This Hyderabad-based organic food brand works with 45,000 farmers, serves customers across 50 countries
In 1999, Rajashekhar Reddy Seelam’s father was diagnosed with cancer. Aggrieved, he decided to look into the causes behind cancer, and found that one of the causes is the consumption of adulterated food.
Armed with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture and seeing how chemical usage on farms also impacted rural indebtedness, Raj decided to bring to the fore an organic food brand free of toxic chemicals.
Thus, in 2004, he launched the brand 24 Mantra Organic under Sresta Natural Bioproducts Pvt. Ltd in Hyderabad. He had previously worked in one of the largest Indian conglomerates between 1988 to 2000, which also helped him understand the sector.
In an interaction with SMBStory, N Balasubramanian (Bala), CEO and Director, 24 Mantra Organic, talks about how has the brand has managed to ship more than 1.5 million units of its products to over a million customers in India buying monthly and another million to about 50 countries with chemical-free, no preservatives, and organic food.
Sowing the seeds
Starting the business at the age of 40, Raj didn’t have a smooth journey. He needed farmers who would produce organic items, but convincing them was a tough task.
“Even though investment in pesticides and synthetic fertilisers meant farmers had to borrow money, which was affecting the very sustainability of the farmer’s life and standard of living, it was a daunting task to convince them to switch to organic farming from traditional farming,” says Bala.
The company was able to convince farmers on the basis of the benefits to their own soil, which deteriorates with the use of chemicals and also the promise of a better livelihood.
Bala claims that farmers associated with 24 Mantra Organic earn anywhere between 10 to 20 percent additional because of their practices.
“The period between 2004 to 2010 took a lot of groundwork. When Raj convinced farmers and was able to build a community of like-minded farmers, the company had to go through certifications that farmlands require to be referred to as organic. For any soil to be referred to as organic, the land must be free from all prohibited substances for at least three years before the harvest of a crop.” he adds.
Farmer working for 24 Mantra Organic
In 2007, the company received its Organic Certification for Euro 2092/91 standards, US NOP, and Indian NPOP organic standards, and 24 Mantra Organic was officially introduced in the retail market in 2008.
“We tied up with modern-retail store chain Spencers in 2008 for a two-year exclusivity contract. Besides, we also exported to Europe under our own brand name” says Bala.
24 Mantra Organic introduced itself to the market with 150 products, including cereals like pulses and rice, flour, spices, and more.
The organic farming model
Working directly with farmers and sourcing agricultural produce from them, 24 Mantra Organic ensures they are compensated well with a focus on their sustainability and standard of living.
The company’s farming model is currently organised into about 30 projects and is designed in such a manner that each project is spread around 15-20 kilometres, covering a few 100 to 1,000 acres.
For every 150–200 farmers, 24 Mantra Organic has a trained field associate. Procurement is done in the dedicated centres at each project site and farmers are contacted directly without any middlemen. The produce is then moved to the closest processing units of the farming area, and then to the four production and packaging units located in Hyderabad.
Initially, 15 years ago, 24 Mantra Organics used imported equipment for nitrogen flushing, which helps avoid infestation. But, it then had to develop its own process and now uses a natural process to help keep the infestation under control. The company has also developed technology that uses the safe modified method to treat the grains and prevent infestation.
“No chemicals are used for fumigating the grains and spices. This makes Sresta products even more safe and pure,” Bala explains.
For pulps, purees, and juices, the facility is certified for aseptic pulp lines and has the capacity to process and pack 10 MT/ hour
The company has built a community of 45,000 farmers across 15 states, including Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, etc. Its produce is grown across 2,25,000 acres of farmland.
24 Mantra Organic's product range
24 Mantra Organic is available in more than 280 towns and claims to dominate the South India market. Its products are also available in all the leading ecommerce portals including Flipkart and Amazon.
Bala says that in the foreign market, 24 Mantra Organic is dominant in the US and is available in almost all Indian stores, Walmart, and Krogers across the US.
Challenges and competition
“Just like any other sector, the organic space too is cluttered with numerous unorganised players claiming to be organic,” Bala says, talking about the challenges in the business.
He adds that the word ‘organic’ became prominent in the last five years and 24 Mantra Organic was founded way before and underwent substantial challenges.
Today, it competes with the likes of Organic Tattva, Organic India, and Pro Nature Organic Foods. “Our consumer price is approximately 40 to 60 percent higher than conventional products. On an overall basis, this will add up to less than Rs 2,000 per month additional expense for completely switching all grocery to 24 Mantra for a family of four which is a small percentage of their income,” Bala says. The brand’s target customer include families with middle to high income.
Customer loyalty today is also a matter of concern. Bala says that with the ever-changing tastes and preferences of customers, demand is often short-lived. However, the discerning customer, who is quality-conscious, will always be a loyal customer.
The path ahead
Over the last few years, India has seen a growing awareness of safe and healthy food consumption.
The shift towards organic and natural food products is vivid as more consumers are becoming health conscious and are taking the efforts to read the fine print of how a product is grown and manufactured.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated this trend and going forward, we anticipate this is how the world will consume food,” he adds.
With the organic food market expected to grow at a CAGR of 20 percent between 2021 and 2026, the sector presents a huge opportunity to dip into innovation, harness technology, and adopt unique consumer engagement initiatives to give a fillip to this segment.
24 Mantra Organic also plans to foray into contemporary food items like organic pasta to cater to the younger generation.