Over the past few years, India has seen a surge in people aiming at a healthy lifestyle. After decades of imbibing foods that were unhealthy, Indians have suddenly woken up to the fact that a sharp change is required in what they eat and drink.
One of the changes that this trend has brought about is a‘return to roots’in terms of food, particularly focused towards organic foods. The organic food trend has primarily been driven by urban metros like Bangalore, Mumbai, and Delhi. The rural population, though responsible for growing the food we eat, has not yet been entirely educated as to the ill-effects of contaminated food. But there is an age-old knowledge of foods and crops among the rural dwellers that works to their benefit. They also have access to fresher fruits and vegetables, which is one of the key products in demand in the urban metros.
People have begun to realize that more than 90 per cent of the lifestyle diseases are avoidable. Health care is growing more expensive, and fear of ill health is also leading people to take enough precautionary food-based measures. This awareness is also supported by celebrities, in India and elsewhere, which is helping in promoting a healthy lifestyle and switching to organic diets. The celeb factor adds the chic quotient to the organic food lifestyle. Also, Indians have begun realizing the extent of contamination of food, right from the ground level. Social media has also helped create more awareness about the harmful effects of chemicals used in farming. Preventive health and food safety are the two most important factors that innately drive people to opt for organic foods.
There has been extensive coverage about the pollution levels in water and soil in recent years, giving rise to fears about what is on our plate. Parents are worried about the amount of lead in fruits and vegetables, which are fed to infants and children.
The shift towards organic food was first seen in these products. For a while, sugar, maida and other run-of-the-mill products were also being brought under the ‘organic’ category. Almost every product was available under the ‘organic’ category, including water!
Karnataka’s push towards millets has created a new avenue of conversation of what constitutes organic foods. The government – both at the state and central level – has implemented some policies that help distinguish true organic food from the others.
The Jaivik Bharat certification was the first step towards this movement, wherein any brand claiming to be organic had to be certified. Such certification was the first major step in organizing this market.
The current certified and organized organic market is approximately Rs 2,500 crore and has been growing at a CAGR of 20 per cent. To ensure that this growth continues, the market needs to be scrutinized more and become more regulated. The focus has to be on building trust about this movement and the products, and to ensure that we do not veer away from the true intentions of this organic drive.
The practice of bringing in all unhealthy food products under the organic label will erode
the authenticity and genuineness of the organic category. It is therefore crucial for us to build trust to enable growth and sustain this practice. We must begin to focus on our biodiversity and the rare varieties to sustain the organic food industry in a healthy manner.
The way ahead
Almost half of Indian produce is organic by default due to the small holdings and dry land farming. Indian sheep and goat, backyard poultry, forest produce, jackfruit and tamarind easily qualify to be a part of the organic category.
While the Jaivik Bharat certification is a start, we need more regulations to stipulate what would constitute organic food. Farmers re-education is important, especially on the old, healthy ways of farming that are beneficial to the land and the farmer. The bigger markets for organic foods are the metro cities in India, especially those in south India. With the exception of Delhi-NCR, the northern parts of India are yet to fully enter the organic food market.
However, this is a growing industry and more brands are entering this domain. Over the next few years, the consumer will grow more aware about what is ‘truly organic’ and whether they should pay a premium for such foods. This will change the pricing patterns of food products across categories.
The growth of the organic food movement will also have a massive environmental impact. Eco-consciousness needs to grow alongside the organic food market, educating the customer if what they are consuming is truly organic. The farm to fork model will further evolve in India wherein what’s on your plate is traceable right back to the origin of its seeds.