With a farmers-first approach, Earthy Tales is bringing organic produce from farm to tableAthira Nair
Earthy Tales works with over 500 farmers in 11 states to provide chemical-free fruits, vegetables, groceries, and dairy products to customers. The startup is now working on a range of organic products, including snacks, jams, preserves, and pickles.
At a glance:
Startup: Earthy Tales
Founders: Hari Chand Yadav, Narinder Sondhi, Deepak Sabharwal
Funding: Rs.40 lakh
Deepak Sabharwal, 42, believes that one needs to "be the change you want to see in others”. The opportunity to bring about a positive change in the farming communities and the lifestyle of city dwellers was a compelling opportunity for him to start up.
An ICWA and MBA graduate with 20 years of finance experience in MNCs like PepsiCo and GE, Deepak left the corporate world five years ago to bring about a change in agriculture. What started with a weekend getaway led to the thought of using the family farm lands in Pushkar, Rajasthan.
Deepak spend almost all weekends for the next four years practising farming, in his Pushkar farms 500 km from Gurgaon where he was working. While cultivating cauliflowers in winter, Deepak realised the damages wrought on crops due to pesticides. An immediate call was taken to uproot around 20 tonnes of the standing crop.
Soon, Deepak changed his own farm model to organic farming. He soon felt a need to broad-base this and bring about a movement in this space. Earthy Tales was thus launched in 2016 in NCR, with just five products from Deepak’s own farm.
Earthy Tales aims to provide chemical-free, organic food to customers, directly sourced from farmers, by eliminating middlemen in an otherwise long supply chain.
Deepak, now CEO at Earthy Tales, is supported by two co-founders. Hari Chand Yadav is a venture capitalist, farmer, and a philanthropist. Narinder Sondhi, 53, is MBA and am MMS (finance) graduate, and runs his boutique investment banking firm.
Bringing about a revolution
At their launch, Earthy Tales had only 15 buying members, mostly friends and family. Their initial strategy was to only grow at own farms and then market it. But during his travels to several states to learn organic practices, Deepak spent days at farmers’ homes, only to realise that the way to bring about an organic revolution in India was to have an all-inclusive growth model that starts with farms and farmers.
Deepak started mentoring farmers and farm cooperatives to build a robust ecosystem of organic farmers and a strong supply chain, and then build market linkages on a farm-to-fork model. This increases the supply of organic farm produce and makes it more affordable.
Today Earthy Tales works with around 500-plus farmers in 11 states – J&K, Himachal, Punjab, Haryana, UP, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Mizoram, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, and Tamil Nadu. The company is increasing its footprint continuously.
Bootstrapped, Earthy Tales started with initial investment of Rs 15 lakh. So far, the total investment is Rs 40 lakh. The co-founders have no plans to raise external funds as of now; but may do when stepping into the next phase of expansion.
Earthy Tales offers 125 items including fresh fruits, vegetables, groceries (pulses, flours, spices, oils, cereals etc), and dairy (milk). It has an online distribution model, catering to more than 2,000 families in NCR.
Earthy Tales is now a 15-member team, mostly based out of Delhi with some members in the field to support farmer intervention programmes. The functions are focused on farm trainings and audits on building supply at the backend, while the front-end operations team focuses on marketing, warehouse management, and deliveries to customer homes.
Organic is not a fad
Earthy Tales wants to make organic, good food affordable. But organic farming can be cost-effective only with increase in demand. “Currently farmers are not able to sell their organic produce at decent prices due to the long value chain. That’s why initiatives like Earthy Tales have a role to play,” Deepak says.
Deepak claims that a strong supply chain is their biggest strength. “Sourcing becomes easier for us because of our long-term commitment and relationship with farmers. We are one of the few organic food setups in NCR providing fresh produce (vegetables) within 24 hours of harvesting,” he says, adding that Earthy Tales helps farmers get 40-50 percent higher prices than mandi rates.
For increasing yields, Earthy Tales relies on cow dung, cow-urine based nutrient formulations. To avoid pest attacks, they use Neem, Dhatura, Haldi (turmeric) etc. which are available on every farm.
Although they are currently focusing on health-conscious people in metros, Earthy Tales sees an opportunity to move into Tier II and III cities by leveraging the ecommerce boom. So far, Deepak says, word of mouth and social media has helped their reach.
But convincing the famers to farm without chemicals remains a challenge, even though it is financially more rewarding. Deepak recounts that his farm at Pushkar was set up as a model organic farm, which motivated neighbour farmers to convert to organic farming. “Additionally, a proof of concept of comparatively higher incomes for organic farmers influenced the entire village to adapting organic farming,” he says.
The mentoring process begins with farm visits wherein they address farmers on the disadvantages of continuing with chemical based farming. Farmers are then provided with training, desi seeds, organic farm inputs, know-how on organic techniques, and help in organic certification. Most importantly, they are given market linkages.
With customers, the biggest challenge is lack of trust and transparency on the source of food, meaning organic authenticity. Earthy Tales provides the exact source of the farm produce, and does independent pesticide tests every quarter.
Happily ever after
Currently estimated at $500 million, the organic food market in India is estimated to jump to $1.36 billion by 2020, as per a study conducted by Assocham and TechSci Research. To explore this opportunity, Earthy Tales is adding new lines of organic products like dairy, health snacks, jams, preserves, chutneys, pickles etc.
“We are well on course to multiply our online retail customer base. We are also in talks with a few corporates to launch our organic food catering vertical,” Deepak adds.
Now operationally profitable, Earthy Tales is already clocking around Rs 1 crore on an annualised basis, with a projected monthly growth of 20 percent on the home delivery vertical. “New verticals will help us multiply our revenue in FY19 as we already have a steady supply chain in place,” Deepak says.
Earth Tales is monthly growing at 20 percent. They are opening their first offline store, in Gurugram, in the next two months. It was chosen the Best Food Startup at India Food Forum in January 2018, and was also given entry into Amazon’s global launchpad programme for startups. Clearly, Earthy Tales’ tale has only just started.