Pandemic highlighted need for health-conscious living; People recognise prevention is better than cure principle

‘Increasing consumer insights have led to a rapid augmentation in demand for organic products.’

The prevalence of the pandemic has brought about a tidal shift in consumer behaviour globally. A sudden sense of enquiry has seeped into the minds of people. They want to know what they eat, where it comes from, and how it is grown. The focus has shifted towards a natural and holistic way of living. While Ayurveda has gained prominence, people have started exploring and embracing functional foods. A growing preference for Organic food products, immunity boosters, and food supplements etc., has been observed. Subrata Dutta, Group Managing Director, Organic India in an exclusive conversation with the Financial Express Online talked about the impact of Covid on Ayurveda/organic products, challenges, trends and more. Excerpts:

How has covid-19 impacted the outlook of consumers globally regarding Ayurveda related wellness products?

The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a massive change in consumer behaviour globally. Now the focus has shifted more towards a natural and holistic way of living. Post the outbreak, people have started exploring their roots again and embraced Ayurveda as a part of their daily lifestyle. A growing preference for Ayurvedic food products, immunity boosters, and food supplements etc., has been observed. A significant increase in the export of immunity booster spices like turmeric, ginger shows the faith for Ayurvedic solutions and Indian spices. The pandemic highlighted the need for health-conscious living, leading to more involvement and engagement of our consumer base with the category. Today, the consumer recognises the ‘prevention is better than cure’ principle and is more than willing to adopt it.

Due to the covid-19 wave, do you think people have become receptive towards Ayurvedic and other organic products?

People have indeed become more receptive to Ayurvedic and other organic products. The wave of Covid-19 devastated the whole world and changed people’s perspective towards health. People have become more cautious about their health which has created a sense of awareness among them. As we continue on the path of inoculation to fight against Covid-19, we also need to prepare ourselves and our bodies for a continuous fight against bacteria and viruses.

The brand has not adopted a new stance or cashed in on an opportunity, it has merely intensified the message it had always been imparting – that of organic, conscious and healthy living. Of supplementing our current lifestyle with ayurvedic herbs and marrying the wisdom of our heritage with today’s science to live a fuller, better, healthier life. The naturally derived solutions have been in our manuscripts for ages and have been documented to help in strengthening the immune system. The role of Ayurveda is not only limited to building immunity, but also in battling the virus in mild cases of COVID-19.

Therefore, organic and ayurvedic products have occupied a prime spot, and have become the way of life for everyone, particularly when it comes to consuming safe, nutritious, and healthy food.

With the conversation rising around the third wave, what are the immediate challenges that the organic industry needs to address?

As with every wave, making sure there is no break in supplies and being able to successfully reach our end consumers will be the ongoing challenge during the rising waves of the pandemic and ensuing lockdowns.

Secondly, given the noise around immunity and plethora of products being launched overnight with minimal validation, the challenge for a genuine organic, ayurvedic brand becomes imparting reliable information and building validated knowledge for the consumers and help them fortify themselves for the future. Another challenge given the changing landscape of retail distribution is to step up the ecomm platform of sales with agility and adaptability to provide accessibility to our products and new launches.

It is also important to develop a role for the ‘branded stores’ given their proximity to the consumer locations. The challenge would be complying with the restrictions imposed while delivering wellness to the consumer doorsteps.

Can you shed some light on the history of the company, how it was started and what was the philosophy and beliefs?

In the 1990s, two kindred souls, spiritualists and entrepreneurs Bharat Mitra and Bhavani Lev, were inspired to start the movement to promote TRUE WELLNESS. As they realized that India had a bountiful endowment of herbs, spirituality and Ayurveda to offer, they decided to give back to the people of India. The enlightened founders chose Tulsi or the Holy Basil, the Queen of Herbs, for its rejuvenating and healing properties as their symbol of holistic wellness. With a farsighted vision, ORGANIC INDIA started its march towards building an organic movement in India and across the globe to provide solutions for Healthy Conscious Living.

There were many hurdles in the path, introducing a new crop to the farmers and making them grow it in a chemical-free manner was an uphill task. While the know-how transfer and training of farmers was arduous, convincing them that the organic tulsi they would grow would have a market, was an additional challenge.

It was a single visionary farmer, Kailash Singh, who way back in 1997 placed his trust in ORGANIC INDIA and adopted sustainable ways of bio-regenerative farming. There was no looking back. Over 25 years, the movement has taken giant steps. Today there are more than 3000 thriving farm partnerships, and the company helms several successful programs to give back to the men, women and children of the farmer communities. In 1999, a basic manufacturing unit was set up in Lucknow, which served to churn out healthy tea bags and supplements for two decades, until 2019, when, with an eye towards the future, a state-of-the-art facility has been set up by the company with over 100cr investment, on the outskirts of Lucknow. The factory is the first LEED PLATINUM certified natural food facility in India. This certification stands as evidence of our commitment to the welfare of our community, the environment, employees and farmer partners.

At the heart of ORGANIC INDIA is our commitment to being a living embodiment of love and consciousness in action. Our products are made in India and reach millions of consumers worldwide with a message of interconnectedness and oneness with nature. As a company, the philosophy has always been to follow our purpose with the belief that profits will follow. Fair Price, no exploitation and caring for the environment is followed in every step of our value chain.

Subrata DuttaSubrata Dutta, Group Managing Director, Organic India

How has the brand diversified into multiple categories? What was the thought behind it?

The idea behind diversification is to become a one-stop ‘organic’ solution for the consumer looking for health and wellness products. We are constantly looking to expand our portfolio. Tulsi Tea, our flagship product, was launched in 1999. We packaged the goodness of Indian Ayurveda and provided it with scientific backing through research and studies. Recovering traditional agricultural wisdom and rediscovering holistic Ayurvedic formulations has been our mission. Strengthening it became possible with the successful launch of Herbal supplements.

Three packaged food category products- ghee, chyawanprash and quinoa were launched in 2015 to promote holistic health and wellness. Today the portfolio has more than 25 products spanning from apple cider vinegar, coconut oil, jaggery powder, honey to rock salt, as a healthy alternative to over-processed food.

Furthermore, the brand launched two new categories in 2019 in line with its vision of promoting holistic wellness-CLEAN detox kits and KURE personal skincare products. ORGANIC INDIA CLEAN has been created by practitioners of Western Medicine and Ayurveda experts as a cleansing ritual that enhances physical, mental and spiritual health. KURE body care and skincare products are created to restore, rejuvenate and soothe your skin. They are made with organic and natural ingredients that are non-toxic and naturally processed to renew and restore your skin’s balance.

Currently, we have more than 23 varieties of teas, infusions and over 30 organic certified whole herb supplements in vegetarian capsules, including an immunity-boosting range with herbs like Turmeric, Cinnamon, Giloy, Ashwagandha, Kalmegh and Ginger. These whole herbs are available in environment-friendly Glass Bottles.

Please take us through the retail journey of the brand?

Organic India started its pioneering journey more than two and a half decades ago, with a mission to promote healthy conscious living and true wellness. Since then, the brand has grown multifold and is available across 40 countries now. The brand’s retail journey began in 1999, with general stores and modern trade distribution, which to date remains the primary channel of distribution. In the early 2000s, the brand was retailed through Fabindia stores and in 2005, it entered the e-commerce space to offer access to a larger customer base.

Subsequently, in 2015, to give a complete consumer experience and offer an entire range of products for total health support, the brand started its retail stores, which saw a further impetus in 2018, with the launch of wellness stores in partnership with Fabindia. These stores had an extended range of products, the sale was enabled through a fully trained staff and tie-up with leading nutritionists and doctors who offered personalized consulting for maximum benefits to the consumer. Today, we have over 65 standalone brand stores in India.

Today there are multiple brands out there that talk about extracts from the herbs or plants, however, you talk about whole herbs? Please elaborate what is the concept of whole herbs and how is it more beneficial?

At ORGANIC INDIA, Our products have always been made of whole herbs and have been in existence for over two decades. The concept is based on Ayurvedic science, which emphasizes the need to preserve the prana of the herb and use it whole (as a leaf, a stem, a root or a bark) rather than just extract the beneficial enzyme and encapsulate it. In this process, we finely cut the herb into powdered pieces with no heat or chemical involved and fill this powdered herb in a vegetarian capsule or a teabag. This ensures the goodness, or the benefits of the herb are consumed in the most holistic form, just the way nature intended.

How can innovation and newer technologies play a bigger role in giving organic products a better future?

Increasing consumer insights have led to a rapid augmentation in demand for organic products. Green technology can ensure a yield enough to meet the demand for organic products. It includes techniques that are socially equitable, economically feasible, ecologically comprehensive, and environmentally sustainable. Technology plays a significant role in organic farming, organic food production and organic goods production etc.

Achieving sky-rocketing production rates is possible with the adoption of new techniques across the entire value chain. Innovation will play a significant role in facilitating the reach of local organic products and increase their consumption.

Currently, we are in the process of linking up our online presence with offline through a seamless solution to allow consumers the benefit of an endless aisle experience and easy browsing with the option of ordering online and picking up offline.

What are your Growth and business continuity plans?

According to research by Meticulous Research, the global organic food market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 12.2% from 2020 to 2027 and reach USD 272.18 billion by 2027. As the Indian market is consistently growing in this segment, we expect to grow faster than the market in the coming years. With the increasing penetration of e-commerce channels, we are looking at further disruptive growth in the segment. We have a significant presence in India and the USA with a factory in Lucknow and offices in Lucknow, Delhi, and Boulder (Colorado, USA). Moving ahead, the focus will be on the rest of the world with an eye on further consolidation of the business in India and the USA.

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