This mother-daughter duo is building a home food brand and empowering women in rural Telangana
Born and raised in Thonda village, Suryapet district in rural Telangana, Keerthi Priya’s childhood was spent among farms and the farming community that had her literally “grounded” to her roots.
As a teenager, Keerthi remembers being shocked by the massive post-farm harvest wastage. Little did she know that years later, she and her mother Odapalli Vijaya Laxmi would find a solution to this problem with their startup Nurture Fields.
After completing her BPharm from BITS-Pilani and an MBA from IIM Calcutta, Keerthi worked in different companies in Mumbai, Hyderabad, and Bengaluru to gain industry experience.
“While working in Bengaluru, my mother used to send me sun-dried vegetables like tomatoes to make cooking easier and prepare healthier and nutritious food,” she recalls. This simple idea led Keerthi to research on the benefits and scope of sun-dried fruits and vegetables.
Back to the roots
Vijaya Laxmi was exploring different entrepreneurial options herself – including one around solar drying and food processing, but was unsure how to go about it. Keerthi stepped in and both setup Nurture Fields from scratch in 2018.
According to the duo, food worth $13 billion is lost post-harvest in India. Their aim is to decrease food wastage by working closer with marginal farmers and helping them cultivate the demand.
“We started Nurture Fields Industries with an initial investment of Rs 4 lakh so as to understand the dynamics of the business and validate the market for the product,” Keerthi says.
The raw material was procured during the low demand-high supply season, thus helping reduce food wastage as most often farmers dump the produce due to unavailable market/unsustainable prices.
Nurture Fields offers a wide range of dehydrated vegetables and fruits like mango, sapota (chiku), papaya, spinach, gongura, tomato, cabbage, etc. It is also developing interesting FMCG products in ready-to-eat and ready-to-cook categories like soup mixes, juice mixes, curry mixes, etc.
Scaling the business
After its incubation at WE-Hub, a Telangana government initiative for women entrepreneurs, Nurture Fields took its next steps.
“We now source various types of food products/crops from farmers in five villages near Thonda and also employ and provide training to 30 women for food processing,” adds Keerthi.
The company sells the produce to both B2B and B2C customers across the country through a mix of offline and online channels.
Nurture Fields’ target segment is environment-conscious urban consumers between the ages of 25 and 40 who want to make healthy life choices for themselves and their families.
It will also cater to the B2B segment, which includes food manufactures, hotels, restaurants, caterers, Ayurvedic medicine industries, and the herbal cosmetics sector. Recently, they completed a few bulk orders, which included three tonnes of dehydrated amla for police personnel at the Cyberabad Commissionerate.
Products at affordable prices
Both Keerthi and Vijaya Laxmi were also a part of Project Her&Now’s entrepreneurship support programme in Hyderabad in 2020, which helped them scale their business.
‘Her&Now-Empowering Women Entrepreneurs’, is implemented by GIZ, on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and in partnership with the Government of India’s Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MoSDE).
“Being part of the programme helped us formalise our business, raise bank loans, and streamline our online and offline business strategies in order to generate more orders, get in touch with government agencies and in many more ways. We were also helped with market linkages and assigned a dedicated mentor from Her&Now, who kept helping and guiding us constantly,” says Keerthi.
The duo is now on course to start operations of their first formal manufacturing unit (factory) in Suryapet, which will have the capacity to dehydrate at last 2.5 tonnes of vegetables and fruits per day, thus helping them to scale up the business and to come up with newer varieties of ready-to-cook and/or ready-to-eat food products.
While Nurture Fields competes with players like Urban Platter and Slurp Farm, Keerthi believes their DTC model, where they have control over the farming practices and therefore on the quality and traceability of the products as well as the cost efficiency, helps them provide great products at affordable prices to consumers.
Keerthi says it’s not easy running an enterprise. “You have to be persistent and ride along. It's important to build a supportive ecosystem to thrive and grow - be it friends or family, an incubator or an online community. I have observed an interesting thing in my journey, while there is inertia when you start something as a woman, people do warm up and feel it as their responsibility to support a woman who is trying to do something.”