In an exclusive conversation, as a part of a special series NewsX India A-List on NewsX, N Balasubramanian, CEO, 24 Mantra Organic sat with us for an exclusive chat. Mr. Balasubramanian spoke about his organic food brand and the shift that can be seen in people to eat more organic and healthy food.
Speaking about what led to the starting of Shrestha and the launch of the organic food brand, Mr. Balasubramanian said, “One, a lot of people believe that organic is elitist and so in 2004 when Raj Seelam, the Founder of the company, he was thinking about launching organic food and I used to work for Mars at that time and not many people gave him a chance of building an organic food business in India. Raj had seen a lot of farmer distress because of multiple factors we are aware of. More importantly, he saw a huge amount of use of fertilisers and pesticides in all the crops he was handling because he was working for a fertiliser company. That’s what led him to think that there has to be a better way to do farming and eventually led to setting up of this organisation, with a primary focus being helping the farmers earn better livelihood. Today, we have other issues going on with farmers but our primary objective in 2004 was to really set this business up and help small farmers earn better livelihood with better impact on the environment and eventually giving better food to consumers. So, we knew it was a long haul but we said that we’d do the right things”.
Talking about the hardships faced in the beginning, Mr. Balasubramanian said, “I think, from identifying the kind of farmers we wanted to work with because it’s easy and Indian farming, the stories about farmers being risk-averse because the returns are low. So, to convince farmers to do the right thing and wait for the returns, the organic conversion certificate takes 3-4 years depending on the program, the condition of the soil and so on. So, the farmer needs to work on his land for years to get certified and to convince and select the right type of farmers who understand this was a big challenge. Second, I think the other extreme here was to convince consumers to believe. When we initially started selling our brand, people were aware of the pesticides, pollution and other bad things but people didn’t believe that there is an alternative they can trust. So, the first task for us was to establish trust with the brand and the category saying, organic means something better”.
Speaking on how the brand is able to keep up with the changing trend since Covid, Mr Balasubramanian said, “I think it’s been a continuous journey and we’ve worked for the last 15 years to build and know the consumer confidence and trust in this whole movement for organic. Before 2020, we had started seeing signs of consumer acceptability for organic and slightly healthier products. 2020 triggered a much better response and people chose better alternatives. As of now we believe, we’ve reached more than a million households in India who are consumers and it’s been a good step change for us. We intend to build on that because clearly this need to consumer better has changed for the better. In addition to that, I think consumers realise that the money they spend on basic food is really not so high. It’s good to get good food and spend the money where it really helps with the health”.
Talking about their expansion plans, Mr Balasubramanian said, “Most of the health and wellness products in this country are consumed by around 20 million families out of the whole population. So, the way we look at it is, we want more than 2-3 million in the next couple of years to start consuming organic from the 1 million. Similarly, outside of India, within the US, within Middle-East, we are building the business quite reasonably well. So the idea is to grow within India, US and Middle-East plus Malaysia, Australia and countries like this at a good pace. And, keep adding countries as we along and within India, I think the other point I must mention is, we are focusing a lot more on the smaller, tier two, tier three towns where clearly post 2020, there is a higher demand.”