After a week of contemplation, Delhi-based Pragya Agarwal finally confronted her domestic help, Parvati Mishra, about the disturbing bruises on her face. As she had suspected, they were a result of domestic violence and this was not the first time Parvati’s husband had tried to hurt her. However, by virtue of being a husband, Parvati thought it was acceptable and far from being labelled as a ‘problem’.
Pragya, who had hired her 10 years ago, told her that domestic violence was a grave issue and that she should put an end to it.
“But he is the one who runs the house. He might abandon me if I oppose,” came the response from Parvati.
Having done social work in the past, Pragya knew domestic violence is quite common in Indian households, especially among the lower-income groups. Since the financial aspect plays a crucial role that often holds women back from stepping out of an abusive marriage, Pragya decided to help her generate an additional source of income.
She helped Parvati get raw materials to make papad and dry snacks in her free time. Pragya spread the word among her friends and family of homemade snacks and helped her sell them too.
Four years later, today Parvati is a core member of ORCO (ORganic COndiments) — an organic spice brand. The venture was started by Pragya and her 25-year-old daughter, Adhvika, with an aim to empower marginal women.
“Since its official inception in 2017, we have employed 100 women,” Pragya proudly tells The Better India, adding, “Their financial freedom is the USP of our business. Our home-grown brand offers 100 per cent natural, healthy and certified organic condiments and spices which are hand-ground, hand-pounded and cleaned by the women. So every time, you buy a packet, you are making a difference in their lives.”
Parvati, who now earns up to Rs 7,000 every month, still lives with her husband, but, she says, the financial independence has certainly ended the abuses.
“I don’t have to ask him for money to meet my needs anymore. The monetary problems have lessened and that has been beneficial for all of us. The best part is I get to do a job I love, spend my time with my co-workers, who are like family, and contribute to giving people authentic, grandma-style spices,” Parvati tells The Better India.
‘Starting Something Of My Own’
It was Adhvika who recognised the business potential in homemade snacks made by the women. After Parvati, four women joined the budding business in 2016. For something that they were doing at the side, the money they earned was decent.
Adhvika had just returned from California after completing an entrepreneur fellowship programme.
“After doing a couple fellowships and internships, I wanted to start something of my own. And the answer was right there. Around that time, the whole fad with organic food was increasing. We have been making spices at home for generations now and that’s why we finally selected spices to be our main product,” says Adhvika.
From the very beginning, the mother-daughter duo were particular about the final quality of the product so they researched about organic-certified farmers across India to source raw ingredients.
Next, they pitched the hand-ground organic spices to sell to various retailers in the city and to shops selling organic food items. Once they reached a decent amount of business, they listed the products online on their website.
As for hiring more staff, the word spread like wildfire in Parvati’s locality and several women approached ORCO for a job. That’s how the women were hired and trained by Pragya to make the spices.
What makes ORCO Stand Out From Other Organic Spices
All the spices and condiments are prepared without adding any preservatives and artificial colours.
The venture strictly follows a three check process system.
“Two women clean the raw ingredients manually and it is then checked by a supervisor. From here, the spices are pounded using stone pounders. Then it is deposited in the chakki (mill) and two women hand-ground it. It requires a lot of patience, strength and endurance for a fine quality outcome,” explains Parvati.
Noida-based Anurag Sharma, who has been using ORCO products for the last 2.5 years, vouches for its authenticity. He says, “We order mostly garam masala and turmeric from them online. Since there is no use of machinery or electricity, the spices retain the original flavourful taste, aroma and texture. In short, the hand-grounded spices directly travel to the customers without any intervention in between.”
The venture uses hand-crafted paper packaging, thus making the entire exercise eco-friendly.
On an average, the women prepare 100 kilos of over 20 types of spices and condiments every day. This includes powdered, blends and combos.
The founders had roped in chefs to prepare recipes for unique blends such as brown mustard, Himalayan pink salt, aamchor, chai masala and kadha.
Being part of a crowded market segment is not easy, especially when consumers need to be educated in-depth regarding the manufacturing process.
“The taste of hand-ground spice does not drastically change, so it’s difficult to convey the uniqueness of our spices. It is only after they include ORCO in their daily meals will they notice a change,” says Adhvika.
ORCO is taking baby steps to address these challenges by innovating new permutations and combinations of spices. They plan to launch a whole new range of spices catering to specific regions like Maharashtra and South India soon. They have also introduced superfoods and dry fruits on their website.
Consumer growth is slow but steady. What started with just 25 customers has now turned into 30,000 visitors on their website every month.
Get in touch with ORCO here
Edited by Yoshita Rao