After spending six months learning organic farming in rural India, its founder Ashmeet Kapoor has setup ‘I Say Organic’ to make India take further steps towards healthy living, on one hand, and to improve livelihoods of farmers, on the other
On the face of it, it is very difficult to convince meat eaters to switch to vegetarianism or even include more vegetables into their daily diet. This came to mind while I was watching the documentary, Forks over Knives which explores the possibility of people changing their diet from animal-based to plant-based food, to eliminate life-threatening diseases. “We’re at a tipping point because people have started questioning why we’re eating non-organic food at all,” quips Ashmeet Kapoor, founder of the Delhi/ NCR based organic food retail brand, I Say Organic.
Making Organic the Norm
After graduating with a degree in Entrepreneurship from Brown University, Kapoor actively started thinking about what resonated with him. Upon his return to India, he spent six months traveling across rural India and learning organic farming. It was during this period that he realized that there was a dire need to improve livelihoods for farmers. He decided that in the field of social-environmental impact and sustainability lay his calling.
I Say Organic started in 2012 with a focus on making organic food a norm. “We currently collaborate with over 1,000 organic farmers across India, to ensure that the right stock is available through the year”, explains Kapoor.
In spite of the price difference between organic food and chemically treated vegetables, demand for organic food is at its highest in India. For example, the country produced around 1.35 million MT of certified organic products in 2015-16 and the market is growing at 25 to 30 per cent at present
While Indians may be having an eye on what goes into their palates, they are still far away from taking organic consumption on par with non-organic food, owing to challenges of price, accessibility and availability. For example, today, mangoes are available during winter and strawberries in summer because pesticides and chemical-based farming has created an abundance in the market. As Kapoor says, people have lost touch with what seasonality is because of the ‘always-available’ marketplace that we live in. “Moreover, when it comes to organic food, the handling costs are high; farmers demand a premium because they are smart enough to know that the market commands a certain price,” he notes.
In spite of the price difference between organic food and chemically treated vegetables, demand for organic food is at its highest in India. For example, the country produced around 1.35 million MT of certified organic products in 2015-16 and the market is growing at 25 to 30 per cent at present. “There is an awareness building among a small section of people about the benefits of organic food and this sentiment is spreading rapidly,” notes Kapoor.
The Organic Farm to Table Model
Since founding, I Say Organic has been taking measures to educate customers about the benefits of going organic and helping farmers switch to growing organic produce. Although, making organic food more accessible, consistent in quality and affordable has not been easy for the brand, Kapoor is confident of their progress in the months to come. “We’re currently hitting 120 orders a day on our website alone, with additional sales coming in from our Gurgaon outlet. In the coming year, we should be able to accelerate our online sales by at least three times”, says Kapoor. “We also plan to add more outlets, expand to newer geographies in the coming months and eventually home delivery, as well,” he adds. In terms of growth, the company clocked revenues of Rs.4 crore this financial year and it aims to reach Rs. 12 crore by next year.
One visit to their office and 20-tonne-strong cold storage space in Okhla (New Delhi) reveals that timely delivery of orders, hygiene and segregation of spoilt produce is key to its functioning. “We have over 200 products on offer and the average basket size is Rs. 1,000,” shares Kapoor, while we’re on a tour of the office space.
As we wrap up the interview, Kapoor says, “I am convinced that organic will be part of our future. Awareness levels are going up, farming techniques are evolving to ensure no reduction in yield and, most importantly, the consumer are willing to pay a little more to go the organic route.”
Insights from I Say Organic
Distribution Approach: While the brand initially setup an exclusive retail outlet in Select City Walk Mall in New Delhi; it soon realized that it wasn’t the most viable location for customers to go grocery shopping. It shut down the outlet and soon opened a retail outlet (its only outlet) in Gurgaon, close to a cluster of 25,000-30,000 apartments.
Funding Approach: While the investment landscape maybe changing in the country with investors now looking beyond 20x growth numbers and going after solid business models, the company is confident that the time is right for them to seek funding.