Going organic in Jabalpur is a piece of cake now

Organic Dolchi - Enabling a switch to a healthy new way of life
Going organic in Jabalpur is a piece of cake now
Organic Dolchi store in South Avenue Mall, JabalpurRhythima Agrawal

Organic. The word sounds familiar, doesn't it?

You may have come across this word in your science textbook. Merriam Webster defines the term organic as food produced with the use of feed or fertilizer of plant or animal origin without employment of chemically formulated fertilizers, growth stimulants, antibiotics, or pesticides. Organic food has many benefits, which makes it popular among its customers. Due to reduced exposure to nitrates and pesticide residues in organically grown fruits, vegetables, and grains, organic foods are a rich source of nutrients, such as Vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus. Thus, organic products are a better substitute in comparison to our traditional chemical-based products.

Organic foods minimize health risks to farmers, their families and consumers by reducing exposure to toxic and persistent chemicals in food, soil, and water and air.

In comparison to our regular foods, organic foods are found to be tastier and satiating; while processed foods satisfy the taste buds momentarily but do not nourish us in the way organic foods do. Organic foods make for a great choice while dieting as there are no additional calories. Organic products are quite popular among customers in tier-two cities. What about other cities? What if you were told that your cosmetics too can be organic? Sounds almost impossible, doesn't it? Let me introduce you to Organic Dolchi, a store in Jabalpur which sells organic foods such as pulses, rice, cooking oil, spices, condiments, flour, home-made snacks, seeds, oats, rice flakes (poha), pasta, etc. The store offers a wide range of cosmetic products like kajal or kohl, eye-liner, face-wash, and face-scrubs, bathing soaps, hair oil, body lotion, sunscreen, BB creams, lip-balm, face packs and many more. So, how did it all begin?

Seeds and snacks sold by Organic Dolchi
Seeds and snacks sold by Organic DolchiRhythima Agrawal
A tree-shaped shelf displaying organic products at Organic Dolchi
A tree-shaped shelf displaying organic products at Organic DolchiRhythima Agrawal

In the year 2013, Sandhya Borkar, who was manufacturing tofu, was introduced to Dr Padmini Shivkumar, Senior Vice President of Madhya Pradesh Association of Women Entrepreneurs (MAWE). MAWE is a registered not-for-profit NGO based in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, set up in 2000. This interaction led to Mrs Borkar launching MAWE bazaar a platform that would enable women entrepreneurs to sell their products.

Dr Padmini Shivkumar, who was doing organic farming since 2007, was planning to close down her organic farming business but Mrs Borkar convinced Dr Shivkumar that they would revive the organic farming business together. She shared the idea with Anurag Agarwal, who supplied cardboard boxes to Mrs Borkar for tofu packaging. He was convinced of its viability, as he had been using organic products for some time.

To boost Dr Shivkumar's organic farming business, Mrs Borkar displayed these organic products at the MAWE exhibition 'Good Living Show', in January 2014. Subsequently, she showcased her organic products at various exhibitions. In 2015, Mrs Borkar started selling organic dal (pulses), rice, honey, elaichi (cardamom) and dry fruits through chain stores in Jabalpur. It helped Mrs Borkar to establish her customer base. Simultaneously, she started delivering the products to the customers' homes. Through chain stores, she was working to fulfill two objectives: introducing new customers and diversifying her product range. However, the various chain stores became wary as they felt they could not do justice to other products displays on their shelves. That's when she decided to open her own organic store and started looking for a suitable place. Her efforts bore fruit when she opened her first shop in South Avenue Mall (SAM) in Jabalpur. Initially, she started her store with 90 products. With time, she branched out into different categories such as food grains, healthcare, cosmetics, ready-to-eat snacks, herbal juices, etc.

Packets of hair color at Organic Dolchi
Packets of hair color at Organic DolchiRhythima Agrawal
Shampoo and face wash at Organic Dolchi
Shampoo and face wash at Organic DolchiRhythima Agrawal

In 2019, Anurag Agarwal and Sandhya Borkar started a pan-India supply of organic products. The response pan-India across Bhatinda, Ranchi, Raipur, Pune, Bangalore, Chennai, Karnataka and Damoh was enthralling! The founders decided to take a step further. They opened two branches of the store in Tilhari and Vijaynagar. "Initially, we targeted elite customers because we believed they would be able to afford our products", adds Mrs Borkar, co-founder of Organic Dolchi. Though, very soon they had to close the newly opened stores because of low customer footfalls.

With so many brands claiming that they are selling the best organic products, is there any method to check whether the product is organic or not? Mrs Borkar says, "If the product is organic, there would be an 'organic certification number' printed on the packet". She further adds that under the government body APEDA (Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority), there are nineteen authorized agencies which assign a number to an organic product.

Organic certification number on a packet of fenugreek seeds
Organic certification number on a packet of fenugreek seedsRhythima Agrawal

During the lockdown period, a majority of the people were hoarding products in enormous quantities, creating a sudden increase in demand for these products. The delivery agent refused to deliver the products as he was burdened with far too many deliveries. "So, Mr Agarwal and I together delivered the products personally at the customers' doorsteps. The management of the mall had shut down the escalators and lifts, so we used the stairs. It was a tough time, but we made it", says Sandhya Borkar.

The founders launched an app for the customers of Organic Dolchi to make it easier to place orders during the lockdown.

In the near future, the founders plan to enter the perishable food market that includes fruits, vegetables and grocery items, and are carefully gauging the demand for these products. "We are planning to enter the market for perishable goods, though there is a certain risk involved with these products", adds Mrs Borkar.

We wish them the very best!

Rhythima Agrawal, a resident of Jabalpur, is a graduate from Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media, Bengaluru. She is full of ideas and loves experimenting with things.

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