“I am a farmer’s daughter and the desire to do something connected to food and land was always something that played on my mind,” says Sucheta Bhandare (35), founder of Earth Poorna, a company that came into existence to provide wholesome and nutritious snacking options.
Having grown up in Nashik’s Vadner Bhairav village, Sucheta says that her childhood was very different from those in bigger cities. Speaking to The Better India, she says, “Peanuts and jaggery, roaster gram, puffed rice and healthy laddus were the snacks I grew up on. While the benefits of these foods were lost on me as a child, I realised how beneficial they were as I grew up.”
Having started with an initial investment of Rs 5,000 in 2019 Earth Poorna today is making close to Rs 1 lakh per month.
They do this by selling four types of laddus and two savoury mixtures made out of rice flakes and jowar.
Sucheta says that all the products have gone through the necessary lab testing to ascertain their nutritional value as well. “It isn’t just something that we make in our kitchen and sell. We have followed all the steps to make sure we retail a world-class product maintaining all health and hygiene standards,” she says.
The company employs seven people who form a part of the production unit and the work is carried out with very stringent hygiene protocols in place.
‘A Complete Earth’
“Other than potatoes and rice my family grows everything that we consume at home, even today,” she says. For Sucheta, some of her happiest memories revolve around helping her aai-baba (mother-father) on the field during the harvest time. “I have always felt a deep connection with growing my own food and working in the fields,” she adds.
Despite feeling so strongly about agriculture, Sucheta’s family insisted that she move out of the village, study further and find a job with a steady income. In 2010, Sucheta moved to Pune to pursue a Bachelor’s in Education degree. “It was during my stay in Pune that I realised the benefits of the food I grew up on. My stamina levels were way better than all my friends and I was able to go on long treks without feeling too much strain.” However, with each trek that she took, her resolve to go back to agriculture strengthened further.
After she completed her graduation, for almost seven years Sucheta ran a call center in Pune and says, “Even though that was doing well I always felt something lacking. I knew I was meant for more – and a trip back home changed everything for me and pushed me into launching Earth Poorna in 2019. The more I saw my parents working in the field the stronger was my resolve to do the same.”
Asked why she chose to name the company Earth Poorna, she says, “A ‘complete Earth’ is what I intended to bring out when I named the company, in that the products would be from the Earth and returned to the Earth.”
Affordable, Healthy Snacking
Earth Poorna was established to provide healthy, wholesome and natural food products at affordable rates. “You are what you eat is something I would often read, and the true essence of it dawned on me only during my stay in Pune,” she says.
An added benefit she says is: “The farmers in Nashik were incurring huge losses because they were unable to price their harvest well. For example, everyone in my region was growing tomatoes and that led to a steep decline in prices when all the produce reached the market. The need to shift to another crop to be able to make money was very important.”
Sucheta convinced a group of 25 farmers in Pune to start growing ragi, “a crop not just great for us but also for the soil”. “It is using this ragi that we make our laddus,” she says. “All the farmers associated with us follow a completely organic way of growing and no chemicals are used. Even the recipe that I use to make the laddus is one that has been passed on from my grandmother and mother. To ensure that we pack in as much nutrition as possible, I consulted a nutritionist who suggested the use of flax seeds and jaggery.”
To ensure that the farmers that she worked with got an assured sum of money she says that their produce was purchased at market value. “We bought directly from the farmer and eliminated the middleman.”
The first year was difficult for Sucheta because convincing the farmers to grow ragi in itself was difficult. “They had their own reservations and were not sure if I would in fact buy the produce from them. It took some convincing but now it’s smooth sailing,” she adds. “There are also multiple benefits to the soil in growing ragi,” says Sucheta. “It prevents soil erosion and grows well without the use of any chemicals.”
While she says that convincing the farmers was a task, what was even more difficult was convincing her family. “They could not understand why I would quit a well-paying job and decide on becoming associated with farming that too to make laddus. They all unanimously asked what I will make out of selling laddus,” she shares.
However, Sucheta was convinced that there was a thriving demand for the alternate snack that she was trying to market.
“While working in Pune I saw how difficult it was to get healthy snacks – by default I would fall back on buying a vada pav or something else that was deep fried. I also found many from my own friends suffering from diabetes and other lifestyle disorders. No matter how much one exercises, paying heed to nutrition is also very important,” she adds.
Sharing a story of one of her customers, she says, “During the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak, a granddaughter was trying to send some healthy snacks to her grandmother, who was living alone in Satara, Maharashtra. We took up the task and the response from both of them was so heartwarming. She enjoyed the laddus and also wrote back to tell us how wonderful it was to get something so fresh and nutritious delivered during the pandemic.”
What makes Sucheta happy is that 30 per cent of her orders come from returning customers. Selling close to 2,500 laddus a month, Sucheta is confident of doing more sales with the upcoming festive season. “This proves the trust they place in us and the products. That is what makes the team work harder,” she says. Returning to our traditional roots and bringing back the food that many of us grew up on is Sucheta’s aim. “This isn’t just about city folk but also those in villages who have over the course of time forgotten how to eat locally produced and sourced food,” she concludes.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)