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Rhea Sharma, 30, lives in Gurugram and works in the non-profit sector. Her daily meals don’t include bread or roti—the staple source of carbohydrates for many Indians. Words such as protein, carbs, vitamins are sprinkled in her conversations on food and she is very mindful of what she eats.

In Bengaluru, Radhika Sen, 40, who works at an IT hardware company, has replaced white rice with organic brown rice in her kitchen. She slips in a box of cucumber and carrots or a home-made salad into her laptop bag every day before heading to office. She uses soya noodles, limits red meat, and only eats fried food on special occasions.

While Sen made changes to her food habits because she found herself putting on weight in her mid-30s despite no drastic lifestyle changes, Sharma got conscious of what she was eating after she became aware of the harm that air pollution was doing to her body. Though she does wear a mask when she is outdoor, Sharma decided to eat carefully to cut out other pollutants entering her body. “My immune system isn’t getting younger and the air isn’t getting any cleaner. So, the only way I can continue to have a good quality of life is if I watch what I put into my body—natural carbs from fruits and root vegetables instead of processed grains, protein from fish and chicken instead of red meat, organic produce and products whenever possible and a cold press juices instead of a fizzy drinks or packaged juices," says Sharma.

The awakening

The intent to eat clean can be seen among Indians today. Yet, translating that intent into action is a little slow, believes Sandeep Sachdev, founder of Mumbai-based fitness studio Easy Human. “By clean food I mean sticking to pesticide/chemical-free produce, organic produce and products, clean label products, sugar-free foods and healthy snacks such as nuts and dehydrated fruits," says the former Fitness First nutritionist.

A lot of people turn to natural, organic foods due to the rise of lifestyle-related conditions and illnesses. Some like Anuj Rakyan and Pallavi Gupta turned their need into a business idea. Rakyan, 39, founder of Raw Pressery, which makes cold pressed juices and nut milk, was asked by his doctor to increase his intake of fruits and vegetables. He looked for preservative and additive-free foods but didn’t find any, so he decided to address this gap by launching Raw Pressery’s clean label juices.

Gupta, 42, was diagnosed with lupus and after all treatments failed, she was advised to improve her immunity from within by switching to natural and chemical-free produce, which she struggled to find in Bengaluru’s markets and stores. That need-gap led to her starting Nutty Yogi that sells natural and organic food through its website and online marketplaces.

A mix of factors such as health issues, pollution, unhealthy and stressful lifestyle have also forced people to pay more attention to their food, adds Gupta. “People today want their food to help improve their life and for that they want chemical free, natural and healthy food," she says.

Shahid Lokhandwala prefers to eat clean without going fully organic.
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Shahid Lokhandwala prefers to eat clean without going fully organic.


Pune-based architect Suchi Vora stocks her fridge with cold pressed juices, naturally grown and organic vegetables and protein-rich snacks. “When I returned from Europe in 2013, I was shocked to see that ripe tomatoes left out on the kitchen counter for two weeks wouldn’t go bad. I wondered what were people doing to increase the shelf life of staple fruits and vegetables. I didn’t like what I found out from my simple Google search," says the 32-year-old architect and founder of SVAC Design Studio. She now buys her vegetables and fruits from local small businesses that grow their own produce and sell direct. “I buy my cold pressed oils from a local oil mill run by people I have come to know personally. That way I know where my food is coming from," adds Vora, who finds organic and natural produce to be much more flavourful. “They don’t taste synthetic and that is reason enough to pay that little extra. You can’t check packaged items, but fruits and vegetables I usually buy from people I know and trust," she says.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is 33-year-old businessman Shahid Lokhandwala, who is yet to bite into the “organic is better" theory. “I do eat clean and workout hard it’s just that I am not particularly into buying organic. As far as food and clean eating goes, I stay away from all sweet stuff, eat only home-cooked food using very little oil, butter, ghee and masalas. I avoid milk," says the Mumbai-based Lokhandwala.

A recent phenomenon

This rise in demand for clean label, organic and natural products that have proven health benefits has spiked in just the last three years, observes Gupta. This demand is growing and vastly outstrips the supply today despite the fact that there are many more brands offering such food products. However, a decade ago, it was a very different story for such startups in India. Genesia Alves who ran Love Lunch, a curated healthy meal service in Mumbai from 2007 to 2012, says one of the biggest challenge was that the Mumbai market wasn’t even talking about eating healthy and “organic food wasn’t even heard of by most".

That people are ready for newer things and clean eating is something both consumers like Sharma, Sen and Vora and brand owners like Rakyan and Gupta confirm. “The urban millennial is ready to try the cleaner food options that are available. People now know what value the (clean label) product is bringing to their lives. There isn’t a compromise on taste either anymore," says Rakyan.

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