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By TPCI | September 20, 2019

Founded in 2004, 24 Mantra Organic is a pioneer in organic foods. Determined to offer a better choice to India and Indians, today they stand as a leader in the organic foods category; and a prominent voice in the movement towards organic living. 24 Mantra Organic works out to perfection on all relevant yet diverse aspects of bringing organic foods to your kitchen. From the land, the right farming practices, the right storage to the right and minimal processing, the brand pays attention to every detail. Today, the company is India’s largest organic foods brand and works with 45,000 farmers in 15 states on 225,000 acres to make a positive difference to their lives. The quality of their products subscribes to US, EU and India standards.

In this interview with IndusFood, Mr. N Balasubramanian, CEO, 24 Mantra Organic, talks about how tragedy inspired the foundation of the company, and how it struggled its way to a successful and truly ‘organic’ enterprise.

IndusFood: Your website provides a lot of education about “organic”, “organic foods” and “organic as a trend”. What prompted you to take the plunge in the Organic market?
Mr. N Balasubramanian: In 2004, Mr. Raj Seelam Reddy founded 24 Mantra Organic and there lies a story woven into the foundation of the company. It was when Mr. Reddy’s father was diagnosed with cancer that he was totally shattered and got compelled to give a thought to his fertilizer business, which he used to run during those days. He was inspired to embark on an entirely new journey, which further got shaped into 24 Mantra Organic.

Therefore, we took the plunge into the organic market way back in 2004. It has been a long journey since then. 24 Mantra, through its venture, also wanted to help the small and marginalized farmers who were dealing into organic cultivation and sobbing for pennies. We wanted to uplift their status as well. Farmers are our foundation. On them rests our organic journey. Therefore, understanding the farmer, creating processes that protect their interests and encourage them to be part of the organic way is something we have accomplished over the last few years. Besides, what made us more confident about our shift was the plethora of opportunities in the organic produce market. 

Since our inception, we witnessed hard times and struggles which persisted till 2010. There was hardly any stakeholder in the country. There was nobody, no consumer, who was even talking about “organic”. Moreover, there remained a trust-deficit among buyers in the market. We faced a hard time convincing buyers that the products are genuine because initially there were no standards for the cultivation of organic products laid in India and the prices were say just twice that of the regular products, which were available in the market.

However, after 2013 we started witnessing a healthy growth rate. So, with persistent efforts we tried to build strong base in India and also made our presence felt across the globe.

IndusFood: Tell us about your main product lines and their USPs. What has been the role of R&D in your business success?
Mr. Bala: Right from day one, we have believed that people should be given an option to switch to organic fully by giving them a complete range. Right from cereals, pulses, flours, millets and spices, we do it all organic! In terms of volumes, the regular wheat atta, Tur and moong dal, sona masoori brown rice followed by our wide range of oils; the mustard oil, the groundnut oil, and sunflower oil are our largest selling products. Jaggery powder is also a hot seller as people are switching from sugar to its healthy alternatives. Last but not the least, besan and ragi flours are also star products of 24 Mantra Organic. It is worth mentioning that 93% of the besan available in the market today is rice with some parts mixed with other elements. Whereas, our gluten-free besan and ragi flours are pure and are new generation products.

We also have a range of ready-to-cook products, which essentially give you a homemade feel and aroma. For an example, we have dosa mix, pongal, idli, and biryani mixes wherein we don’t use any preservative and also give a shelf life of as long as six months to each product. We eye hotel industries across the globe for these products. We also do snacks and chikkis in our product range.

But all this has not been without the challenges of our products getting insect-infested or going rancid. Perfecting the organic offerings through organic ways, our products today have a shelf life comparable with non-organic products – courtesy our methods and processes. Meeting this challenge has also gone hand in hand with maintaining consistency in the taste.

Let us explain. Tur Dal grown in different geographic regions tastes different. Tur Dal produced in Rajasthan tastes different from that grown in Tandur, AP. How does one maintain a semblance of uniformity in taste and color? Well the direct way is to see, examine, cook and then choose. There is in our experience no other way to keep you satisfied. Take our jaggery for instance. Before we zeroed in on the geographical area, we have examined 20 and more samples. Through trial and error we arrived at the most suitable region.

The 24 Mantra range is an ever evolving one. As you and your family get more health-conscious and believe the return to old-fashioned goodness is inevitable, you will discover more than one way of meeting your requirements in our range. From breakfast to dinner from staples to snacks you can find an organic choice.

IndusFood: How do you ensure the product’s quality?
Mr. Bala: Our food has an ingenious virtue to imperfection. You know why, because nature does not always do things perfectly. So we don’t polish our dals with talcum powder or pump hexane to extract more oil or add sulphur to the sugar to make it whiter. We keep it simple and clean. Like the way nature intended it. Direct from the farm to the fork or seed to the kitchen is what you get time after time.

Our products are pure organic food products. Good food, good products is our continuing story. Because we believe food is to be enjoyed. Food is about conversations. Food is actually a wonderful curative. Good food grown naturally is the ideal way to treat your body. With our range of food products, you can eat seasonal, eat local and eat balanced.

Moreover, I would request the consumers to also check the product for the “organic” certifications before they actually buy them. FSSAI has introduced a “Jaago Bharat” logo and made it mandatory to be published on the packaging of all certified organic products. FSSAI, in fact, has got into the picture around 8 months back and as mandated by law, now, they monitor the produces acclaimed as organic in the market.

Furthermore, our products have three organic certifications as a quality mark; one from the US, the USDA NOP and the others from Europe and India specified by regulation EC 834/2007 and APEDA, respectively. In fact, we would be soon rolling out a tractability mechanism wherein the consumers can scan our bags/packets to trace the farm details that exactly tell them where these produces come from.

We have recruited our own people even at the farm level so as to ensure quality. Therefore, as of now, we have a network of around 40-50k farmers directly and we employ around 250 associates who partner with the farmers’ progress and knowledge enhancement. They work closely with these farmers and manage around 250,000 acres of land for cultivation. So each person manages roughly 1,000 acres of land and its cultivation by around 170 farmers. They live there in the assigned village itself and look after the proper cultivation so as to ensure the quality.

IndusFood: Since you deal in production and processing of wheat at large, what do you feel are the upcoming trends in this domain? How do you see the market potential of gluten-free produce in India?
Mr. Bala: Gluten free and sugar-free alternatives are two major areas, which are burgeoning as a trend. Owing to the inclination of consumers towards healthy eating habits, the market for Gluten-free produce is set to grow at almost double every year for the coming 4-5 years, at least. The entire gluten free market, I guess, should be of Rs. 200-250 Cr. Yes, the gluten-free market is gaining global momentum, but the market here in India is still nascent. However, its proliferation is definite.

Now, coming to gluten-free produces and its growing demand, I would also like to add that all gluten is not hazardous for health. So, consumers need to be vigilant and should be made aware in the right direction. Gluten creates some kind of allergies in some people and only those who are allergic to it should adopt its alternative and not everybody. There is a misinformation floating in the market that all gluten is bad.

IndusFood: How has your business progressed in the international market? What are the key products/markets that have potential for you and why?
Mr. Bala: The best thing about our business at the international front, as we feel, is the fact that we have gone by the pull. We don’t place anybody in the overseas market to sell our products. The distributors, many a time, have been asking for our products themselves. We started branded operations in the US around seven years back. Subsequently, a few years back, we started our operations in Middle East also.

We export our products (especially the ready-to-cook range) to a total of 27 countries today. We are doing pretty well in the US and Middle East. We also find our presence in Europe, S.E. Asia, Africa and Australia.  

Furthermore, we are looking forward for burgeoning growth and expansion, particularly in Malaysia, Singapore and Australia. We find UK and Europe to be a promising market so would like to tap some distributors there as well.

Since few years, our export business has done extremely well and we feel immense joy to register the fact that wherever we are, though we cater majorly to the Indian diaspora, we have happy and repeated clients for our products. Thus, customers are loyal to our brand. Moreover, we are hopeful with a 15-20% of growth in the coming years.

IndusFood: How do you see organic food industry growth in the coming years? What is India’s potential in this segment and how can it be achieved?
Mr. Bala: Globally, the organic market corresponds to 7% of the food market. India’s food consumption would go to around Rs 3-5 lakh crore, thereby kicking a big market for organic produce in India. Even if, at the least, 5% of Indian population coverts to organic, we would be open to around US$ 2 billion market. Therefore, the potential is huge and confirmed.

Talking about the international business, as long as we would continue to serve just the Indian diaspora, we would be facing challenges and the industry will be relatively slogging.

IndusFood: Can you please name products that need shelf space and marketing attention?
Mr. Bala: The whole range of millets is one thing that India produces at large but still misses to gain the returns as expected. We should focus more on these products, brand them and market them well, as this would also do great at the export platform. Other such products can be jaggery powder or any other sugar substitutes.

IndusFood: Have you participated in IndusFood earlier? Please share your experience. Is there any product you plan to launch in IndusFood’s upcoming fixture in 2020?
Mr. Bala: We have participated in the earlier edition of IndusFood and this time we are going to participate in a bigger way with a larger stall. Our overall experience was a good one. We feel that the Government’s and TPCI’s initiatives to enhance trade and economy through the potential platforms of trade fairs such as IndusFood are bringing out the best results in the industry. We look forward to some fruitful connections in the industry through IndusFood in January 2020.