Grit + hard work + conviction = Recipe for organic food business

Having spent almost 32 years in the media as a Publisher-Editor and  Entrepreneur, I knew it was time to pay heed to my true calling as an Organic Farmer and in 2016 I donned the hat as a farmer, beginning with 12 acres of my family land. Now looking back, I realize that running a media business was cake walk compared to managing an organic food business .

To go back to the start of my organic farming journey,  I knew merely farming was not good enough. I needed to start my own food processing unit if I had to make it an end to end organic business. So in 2020 I set up two processing units in my own farm. Covid-19 thankfully gave me enough time to focus on that. But mind you, I was still completely new to the food business.

First of all, there are far too many government departments to understand in this whole eco-system, departments like the FSSAI, PCB, GST etc. Also, in this field, there are many who claim to be consultants, but who hardly fit the bill. So having learnt this lesson too, I decided to gain my own learnings and discovered many things along the way. To give you one example, some one quoted Rs 2.50 lakh just for an MPCB certificate. But I got the work done for just Rs 5,000  and legitimately too! But these were just small discoveries along the journey. The main part was the process of organic cultivation of food, which in itself is a humungous task. Further, processing the farm yield without using artificial methods and taking them closer to the consumers is another challenge.  

Most of us give importance to taste, to the look and feel of food over the quality of its production and its impact on our health. We don’t realise the value of what goes into organic food production. This is why we cannot compare organic with non organic food, especially processed foods. For example 88-90 % of our flagship product tomato ketchup contains handpicked tomatoes grown in our own organic farm and since we have added only 8% of organic raw sugar, its thickness will not match that of other ketchups in the market, which contain 30-40% of added sugar. 

In fact, it took us almost a year of R&D to get the right consistency in our product. And when we went to market with our ketchup, many retailers were eager to have it. That’s when I realised the reason behind the gap in organic ketchup market.  It’s very difficult to get yield in organic tomato produce and no farmer is ready to grow it organically, because his yield is only 20-30%, compared to non organic farmers. But for us, as producers at our own farm, we don’t look at yield percentage, but focus on creating healthy products for consumers. Farmers like me in fact prod on, because of our belief in what we do and because we understand the value of pure foods. Now the question is, will other stakeholders in this whole eco-system, including the consumers,  understand it too?  

(The author is Founder & CEO of VJ Organic Farms, Serial Entrepreneur, Founder & Managing Director - VJ Media Works, Director IOAA)

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