After being diagnosed with throat cancer, the 50 something civil engineer and technopreneur Ashok Patil underwent a series of therapies and realised the dangerous side-effects of fertilisers. Hence he decided to get into organic farming so that he could help others adopt a healthy lifestyle. This is how Pune-based VegMart was born.
Born and brought up as a farmer in Sangli district of Maharashtra, Patil believes in the ‘farm to kitchen’ philosophy and also aims at empowering farmers. VegMart products are available online on their website, app and franchisee stores.
We caught up with Patil, chief managing director, and Mrunmay Bhogaonkar, strategy lead, to know their start-up’s mission and where it is headed.
What was the concept behind starting VegMart?
Patil: While undergoing health problems, I realised that having genuine and good food can lead to a healthy life. Since I come from a farming community, it was easy to start with my family-owned landholding in Sangli to grow chemical-free fruits, vegetables, grains, and pulses. After which I started creating awareness of organic farming among the small farmers in my village and how it would help them produce and sell commodities with value addition. I came up with VegMart when I was confronted with the problem of selling the bulk produce grown by farmers who had joined me. In the beginning, I had to pay extra from my pocket to sustain the farmers’ demands, this was when VegMart started full-fledged supply chain to maintain the demand and supply chain under the ‘farm to kitchen’ concept.
Bhogaonkar: Our vision is to make organic products affordable for consumers and provide farmers with the knowhow of eco-friendly organic farming and to bring about harmony between consumer, farmer and nature.
Do you think it is practical and possible to replace the entire kitchen items with organic grocery?
Patil: Yes. Over the last four years, VegMart has been able to produce and market over 400 products in different categories, from fruits, to vegetables, grains, pulses, spices, flours, dry fruits, cold pressed edible oils, A2 and A2 (two primary types of beta-casein) milk products as well as processed products like vegetable juices, fruit juices without preservatives using our own technology. If farmers and farms are enabled with needed certifications from certifying bodies like NOKA, ECOCERT etc and with necessary trading and processing, under the changed circumstances we will be able to make it an all organic kitchen.
How have you ensured that the products are value for money?
Patil: VegMart products are value for money as the sale prices are just marginally above the conventional ones. This is made possible because we work in close conjunction with farmers with necessary understanding to provide them with free agronomical services and necessary crop scheduling, other inputs for production and protection, and moreover, we stand committed to selling their products without causing inconvenience.
Bhogaonkar: Since its inception, the company has invested a considerable amount of time and resources in streamlining the entire agro supply chain by doing backward as well as forward integration with all the stakeholders concerned. This supply chain integration enables us to limit our costs to a minimum and provide authentic organic farm produce at affordable prices, making it value for money to end consumer.
Is this also your attempt to help the farmers?
Patil: At VegMart, we are working in close partnership with over 500 farmers spread across 8-10 districts in Maharashtra totalling over 1000 acres of land. Duly supported by the certifying authority we conduct regular farmers’ meets to train and practise proper organic cultivation methods to achieve better yield. And there are no middlemen involved. A farmer gets value for his product which goes directly into his bank account and is left with the only job to concentrate on production.
Why do you think organic produce is the need of the hour?
Patil: In the present scenario, people of all ages have been victims of food products made by using hazardous chemicals. It is pertinent to mention that farmers alone account for more than 50 per cent of the population, if the farmers adopt a chemical-free lifestyle, the rest will automatically follow a safe food lifestyle. I firmly believe that an organic lifestyle is the only way forward for the present and future generations.