This woman entrepreneur is reviving the lost art of ghee-making with D2C startup Nei Native
An entrepreneurial journey was nowhere on Nitya Ganapathy’s horizon until the last week of April 2021. It was about adjusting to a work-from-home schedule along with managing her daughter’s online schooling due to COVID-19 restrictions.
It all started with a casual conversation between Nitya, her mother, and her aunt on how the restrictions meant the aunt was unable to invite family and friends to her granddaughter’s first birthday. Her aunt commented that she would like to gift something auspicious and unique on the occasion, something like the ghee Nitya and her mother made at home, using the traditional method.
“My aunt remarked that she used our ghee for years now and no other has come even close to what we make. That’s all because of a secret family recipe that my grandmother, mother, and I have kept very close to our hearts and have never revealed,” Nitya says.
The aunt then went on to ask if “we could make 20 jars for her to gift to the family”.
“I reluctantly agreed wondering how we would be able to make so many jars within a week’s time. Full-cream A2 cow milk was procured. The process of boiling the milk, setting curd, taking the cream of the curd and hand-churning it to butter and finally making the butter into ghee in our traditional way was all done in an unhurried manner. The result of the literal labour of love was pure homemade ghee that instantly induced unparalleled nostalgia among those who received the jars,” she says.
This led to a revelation for Nitya.
“The assumption that the ghee we have had for decades at home is pretty much what every other Indian home would also have - either they would buy the best there is in the market or, though rare nowadays, would be making it at home. I realised our ghee stood out,” she recalls.
Nitya took a leap of faith, put in her papers, and(Nei is Tamil for ghee) came into being on May 1, 2021.
Her background had in no way prepared her for an entrepreneurial venture like this one. Nitya grew up in South Delhi in the 80s and 90s, exposed to myriad cultures. She graduated in psychology (honours) from Lady Shri Ram College for Women and moved to Mumbai to pursue a career in the media and entertainment industry.
Her upbringing in Delhi was sheltered upbringing, while Mumbai was about “being thrown into a sea of humanity” where you had to find your own path from scratch. The pace and professionalism “jolted you into a sink-or-swim mode”.
Mumbai soon became home, where Nitya put in 23 years as a revenue and business management professional in different leadership roles with brands like MTV and The Times of India.
Till she decided to give it all up to make ghee.
The lost art of ghee-making
Nitya explains that ghee-making is a lost art these days.
“Hectic work schedules and the rise of nuclear families have, over the years, led to ghee not being made at home anymore. Even if it is, it is made in small portions, leading to a highly competitive market with a range of ghee available from Rs 400 to Rs 4,000 per litre in different varieties- A2, organic, cultured, A1, cow, and buffalo ghee.”
At Nei Native, the USP is homemade, handcrafted A2 cultured ghee with a superior aroma, granular texture, and nutty flavour. The secret to what she calls the nostalgia inducer is a family recipe passed down over generations.
The first step for Nei Native was to have proof of concept. Just because a small bunch of people loved the ghee didn’t mean it could become a business idea overnight, so Nitya went about an elaborate sampling and price discovery activity by calling and presenting the product to a set of friends, relatives, and acquaintances - over 1,000+ individual contacts.
The next two months were spent in getting licences, permissions, procurement, raw material, labelling, packaging, SKUs, and most importantly ensuring topmost quality.
Nitya elaborates, “This labour-intensive process of ghee making is of the highest standard, starting with the best quality of full-cream A2 milk procurement. This milk is made into curd and the curd is hand-churned to obtain butter. This butter is then made into ghee, and this entire process of making ghee from butter churned from curd is ‘cultured’ or ‘bilona’- the purest and most superior form of ghee-making.”
It takes approximately 25-30 litres of full-cream milk to make just one litre of ghee. All this is done at Nei Native’s farm space in Vikramgad, where the team manages the manufacturing process.
Nei Native ghee is available in 250 ml and 500 ml SKUs. The brand also offers filter coffee powder, sourced from the coffee plantations of Coorg and Chikmanglur, and thirattipal, a lesser-known dessert from Tamil Nadu made of milk and sugar.
The buffalo ghee is priced between Rs 800 and Rs 1, 500, the cow’s ghee for Rs 800–1,550, the coffee powder between Rs 290–Rs 465 and thirattipal between Rs 300-600.
The brand will soon launch Gir Forest Honey, Cold Pressed Coconut Oil, A2 Peanut Butter (chocolate, honey and jaggery flavours), and jaggery powder.
All in the family
Nei Native is a family enterprise with Nitya’s mother “creating” the ghee, the filter coffee powder curated by her father, and the name suggested by her daughter.
“Three more family members got involved in production, product development, critical analysis, logistics, and accounting. The hall became the packaging room, the kitchen was the production unit, and the utility room served as the warehouse for the first three months – May, June, and July 2021.
“My driver managed all deliveries and inventory management, and the cook and maid worked and earned overtime doing labelling and packaging until we reach some scale and moved the entire production facility to the farm in August 2021,” she says.
Nei Native also went the door-to-door sampling route by targeting specific target groups living in premium towers in Mumbai city where more than 5,000 samples along with literature were distributed.
The brand now operates with a small team comprising the production head, logistics and CRM head, brand and ecommerce manager and retail activations manager.
The company’s largest client base is from Mumbai, but products are available across the country through its website. It has also partnered with over 40 artisanal and gourmet grocery stores across Mumbai and is available on the shelves of Nature’s Basket. It can also be procured from ecommerce platforms like Amazon, GOQii, Qtrove, OneGreen, WellVersed, and others.
It currently caters to more than 2,000 customers with almost 30 percent of them being repeat patrons.
The farm at Vikramgad is located in Palghar district where the labelling, sticking, packaging, maintenance, and workspace is done by local tribal workers employed by Nei Native.
Nitya agrees that A2 cultured cow ghee is a competitive space with many players, most of them available pan India.
“The pricing ranges anywhere from Rs 800 to Rs 2,000 for 500 ml. Most players also have many other condiments in their portfolio apart from ghee. Their recipe for making the ghee, however is the same. Our traditional family recipe sets us apart,” Nitya says.
Nei Native is bootstrapped with an initial investment of Rs 5 lakh.
“After seven months of setting up Nei Native and post two months of proof of concept, we are generating a revenue of Rs 6 lakh per month and approximately 20 jars sold per day. With diversification into more markets and more products, we are working towards Rs 2 crore of annual revenue from sales by the year end,” Nitya says.
Edited by Teja Lele Desai