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Earthy Tales: Making the farm-to-fork concept a reality

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Organic grocery brand Earthy Tales – which has tied-up with farmers to provide fresh, organically-grown produce to consumers– started with a weekend getaway activity at family farm lands in Pushkar, Rajasthan. It was started with an initial bootstrapped investment of Rs 15 lakh and turned profitable within 15 months of operations.

In a freewheeling chat with IMAGES Retail, Laksh Sondhi, Head Marketing & Brand Strategy, Earthy Tales talks about how the brand has grown from just being present in the online space to opening an offline store within just a few years of operations, while elaborating on the future of the brand.

Tell us about Earthy Tales and your business operations.

Earthy Tales is a socio-economic venture, started by farming aficionados to bridge the gap between the conscious farmers of India to the even more conscious consumers of NCR by delivering organic and chemical-free groceries including farm-fresh fruits and vegetables within 24-hours of harvest. We directly source from a trusted, mentored network of farmers and believe in putting the farmers’ interests first.

What was the idea behind setting up your own store?

There were three main reasons why we decided to switch from an online-only model and open a brick-and-mortar store at Ireo, Grand Arch:

– We wanted to create an experience centre for our customers to highlight the source of our food, so they can appreciate how food is grown and understand the relevance of organic food in today’s time. Basically,it is all about bringing our customers closer to farms.

– It gives our patrons the flexibility to be able to reach us and make last minute purchases, seven days a week.

– We wanted to create another storage hub which would aid us to decentralise a huge chunk of our deliveries in and around Gurugram.

What is the USP of your store.

We engage with residents to bring health-conscious people together. We have tried to create an experience centre with activities including a storytelling session for 6 to 10-year-old kids. Kids learn the journey of the grain, the time and effort farmers put into each harvest and the importance of not wasting food. This makes children more appreciative of both organic food as well as our store.

We also have different kinds of grains on display for our patrons and their inquisitive children to touch and see for themselves before buying a pack of the same.

We ensure our customers are made fully aware of the source of each product, which includes the state and district of each farm where they come from by bringing our organic farmers out in the forefront under the “Farmer of the Month” initiative.

Tell us about the product range at your store across various categories.

At our offline store, we offer over 150 items across these categories:
– Freshly harvested organic vegetables, leafy greens and fruits
– Unpolished and Organic pulses and beans
– Desi Cow’s A2 Ghee
– Spices
– Rice
– Millets
– Freshly Milled Whole-wheat Flour
– 8 different kinds of naturally gluten-free and plant-based flour
– Super seeds
– Dry fruits
– Superfoods like quinoa and chia seeds
– Breakfast cereals
– Natural Sweeteners and fruit-based jams and preserves
– Herbal Tea Infusions
– Dried herbs like Thyme, Oregano, etc
– 6 kinds of naturally grown and produced edible cold-pressed oils

Who are your major clients and what demographics do you target?

Our major clients are a part of the health-conscious section of society, who understand that eating pure and nutritious food is as important as spending those hours at the gym. Young couples, nuclear families and parents who are aware of the rampant use of chemicals and pesticides in all food that we eat, which is harmful for their children’s health, are our clients.

We have also started supplying fresh organic produce to two cafes in Delhi as part of their organic menu. We see this number growing in the future as the new wave of restaurants that are now coming up, are inclined towards healthy food. We currently deliver in New Delhi and Gurugram, with plans of launching various ready-to-eat products across different categories, through which we aim to reach audiences across the country via modes like select retail and online stores.

What has the customer response to your products been like?

The customer response to our products has been phenomenal. I would like to share some feedback that we have received from our customers:

“You guys do a great job. Thank you for coming and enlightening us all on the importance of knowing the source and standard of the food that we eat. Keep doing the great work that you are doing. We need a revolution of sorts led by people like you to get our country back to its time tested, safer and traditional ways of farming.” – Kanchan Kaur

“Kathia wheat flour that I used from Earthy Tales was so tasty that my family wanted to have roti made on chulha with it. I oblige them. We were taken back many years when my grandmother used to cook on a earthen stove. A big thanks to the team!” – Jyoti Kaul

“Way to go Earthy Tales!! Happy to be associated with a company that cares deeply about the people who grow our food.” – Jasneet Kaur

“Sweetest carrots I have had in ages. I am in love with the veggies. What makes Earthy Tales special is their commitment to work with farmers on-ground and mentor them to stay away from pesticides.” – Shruti Jain

“Seems like your ideology is little more than just making money and that makes ET special for me.” – Uma Tiwari

Tell us in detail about the pop-up stores that the brand has recently introduced.

Earthy Tales had been actively taking part in this festive season’s stalls and melas in various condominiums across Gurugram and Delhi. Being inspired by those, Earthy Tales started setting up its own pop-up store in three different condominiums in Gurugram.

Presently, you can find Earthy Tales every Wednesday and Saturday in the upscale Salcon Verandas and DLF Icon on the Golf Course Road and Tatvam Villas on Sohna Road.

The model is super beneficial to the residents of these condominiums as along with all kitchen groceries that come directly from farms, customers are able to pick the choicest of fresh produce that has been harvested just hours before its displayed at these stores.

The concept lies in the thought that in the age of customer convenience being of utmost importance, we’re trying to bring the market to the customer instead of bringing the customer to the market.

The great thing about these pop-up stores is that they were possible only because of our customers who spoke to and convinced their individual RWAs about a regular possible pop-up store in their own condominiums. Our customers are our true brand ambassadors.

Which are the best-selling products in your portfolio?

Apart from fresh seasonal vegetables and fruits, whole-wheat flour – a native variety of Rajasthan – our entire range of freshly milled-to-order gluten free flour, unpolished and hand milled pulses, desi A2 cow ghee, cold pressed mustard oil and sesame oil and natural and hand-rubbed spices and herbs are some of our most popular products. Jaggery brick, directly sourced from our mentored farmers in Maharashtra, also does extremely well.

How have the company and its products grown and evolved over the years?

When Earthy Tales first started out, we only offered farm produce that we grew ourselves at our own farm in Pushkar, Rajasthan. However, as our members grew into this large, fairly knowledgeable community and their demand for a variety of veggies and fruits increased, we started mentoring different farmers and directly sourcing from different parts of the country. This became our strength and from merely supplying 15 home-grown items in 2014, we now have a robust portfolio of over 150 items. Our family of mentored farmers has grown to over 400 now, and our customer base has grown to around 1,800 health conscious families.

What have been the consumption trends for these products and what is driving their growth?

Over the few years that we have been regularly supplying fresh produce to our customers, we have noticed that once someone believes in the concept of eating naturally grown and unadulterated food, they want more and more items in their kitchen to be of that very nature. This goes beyond raw vegetables, fruits and groceries. As eating organic food isn’t really a short-term diet, but a long-term lifestyle change, there’s an emerging demand in the ready-to-at market segment.

With a base kitchen already in the works, and a bakery unit being set up, we plan to launch various kinds of breads and organic versions of crowd favorite sweets and savouries that will take us directly from kitchen cabinets to dining tables. Our intention is to bring ease of consumption to the labour-intensive natural food, without compromising on our core ethics and values of keeping every ingredient organically grown without any artificial flavours and preservatives. The major driving force behind this is the health conscious and wellness sector really taking off and creating a unique space of its own.

What is the sourcing strategy for your products?

Since the inception of Earthy Tales, our priority has been linking and connecting with like-minded farmers who share the same passion for growing food the natural way without the use of any chemicals and artificial pesticides. We started with mentoring small farmers about the ill-effects of chemicals with continued efforts in converting their farms into chemical-free farmlands. Today, we’re at the centre of a strong family of over 400 passionate organic farmers across 12 states who believe in the cause and we only source directly from these farms and farmer groups. We’re very hands-on with our approach as till date we continue to do multiple farm visits ourselves to check on-farm practices. Also, we pick-up random samples from across our product categories and agro-belts and get them tested for any chemical residue with an NABL accredited FICCI certified lab. Even though we trust all our associated farmers, these tests are done every quarter to ensure consistency and to build trust of any new members that join the Earthy Tales family – be it a customer, or a farmer.

What are your criteria for identifying new products and categories and your benchmarks for tying up with new vendors and suppliers?

We’re open to adding those products to our portfolio that say one thing loud and clear –
organically grown in India. Most important is the integrity and passion of the farmer or vendor towards the cause and their product. The products must resonate with our audience and become a part of their lives. As we see ourselves as a healthy lifestyle brand, it’s important that our products reflect our ethics and values and the honesty that we put into our work. We also work closely with various home-chefs to curate different products and add as an offering during festivals for gifting and also for corporate gifts.

What is your expansion strategy and what does the roadmap for the future look like?

We have already set up a centralised kitchen in Gurugram and plan to bring out value added ready-to-eat items using our organically grown ingredients from this kitchen. We have also test-marketed some curated products including Atta Ladoo using jaggery (no sugar, no preservatives), Panjri (highly nutritional energy mix made using dry fruits, desi ghee) and homemade Nut Butters (no sugar, no preservatives) and these have already become popular with our existing customer base. In-fact, we are getting inquiries now from Indian diaspora-based in Singapore and UK.

Also, this centralised kitchen will give impetus to our two new upcoming verticals – organic and healthy meal service and The Earthy Tales Cafe, a chain of concept cafes for which we plan to partner with like-minded outlets and use traditional recipes, ingredients and earthenware for cooking and serving.

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