In December 2017, when Vinay Kothari ventured out on a trek to the Malnad region of the Western Ghats, little did he know that a business idea would strike him there.
Check out these yummy snacks by GO DESi, brimming with several health benefits and a great addition to your healthy diet regime.
“Once we returned from the trek, I ate these amazing jackfruit bars at a chai ki tapri (tea shop) that were made from endemic jackfruits by a local SHG. They were preservative-free, tasted heavenly, and I wondered why these products were not available in urban markets,” recalls the 34-year-old former marketing professional.
The very next day, he bought 30 kg of local and regional products to sell at a stall in a flea market at the Chitrakala Parishath in Bengaluru.
“We had booked the stall for three days, but our products sold out in the first half of the first day. This led to the hypothesis that traditional regional products have great demand. This is the understanding based on which GO DESi was founded,” he says.
GO DESi is a packaged food brand which creates treats inspired by regional flavours and was founded by Vinay in March 2018.
Creating a sustainable ecosystem
Since the team wanted to capture local flavours in their products, they needed to identify entrepreneurs in the area who were preparing these edibles, and procure them.
Thus, began the search, and the team was helped in the process by local NGOs, Foundations and Cooperatives like the Deshpande foundation. Trust was built over time, and it gradually deepened as the entrepreneurs started benefiting from this association. Today, they earn a profit of almost 25 per cent since they started working with GO DESi.
The Deshpande Foundation and the Kadamba Cooperative also helped GO DESi in finding local connects which helped them set up their units.
Today, most of their operations are based out of Sirsi, and they also have six micro-units in rural and semi-urban areas in Karnataka.
“All our products are ‘as is,’ meaning, they are made in a traditional manner by locals with tremendous knowledge about indigenous ingredients, flavours, giving GO DESi products an unparalleled authenticity,” he says.
He continues, “Apart from taking our consumers back to their roots, we also aim to be the slingshot for rural entrepreneurs manufacturing traditional products and thereby enabling them to scale up.”
The start-up has a line of products like imli (tamarind) pops, jackfruit bars, lemon chaat, dried banana, among others.
The best selling among these is the imli pop—Vinay claims that over 2 million of these candies have been sold till date. The demand is so high that out of the six micro-units that they have, three manufacture only imli pops!
Janet Lee, 37, a homemaker, was browsing through her Instagram feed when she came across the ad for imli pops. “I initially bought them because it reminded me of my school days when we would eat imli golas after school,” says the mother of two.
Once she purchased the candies, she found that her daughters loved them, and since the ingredients are all-natural, she felt that it was a healthier alternative than regular candy.
Janet is also a fan of the product’s packaging.
Interestingly, when asked about the challenges he faced, Vinay mentions that packaging was actually something that the start-up initially found challenging, but they got over that and introduced standardised packaging.
Another hurdle involved approaching and convincing hard-to-please retailers, but they overcame this challenge too by being persistent and as their operations grew, people started liking their products.
Another reason why Janet was inclined towards buying their products because she found that it was prepared by local entrepreneurs and women in the rural and semi-urban areas.
To expand its operations in these areas, Vinay hired Radhakrishna, a local, as a unit manager, as knew the area well. He was responsible for recruiting people to work in the unit, and they concentrated on hiring rural women.
Shivamma, 35, was a former farm labourer before she joined the GO DESi unit as an employee in their unit in Sirsi, Karnataka. It was difficult for her to make ends meet as her husband only grows groundnuts between July to September, and she needs to look for work in the other months. She speaks about the time she worked as a farm labourer getting employed only 10 to 15 days in a month and earning only Rs 150 in a day.
“I feel so much more secure now. Not only do I get 25 days of guaranteed employment, but also gets paid more because of which, I can use this money to support my family,” she says.
The money is transferred directly into the bank accounts of these women so that they have full control over their hard-earned money. If they do not have an account, the team helps them open one.
While the brand began with a 3-person team–including Vinay’s sister Raksha and Akhil (Operations Head)–today, there are 9 core team members and approximately 75 people who directly or indirectly work for the company. Out of these, at least 80 per cent of the total employees are women.
“In addition to that, we are also in touch with farmers, from whom we directly procure materials,” says Vinay.
Currently, although the operations are limited to Karnataka, GO DESi wants to expand in other states in southern India, and eventually, north-east and central India.
“We see GO DESi developing as a platform which enables small, and micro-entrepreneurs from rural areas access to urban markets. We see GO DESi as a brand which takes desi products to the world,” Vinay signs off.
Check out these yummy snacks by GO DESi, brimming with several health benefits and can be a good addition to your healthy diet regime.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)