In 2016, after almost five years of living in Abu Dhabi with her husband Ajin M P, Lakshmi Raj returned to Kerala. But her return was marked with certain setbacks.
“In Abu Dhabi, I used to get instant food products, which made cooking easier and less time consuming,” she recalls in a conversation with The Better India. “However, after I settled back here, I found it hard to get these instant food mixes, especially grated coconut.”
Lakshmi says that most dishes native to Kerala use some form of coconut — grated, ground, or milk. “Even in a curry or salad, we use coconuts. Having to grate it the traditional way every time was proving to be difficult for me. Even though Kerala has plenty of coconut trees, grated coconut is not easily available here in the market. I searched for it in shops and supermarkets, but couldn’t find good quality products,” she says. This predicament led her to start her food venture, Easy ‘n’ Fresh, in 2016.
Lakshmi, who is an MBA graduate, discussed this matter with her husband. “During my college days, I had plans to start a business and become an entrepreneur but did not know what exactly I could produce for buyers. When I faced the unavailability of grated coconut after returning to Kerala, I figured it was the best product to provide to customers,” she says.
The 34-year-old says the traditional coconut grating process will take almost 30 minutes for newbies like young mothers and bachelors. “But my grated coconut, which comes in packets, can help them cook easily,” she says.
Easy ‘n’ Fresh started in Lakshmi’s home in Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram district. As the first step, she took a personal loan of Rs 5 lakh to buy the machinery for the production of grated coconut. After this, she tied up with coconut farmers in the state. She buys the coconut from them at market price.
Initially, Lakshmi started by distributing her product at local stores. Now, she distributes it in different supermarkets across Kerala. “A hundred grams of frozen grated coconut costs Rs 33, and 200 grams costs Rs 46. The shelf life of the product is five days,” she says.
With the increasing demand for her product, Lakshmi has also opened a production unit at NSS Karayogam Road in Anayara. She also has six employees to help her out at the unit.
Apart from grated coconut, she now also produces coconut chutney powder, varutharacha chicken curry masala, prawns chutney powder, hot processed virgin coconut oil, frozen grated coconut and theeyal masala.
“I earn Rs 1 lakh per month from selling my product,” she says, adding, “The profit is used to expand my business and make more varieties of products.”
While many businesses suffered due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lakshmi’s venture carried on mostly undisturbed. “I believe that because I’m producing food items, I didn’t face that many issues, and still managed to receive decent income. Demand for food items will always remain high, even in times of crisis,” she says.
She wants to advise homemakers who are passionate about starting a business to go ahead with their ideas. “If we do what we love, even setbacks will not affect us,” she says.
This year, Lakshmi is planning to start making coconut pickles, as well as coconut water squash and vinegar. “All the coconut-based products made in my production unit are tested in labs and checked by qualified doctors. I only sell them to customers after testing and verifying,” she says.
She adds that Keralites mostly buy grated coconut from her, and outsiders buy chutney powders. After orders within the state, Easy ‘n’ Fresh gets most from Delhi. “Delhiites are huge fans of our chutney powders, and are now trying out our grated coconut as well,” she says.
(Edited by Divya Sethu)