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Micro-entrepreneur Prashant R. collects A2 milk for ghee in Periyapatna, Karnataka.
Micro-entrepreneur Prashant R. collects A2 milk for ghee in Periyapatna, Karnataka.

Carving out a niche in wood-pressed oils and A2 desi ghee

  • Food tech startup Anveshan helped Gajraj Singh Parewa set up a mill that uses cold-pressing to extract mustard oil

Gajraj Singh Parewa used to be a driver for a minister in Ghaziabad. But that used to take him away from his home and family for months. He longed to return to his roots.

One day, he spotted a wood-pressed mustard oil mill during a drive in the countryside. That, to him, seemed like a way back home. Last year, he relocated to Tarfara village in Hathras district of Uttar Pradesh to become a micro-entrepreneur with a mill that uses cold-pressing to extract mustard oil.

Food tech startup Anveshan helped him set up the unit. He has now cleared the loan and is setting up a second mill.

“Earlier, we didn’t have a kohlu (wood-pressed oil mill) in this area. Once people in the nearby town got a taste of the oil from the kohlu, they started coming to my village to buy it," he says. About 30 farmers growing mustard in the surrounding area bring their produce to the mill, which mainly supplies the oil to Anveshan.

Three IIT Guwahati computer science graduates—Kuldeep Parewa, Aayushi Khandelwal and Akhil Kansal—got together while working at Goldman Sachs. They came up with Anveshan to meet the needs of a growing band of consumers demanding better quality, traditional food products. Its product range now includes wood-pressed mustard, groundnut, sesame and coconut oils, ghee from A2 milk, unprocessed honey, and organic flax, chia, pumpkin and sunflower seeds.

It sells these online from its website as well as on e-commerce sites, thus saving on distribution costs. One reason it focused initially on oil and ghee was that online delivery is cost-effective for such high-value products.

BETTER RETURNS

Creating demand for wood-pressed oils has helped the farmers. For example, Anveshan pays around 150 for a litre of kohlu mustard oil whereas traders buy the oil from distillers for 80-90, says Kuldeep Parewa, whose roots are also in the agricultural community of Hathras. The higher price offsets the extra time it takes in cold-pressing the mustard seeds, compared to the expeller mode of extraction using heat.

In return, the startup insists on better quality. For example, fungus is a common occurrence in mustard seeds piled on the ground in villages. Using 2-inch-thick mats and better drying techniques mitigate the problem.

So far, the startup has focused on processing and brand-building. “Going forward, we can help the farmers source the right seeds, fertilizers and pesticides for a higher yield or grow the mustard in an organic way for better returns," says Parewa.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Anveshan’s product is already the top-selling A2 ghee on Amazon, for example.

It started implementing traceability of its products from the outset, keeping consumer trends in mind. The micro-entrepreneurs grade and tag their inputs, with all data being fed into the Anveshan app. And at every subsequent point of quality check and packaging, further data is added. Now, a QR code on the package reveals the source of the product and some other details, but Anveshan aims to make more data available to buyers for transparency.

A number of FMCG food startups appear to have their fingers in too many pies, driven by VC funding and high growth targets. Paper Boat, for example, which started out with traditional Indian beverages, is now selling chikki.

Anveshan hopes to avoid this trap. “We feel that we can grow profitably by raising some debt, and we will not be requiring much venture funding," says Parewa.

One reason for optimism is the potential for exports in the kinds of products that Anveshan is building up. “India has varieties of spices, oils and ghee which are not available in many other countries. So, export is something we are working on, which will also give us a higher profit margin," he says.

HEALTHIER OPTION

For example, desi ghee from A2 milk, which research suggests suits human consumption better, has a potential global clientele from the Indian diaspora.

Anveshan has been working with micro-entrepreneurs in Karnataka who procure the milk, curdle it and then make butter and ghee using the traditional bilona method.

One of them is Prashant R., whose family started a dairy with 10 cows eight years ago in Periyapatna near Mysuru. The family now has twice the number of cows, but more significantly, Prashant has a network of 30 farmers from whom he gets milk for the 8,000 litres of ghee he produces monthly, the bulk of which goes to Anveshan. “Our monthly earning has grown manifold to 2.5 lakh," says Prashant. “We also got testing equipment and a bilona machine from Anveshan, so the whole business has changed from our earlier very small-scale operation. The farmers who supply milk to me have also trebled the number of cows they keep."

Sumit Chakraberty is a Consulting Editor with Mint. Write to him at chakraberty@gmail.com

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