Growing popularity of organic foods dented by higher prices

Updated: Mar 15 2007, 06:09am hrs
Organic food is growing in popularity with each passing day. And with good reason. Says Sunita Chakravarty, a senior programme manager with the Embassy of Sweden, Delhi, Its not only tasty but healthy and safe to eat organic food.

Her family is part of a growing tribe of eco-consumers. Consumers are making an informed choice as they are now more aware, explains Jashwant Purohit, Fabindias organic business head. Consumers know now that foods -- be it vegetables, cereals or fruits -- they eat may be laden with harmful chemicals.

Similarly Dr Aarti is a staunch believer in the benefits of eating organic food. Nutrition plays a very important role in treating a disease and what could be better than beginning with organic food, emphasises Dr Aarti.

A case in point is P K Shukla, who lives in South Delhi. He has been taking popped seeds of amaranth (popularly called chaulai or ramdana) in breakfast for the past two years, grown organically in Uttaranchal. The retired government official says that he no longer feels cold during winters and his feet and hand skin doesnt crack either. He attributes it to his diet.

Apart from growing awareness, what has, however, helped consumers is the easy availability of organic food -- be it at your neighbourhood Kendriya Bhandar or upmarket Fabindia stores or Tribes India showrooms.

Earlier organic food was more spoken of than consumed and it was only sold by movements like Navdanya, Beej Bachao Andolan and a handful of NGOs.

Today even government bodies are coming forward. For example, Uttaranchal Organic Commodities Board is running Centre for Organic Farming (COF) in the hill state.

Our initiative has, in fact, perked up the scene as more and more states are following in our steps, informs Binita Shah, programme manager of COF. The hill state has, in fact, emerged as the largest source of an array of organic products.

The organic movement has become more vibrant in recent years as more and more consumers are coming on board, says Maya of Navdanya, which began its first retail outlet in 1999 at Dilli Haat and now runs six outlets in the capital and a caf serving organic cuisine only.

The organic food consumption has definitely gone up and it is only increasing, corroborates Harish Joshi, chairman, Divine Agro Industries. He supplies to Kendriya Bhandar, Tribes India and Panchvati and has over 600 regular individual clients.

Leaving his MNC job in 1996 to sell Uttaranchals traditional produce, Joshi has since then been promoting organic food like a foot soldier. If there is a noticeable vibrancy in the organic food market today, it is largely due to sustained efforts by outfits like Navdanya and individuals like Joshi.

Divine Agro, for instance, has seen a six-fold increase in its sales of Rs 6 lakh in 2003-04 to Rs 50 lakh in 2005-06. So have other retailers.

It is no longer a niche market. May be it is still nascent, adds Ganesh Eashwar, director of Dubdengreen. For, he has seen two-fold increase in sales in the past one and half year.

The demand is so high that Raman Prabhakar of Brahma Arpan Organic is planning to start another project soon.

Navdanyas sales volume too has grown five-fold in the last three years. Our organic food sales are growing at a robust rate, adds Anandhi, a manager with Tribes Inda.

Prices are an issue, though. They are simply prohibitive making affordability a big question, says Chakravarty, a regular customer of Dubdengreen. The price difference between the conventional food and organic can be threefold at times.

Factors like certification -- a three-year long and expensive process -- and procurement, packaging and retailing costs, all make organic foods expensive. There is no funding support from the lending institutions either to promote the marketing. May be more demand will bring down the prices in the future.