How Nagpur-based Cureveda creates herbal supplements and connects people for free with 5,000 doctors
Heart disease, diabetes, thyroid conditions, and stress-related ailments are quite common in India. So when entrepreneur and Brands of India 2019 winner Bhavna Anand Sharma (32) was meeting stakeholders in the pharma industry, she saw an opportunity to address these ailments holistically.
Bhavna wanted to create a brand which prioritised the use of standardised herbs, substantiated with clinical validation, to create a premium range of supplements. She also wished to include a model which helped customers connect with doctors.
“I had 11 years of experience in the dietary supplement industry, and had been actively interacting, learning, and absorbing the intricacies of herbs from some of the leading Ayurvedic practitioners in the country,” she says.
Her husband, Siddhesh Sharma, President, Baidyanath, also joined in the effort.
Bhavna launched a premium range of herbal, organic, and nutraceutical remedies under the brand Cureveda. “We invested our personal capital and have a very clear blueprint of objectives to achieve. Following this, we will possibly explore external funding,” she says. The total amount of investment and funding is not disclosed.
Cureveda’s range of dietary supplements are therapeutic products. Its popular products are the ones that address common ailments. “For instance, our diabetes, thyroid, and heart health products are more popular since these are common issues,” Bhavna explains.
Cureveda has created this wide range of herbal tablets and elixirs by blending several herbs and ingredients in each product.
“These existed in traditional medicinal practices but we don’t see it on the shelves in stores. Right now, we are one of the few brands doing this kind of herbal decoctions,” she claims.
For instance, Cureveda's heart elixir contains a herbal blend of Arjuna, Shatavari, Balapanchang, Vidharikand, Manuka, Vidang, Dhaiphool, Dhaniya, and 10 more herbal ingredients. Its costs Rs 395 per bottle, containing 15 servings.
Cureveda also has around 5,000 doctors registered and ranked on its portal. “When I started this project for my previous pharma company, it followed a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) model. But now, we have a dedicated consultation option where customers can connect with doctors," she says.
Remarkably, this consultation is free and customers can also use Cureveda's online forum to post questions and have them answered by the doctors.
The brand is now focussing on selling its products in metros such as Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, and Chennai. It is based out of Nagpur but is setting up satellite offices in Mumbai and Delhi.
In an exclusive interaction with SMBStory, Bhavna explains why dietary supplements needed to be redefined and how Cureveda is addressing this.
SMBStory: How did you get interested in a herbal approach towards dietary supplements?
Bhavna Anand Sharma: In 2008, the Indian market for supplements was still nascent. My brother and I won distribution rights for Nature's Bounty in India - one of the leading dietary supplements brands in the world. Being from an academic background, it wasn't long before my research and knowledge of supplements, globally used ingredients, and market trends grew.
My husband is a part of the Baidyanath family, and this gave me a springboard into the world of herbs. It enabled me to set up a pharmaceutical company in 2014 where I helped develop various therapeutic formulas and gave special impetus to getting them clinically tested.
SMBS: What did you see missing in the industry?
Bhavna: First, there is a lot of documentation among doctors for their personal use. There is very little formal research and clinical data developed indigenously on herbs. It’s no wonder that turmeric is being promoted by the West and we are lapping it up like we have never heard of haldi!
Second, the modern Indian is not aware of the volume, depth, and breadth of herbal knowledge that resides in India. Ayurveda is correlated with spas or cosmetics, but the knowledge of Indian medicine is so small. Many doctors are unaware of herbs and there is no integration with modern medicine.
SMBS: How did you see this as an opportunity to start a business?
Bhavna: In keeping with the lack of integration between herbal and modern medicine, I saw the market shifting to safer herbal and organic formulas. It was an opportunity for an indigenous brand to bring the best in healthcare supplements to the Indian diaspora.
I wanted to combine modern research on herbs with the traditional knowledge we possess to create result-oriented solutions. I also wanted the product labels to be clear and precise, so they don’t mislead consumers. It was important to be transparent about the nature and quality of herbs being used.
SMBS: How does Cureveda ensure customer health?
Bhavna: When we connect customers to doctors on our portal, the first thing usually recommended is a lifestyle change in order to provide relief from the ailment. Thus, our goal is to provide free information to help people make healthier choices.
We also have a panel of experts who write articles about dietary practices, exercise, and yoga regimens, and more. At the same time, it is also healthy for people to take supplements which are therapeutic. That’s where our supplements and revenue come into the picture. Even if a patient is clinically diagnosed with a disease or condition, there is still a requirement for supplements to alleviate the pain or discomfort, and accelerate recovery.
SMBS: How are you using digital platforms to add value for your customers?
Bhavna: I started an online portal called Climic, which is a clinic for integrative medicine practitioners. I started developing Cureveda as a private label and rebranded the portal to cureveda.com. This is how we have 5,000 registered doctors. Customers can reach out directly to doctors or through telephonic and website consultation managed by our internal team of experts.
Further, I launched the supplements range, and digital gave me an opportunity to develop a proof of concept. In fact, our products are only available digitally. Additionally, our entire marketing and distribution is currently digital.
Although that is going to change soon, I look at digital as an important channel of sales, and it will continue to contribute significantly towards our topline. In addition, I soon plan to begin a Cureveda channel to share the wonderful benefits of herbs and to spread knowledge.
SMBS: How does your model make you different from competitors?
Bhavna: Our motivations are very different from our competitors. Firstly, we are largely driven by innovation. We are identifying unique needs and developing the best formulas for this need.
We use recyclable glass bottles that are non-leaching, non-porous, and odourless. Our environment-friendly packaging is widely recyclable and reusable. We are one of the few companies in India to use colourless coating material for herbal tablets.
Second, we are also certain that our knowledge of herbs and Indian medical treatise sets us far apart from others. We are looking to be global pioneers, not followers, in the space of supplements. Customers should feel reassured that if they are opting for our products, they are attesting to the best.
Third, we only create 100 percent vegetarian formulas which are tested to meet international standards of toxicity.
SMBS: What is your impact on customers and society?
Bhavna: The most gratifying feeling is to get appreciation from customers, especially when our products are helping alleviate their health concerns. In our digital launch, we have far exceeded our budgeted sales expectations, have very high repeat sales, and have a growing number of testimonials.
We work closely with farmers in Vidarbha to enable sustainable farming practices, and procure a range of herbs from local farmers and communities. I helped setup the first independent ethics committee in Vidarbha to enable private integrative medicine practitioners to conduct registered clinical trials.
I am also closely knitted and known to several herbal practitioners, which is a monumental help for us at the time of product development as well as for engaging investigators for trials.
SMBS: What major challenges have you faced in trying to execute this idea?
Bhavna: Talent acquisition and working capital management are the biggest challenges, but these are common for many ventures. There are also regulatory challenges which are yet to be ironed out by AYUSH and FSSAI.
Another challenge is in packaging material. There are very few vendors providing recyclable packaging options, especially glass, so it’s been tough in that regard. I urge more people to step up and explore this opportunity of recyclable packaging material. Sourcing ingredients is also a challenge as there are often constraints or bottlenecks at the vendors’ end.
But we are able to meet our capital requirements internally. There are aggressive growth plans in terms of sales channels, product range, and marketing spend for this financial year. Our focus is to maintain a healthy bottomline with our range of therapeutics and our general wellness products.
SMBS: What plans does Cureveda have in the near future?
Bhavna: Since we already have a wide range of therapeutic formulas, we will be venturing into general wellness soon. Along with this, we are beginning offline operations this month. Siddhesh will look at offline operations as we start to make our products available at leading pharmacies in Delhi and Mumbai. There is a lot going on, and our team is working overtime to make it all happen!