Business inspiration can come from random experiences. In the case of Mehal Kejriwal, co-founder, Happy Milk, it was when she tasted fresh “real" milk during a trip to a farm near Hyderabad. The milk tasted different from the packaged ones that got delivered to her house. And that formed the genesis of her Bengaluru-based organic milk startup, which she founded with her father Vivek Kejriwal in 2017.
“The milk we were having, it’s better not to have it. Understanding the adulteration shocked me," says the 22-year-old. After doing research for nearly two years on the dairy business ranging from cows’ feed to delivery, Kejriwal says her father and she came to the conclusion that the best way to maintain quality was to have a single source at a single location. In other words, growing the feed, milking the cows, pasteurizing and homogenizing the milk, delivering the product and setting up biogas at the same place, instead of sourcing and outsourcing each process.
In a year since its operation, Happy Milk, which operates out of a 30-acre farm on the outskirts of Bengaluru, grows 10 varieties of cow feed, has 400 cows which listen continuously to classical flute music to “induce the happy hormones of the cows" and are strapped with smart-wear devices that monitor their health. With the current milk capacity being 4,000 litres, Kejriwal says Happy Milk aims to take the capacity to 10,000 litres in the next two years.
Growing as a movement
Milk is omnipresent in the Indian diet, and everyone drinks or consumes it in varied forms almost daily. “The market is so big that you can’t take away anyone’s customers including the unorganized players. Dairy is part of our diet for years, both in urban and rural areas. In fact, the unorganized sector is feeling the pressure as people are becoming more aware of what they are consuming and where it’s coming from," says Kejriwal.
One of the best parts of the job Kejriwal finds is the feedback she gets. “I love it when customers, who are parents, say that ‘my child has started drinking milk’ or when a mom writes in to say that they are getting 10 minutes extra sleep because our milk doesn’t need to be boiled before drinking. When you know you are making a difference, there is no bigger joy than that," she says.
However, how do you decipher which products are genuinely organic, as there is a profusion of organic brands in the market? Check the certification, suggests Kejriwal. In addition to this, she says, “Find out how the milk is organic, know what kind of food is fed to the cow, how much technology is being used in the farm: Understand the entire end to end process. Sure, buying organic milk is expensive, but you know what you are consuming."
Challenges in the segment
For a sector that deals with a perishable product, one of the biggest challenges is logistics. “It’s my biggest nightmare and that will continue to be so because this part involves humans. You can’t technologize it. There are lot of errors that happen at times, which you can’t control," she says. Selecting the right breed of cows is crucial as is hiring the right set of experts. “We got Israelis on board as consultants and it was their suggestion that we play soothing music to the cows that will make them happy. The German partners helped in making the business tech driven, so that the quality is untouched. They put the smart-wear devices on each cow, so that we can monitor each animal’s health on real-time basis. As a result, we only have 15 people running the entire operation. We installed sensor mist fans, which would activate if there was a rise in temperature. And we got veterinarians in the team, who regularly check the cows," she explains.
Lastly, milk alone can’t make you profitable. “Dairy business doesn’t fetch money initially. But by-products can overcome this challenge,"says Kerjiwal. In addition to a wide variety of milk—pasteurized, pasteurized and homogenized (which makes it ready to drink), low fat and slim—Happy Milk also supplies yoghurt (slim, low fat and sweet), cottage cheese and ghee.
Organic makes sense
Kejriwal says the advantages of choosing organic are multifold. Growing awareness about what one is eating and the readiness to spend on organic products is connecting people a lot more to the environment. And because organic foods tend to be a bit more expensive, people are valuing food a lot more, which is helping in reducing wastage. The demand for organic produce will eliminate the use of fertilizers, pesticides, food colouring and other harmful things that are added to increased production, believes Kerjiwal. “Organic foods are a much needed revolution," she says.
Cheers To That is a series which looks at healthy beverage startups set up by millennials and how they deal with a nascent market.