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INTERVIEW

“Demand up as incidences of adulteration reported”
Monday, 09 April, 2018, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
The move towards a healthy lifestyle has led to emergence of the organic and natural food market. Most importantly the awareness and side-effects of consuming food with pesticides is well documented. Food adulteration is also a key issue. This being  the background, consumers are willing to pay for organic foods as disposable incomes rise. Raka Chakrawarti, founder and director, Gourmet Delight, in an email interaction with Nandita Vijay explains how and why the organic food market in the country is experiencing a boom. Excerpts:

How would you describe the current scene for online organic food store and gourmet shop in the country and globally?
In India, majority of the demand for organic foods is originating from Tier I cities such as Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, Gurgaon and Pune. Companies are witnessing increase in sales as a result of increasing demand from metro cities and the entry of several new players in the organic food market offering an online channel for purchase.

Demand is growing as incidences of food adulteration are repeatedly reported on in global media and consumer-consciousness of natural, healthy and safe foods rises. New food safety legislation is also working towards improving the safety standards of food and, at the same time, consumers are increasingly willing to pay for organic foods as their disposable incomes rise.

The rise in services such as gyms, diets, lifestyle changes all predict a growth in the demand for natural and healthy foods. Internationally formats such as Whole Foods, Blue Apron, and Aldi are testaments to this movement. It is not only organic but the whole shift towards natural produce, local foods, seasoning eating, hormone-free milk, free range eggs and dairy products.

What are the challenges in this space?
Awareness, primarily, the produce is fragile and spoils easily, making it difficult to store it, we have established a supply chain back to back where we are able to send fresh produce daily.  

Though we keep talking about the advantages or benefits of having and eating organic food but all the aspects in life do have some or the other consequences as well. In terms of organic farming or retailing in India there are challenges faced in this sector too. Major challenges that we face on the ground level are that farming organically on an industrial scale is little difficult, profitability is also low because in organic sector the prices of the food are still low, and the land on which  the farmers grow the vegetables is highly expensive.

How receptive are venture capitalists and private equity keen on funding such models?
Our business has grown and  it is possible to achieve break-even soon. In fact, we are looking at growth capital at this point. We want to be careful in selecting the right partners who understand our passion for this business and want to grow it with us. We are evaluating our options currently.

What is the interest evinced in this format of premier online organic food store and gourmet shop?
The awareness of organic food started more than 20 years ago in the US. It is an inevitable phenomenon in India, with awareness and the move towards a healthy lifestyle people will opt to eat in a more balanced manner and hence the emergence of the organic and natural food market. Most importantly the awareness and side-effects of consuming food with pesticides is well documented. It is not only food that is increasingly worrying the customer, it’s the quality of air in which we live and breathe, our carbon foodprint and the legacy we are leaving behind for our future generations. Interestingly India and China were the first to pioneer organic farming, however with time and the requirement to produce larger quantum of food, increased distances to travel have made the shift to produce which is being grown in large scale etc. The awareness of natural farming is emerging and will continue as more and more consumers make the shift and change the demand pattern. The organic market has seen an increase with big players in last few years since more people are opting for healthy produce.

Gourmet Delight is trying to build awareness of where the produce comes from and the shift to eating healthy. Gourmetdelight is a premier online organic food store and gourmet shop in Mumbai. We are your one-stop online destination for fresh food, organic food and gourmet products. As an entrepreneur, I am used to the fact that things will not work out as per plan, the challenge is to build something sustainable out of nothing. A brand which resonates with people and fulfils a gap in the market. My inspiration has been Whole Foods – a one of a kind idea which changed how the consumer perceives a product in the super market shelf. The awareness to eat local and seasonal. And the desire to leave behind a light carbon footprint.

In my earlier assignment at the Taj Hotels  that spanned over 10 years,  the concept of food, launching new restaurants, interacting with outstanding chefs  fascinated me. At that time, there was not much happening in the organic sector except for an occasional product appearance in the supermarket shelves. The whole idea of having ‘pure’ range of food motivated me to pursue as an entrepreneur and create a  platform to serve from the  farm to table. This included identifying  independent producers growing stellar produce and bring them to platform to introduce the product to the consumer.  

Detail the organic products on sale and chart your growth since 2015 till now.
Our entire thrust is on fresh: organic fruits, vegetables, seasonal items, grains, pulses, cereals, millets, rice, wheat, oils, peanut butter, soups, we have a range of what we call organic exotic products such as kale, black radish, microgreens, purple basil, watercress, Tokyo turnips and much more. When we started in 2015, we were a small site in beta with less than a 100 products, we have grown to 2,500 products from over 200 suppliers. Our customers have grown at a rate of 10-12% monthly and sales continue to grow month on month operating only in the city of Mumbai.

Where are these organic products sourced from and how would customers have the assurance of its quality?
We have built a supply chain for over two years and we deal with the best in the market. The supply to our site is a dedicated pool of talented producers who work non-stop to grow quality produce. In fact some of them ask us what to grow at the beginning of the season. These farms work directly with us. The fact that our base has grown in two years in a niche such as organic produce is a testament to our quality. We have supplied to large hotel chains as well as a growing base of customers every day.

Currently most organic product companies are having their own online sales and how would your platform garner the market share?
That is not a deterrent to us, our market size is growing, we are maniacal about curation. We have a pulse on the food trends and our mission is to bring the best produce under one roof so that the customer has the luxury of choice. We love Indian brands and continue to grow our portfolio with stellar suppliers. Most of them approach us directly because we may be small but they understand what we are trying to do.

Which regions are indicating favourable response and for what products?
Currently we are present in Mumbai and we serve in all locations from our warehouse in Chembur. Going forward we will be creating dark stores in pockets where we have increased demand, giving the customer the convenience of picking up his products any time he wishes. We believe that Mumbai is a great market for us. We are also in talks to expand to Delhi and Bengaluru.
 
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