Tuesday, May 29, 2012: 03:44:53 PM

Food Processing Guest Column

Optimism for organic food movement in India - Vishakha Doshi, Organic Haus

With growing health awareness, the demand for organic foods is expected to rise among Indian consumers

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You’re what you eat, goes the metaphor. It seems obvious that we should eat fresh, healthy and nutrient rich food. India as a nation, compared to most countries in the West, still adheres to its tradition of eating freshly-made, home-cooked food. It works in our favour too; the percentage of food that is laced with additives, preservatives, heavily processed and devoid of nutrients is relatively lower. But as work schedules turn demanding, eating out becomes a preferred convenience and a microwave meal seems like the easier way out, and the idea of “healthy eating” goes out of the window.

As growing numbers of Indians become more aware of the ill-effects of bad eating habits, and seek out solutions, the supply of packaged and fresh organic food is also increasing. Organic foods implies produce grown without the use of harmful chemicals, additives, pesticides and other substances; and are thus chock-a-block with the natural goodness of fruits and veggies. There are many requirements that need to be fulfilled before food, or other products can be pronounced as “100% organic”. For example, to be labelled genuinely organic, a piece of land where produce is grown should be fallow for a number of years.
Unlike popular conception, “organic” is a New Age concept; it has been around for thousands of years. In fact, it harks back to an age when chemicals were not part of the cultivation process. Countries in Europe, such as Germany and Austria, have delved deeper to better understand organic farming techniques over hundreds of years, and today produce excellent quality products. India too, for years, has practiced organic farming, until the need to serve the food requirements of an independent India compelled us to adopt practices that we now know are hurting the environment. Around the world, and particularly in Europe, organic food consumption has turned into a movement of sorts because few would want to ingest unhealthy alternatives that are so readily available. While land resources available for organic farming remain limited, the costs of producing them are bound to remain high.
Not a luxury
As a result of the steep production costs, pricing remains high and many shoppers have been led into thinking that organic food is a luxury. It is not. Good health is the real luxury; good quality everyday food is not and should not be. Today Indian women in cities, who are key decision-makers in choosing what the household consumes, are looking and actively seeking out healthy food options. Thanks to their rising awareness of preservatives and additives in food, and other ailments that result from poor food choices, there is an emerging demand for organic products. The array of products available is also developing in tandem with the market for organic goods. Metros, in particular, present opportunities for baby products, children’s products, homecare, beauty and other segments. As the number of domestic players introducing organic products is on the rise and shoppers question what they eat, there’s optimism for the movement as whole. In time, one can only hope that more people believe in eating organic food to push demands in a way that land resources are redistributed and dedicated to organic cultivation.
Recent reports indicate that India is looking at exporting more than US$1 billion worth of products to the US and EU countries in 5 years’ time, where Indian products and certifications are gaining acceptance. The domestic market itself is said to be growing at 15-20% per annum, according to various industry reports. Although many Indian consumers also question the certification processes of food that is labelled organic, there are brands that offer reliable quality backed by stringent standards. To better understand what is truly organic and what is being passed off as “organic”, the Indian consumer has only reliable option—to read labels and check certifications.
Vishakha Doshi is the marketing director of Organic Haus

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