In December 2017, Bengaluru-based Vinay Kothari was on a trekking trip across rural Karnataka when he came across a small tea shop that was selling jackfruit bars made by a local self-help group (SHG).
He found the jackfruit bar delicious and it made him think of taking such regional foods to the urban consumers even while creating a channel for revenue to rural women.
“Actually, the visit was by design. I got a yummy candy from a friend in Bengaluru and I decided to check it out myself,” says Kothari, who went to buy all the bars immediately to test it among urban people.
He bought 30 kg of the bars and booked a stall in a flea market at the Chitrakala Parishath in the Garden City. “I booked the stall for three days to sell the bars but they were sold within half a day,” he said.
That inspired Kothari to launch his own company GO DESi in 2018 as he thought he could make such rural foods to urban consumers at a good price. In these three years, it has grown into an important player in the home-grown packaged food sector betting on Indian flavours and formats and becoming the top-selling candy on Amazon.
“We have grown by 3X and 4X every year. Our success is because we source every ingredient that goes into our GO DESi products, directly from farmers in Karnataka. We aspire to be the modern version of Lijjat pappad,” said Kothari.
Start of journey
GO DESi began its journey by offering DESi pops which are spicy tamarind or imli lollipops that also had jaggery as an ingredient. It is now offering similar lollipops in mango. “We have now introduced desi chats and added pineapple and guava. We have entered the desi mithais (sweet) segment and offer single piece barfis ,” he said.
Kothari, who had worked with multinationals such as ITC earlier, said his firm’s plans are on reviving forgotten flavours across the country and taking them to the global market.
“We directly source tamarind with farmers and we get jaggery from Mandya in Karnataka. We have dedicated manufacturing units that are given specifications on even measures for sugarcane juices,” said the GO DESi founder.
As regards mango and pineapple, they are sourced through vendors. While the company prepares fruit pulp through the manufacturing units deployed by it and does quality and other mandatory checks, it transports these to SHGs for making the final product besides packing.
The company collaborates with women and micro-entrepreneurs from the rural and semi-urban areas to do the manufacturing part, which empowers local communities by providing them with a consistent source of income, he said.
Asked if the firm has entered into any contract farming with tamarind growers, Kothari said it fixes the rate at the start of the season and also the monthly quantity to be delivered. “We have to start booking and blocking our supplies since other traders will be ready to buy them off,” he said.
On the other hand, the growers are made to offer value-added produce. For example, in the case of tamarind farmers, they have to break the shells and clean the produce before supplying it to the company. “This gets them good returns. Say, if a grower gets 10 per cent from selling shelled tamarind at ₹20, he stands to gain by offering the value-added tamarind at ₹120 and getting the 10 per cent,” he said.
The firm does not enter into contracts but keeps its arrangements fluid and has agreements, though verbal, in place. The arrangement with the growers also ensures rural jobs as people have to be employed for cleaning and shelling.
The arrangement of working with farmers, having manufacturing units and deploying SHGs ensures everyone gain, Kothari said. Go DESi has employed 50 persons and deployed 200 women entrepreneurs to supply the finished products.
Payments for them are made directly to their bank accounts. “This helps them to get loans from banks for white goods such as washing machines and refrigerators,” Kothari said.
Currently, the products are available in over 7,000 retail outlets of Karnataka, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. “We are now expanding to the east, west and north. We are moving towards ₹25 crore turnover and plan to increase it to ₹100 crore next fiscal,” he said.
At least 50 farmers are currently engaged in meeting the company’s needs. Initially, the firm had to depend on non-governmental organisations to reach out to the growers but now they are coming on their own.
“We ultimately aim to be a large brand company like Amul that started from farm-based products,” Kothari said.
For now, Go DESi is present online and offline, getting at least 500 orders online daily. So far, it has received a total funding of ₹8.58 crore in two rounds of fund-raising.
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