trust was challenging initially, Gupta admits. “Indian consumers are inherently suspicious and people would often ask, ‘How do we trust that your products are actually organic’," she says, adding, “We have to explain that we spend a lot of time, money and energy getting organic certifications done." According to Gupta, APEDA (Agricultural and Processed food products Export Development Authority) is the governing body that issues organic certifications such as NPOP (National Programme for Organic Production) in India. “Every year, we have to get this certificate renewed during which time we have to go through the whole TraceNet process wherein everything we purchase, resell or make a blend out of, we have to give the government proof of where it has come from," the Bengaluru-based entrepreneur explains.

Shorter shelf life of organic products is another issue that customers aren’t mindful of. “Since there’s no pest control, these products often spoil sooner than regular food items. This is something our customers have come to understand over a period of time. So, now when their organic goods get spoilt they feel reassured instead of angry!" Gupta claims. To ensure products reach customers as fresh as possible, they make many of the special flour blends, dosa mixes and snacks on a weekly rather than monthly basis. Plus, they don’t pack foods in 5 or 10 kg bags to ensure zero wastage; maximum size is 1 kg packs.

Organic makes sense

When Gupta launched Nutty Yogi, she had one thought in mind: “I wanted to change people’s lives for the better. We are a philosophy of a way of living."

She’s of the belief that changing one’s daily essentials and snacks for a healthier, organic option can improve one’s health by 70-80% . Realizing that urban consumers have gotten used to certain conveniences and flavour profiles, Gupta’s attempt was to come up with products (dosa or cheela mixes, gluten-free flour blends, healthy snacks) that people could easily incorporate into their daily lives without missing out on anything. “Children, for instance, love caramel popcorn. We do a caramel makhana made with jaggery, black pepper and ginger. Similarly, we use gond (edible gum) to make our gluten free flour easy to use. These are all ideas we have sourced from grandmothers or homemakers who have had years of experience in the kitchen. And it’s all good for you," she says. In fact, the playful name of the brand also reflects Gupta’s philosophy: “the idea is that people can lead their nutty lives but with yogic food."

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