India’s leading healthy breakfast and snacks start-up True Elements has entered into contract farming in Maharashtra to outsource clean foodgrains directly from the growers.

“We have signed contract farming agreements with cooperative societies by reaching out to real farmer communities to grow wheat, jowar, flax and chia in the Satara region in Maharashtra. We will also process these produce in those areas of procurement,” said Sreejith Moolayil, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer, True Elements.

Filtering co-op societies

True Elements, established seven years ago, sent out its employees in the region to “filter” the real farmer societies since some traders wearing the cap of farmers are also running cooperative societies. “We have not signed with each farmer but with the cooperative societies in Satara, where we have a lot of our own employees who helped identify them,” Moolayil said.

Also read: The agri-tech network effect is transforming India’s rural ecosystem, one smallholder farmer at a time

About 200 farmers in the Satara region will be cultivating wheat, jowar, flax and chia during the current rabi season for the firm. “Until last year, we procured it from traders but we were not aware when it was harvested, what happened after that and where it was stored. Through contract farming, we will be in control of the entire process,” he said.

The start-up plans to source sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and quinoa, too, directly from farmers. “We next plan to look for these in the Andhra Pradesh-Karnataka border area. Quinoa and chia are grown in a big way in Anantapur district in Andhra Pradesh,” the firm’s COO said.

Sourcing 50% needs

One of the features of True Elements foodgrain sourcing is that it tracks the farmers’ fields right from sowing till the crop is harvested and stored. “We still buy foodgrains at the same price from farmers as we do from traders. But we pay that margin to the farmers. We also work with farmers to improve yields, but without committing to purchase,” the firm’s COO said.

True Elements, certified “clean label” by US’ Clean Label Project and recognised for delivering “100 per cent wholegrain” by another US non-profit organisation Whole Grains Council, currently sources 30 per cent of its foodgrain needs from growers. “By 2023, we plan to source 50 per cent of our foodgrain needs from farmers,” Moolayil said, pointing out that it is among the top five global companies with clean technology.

True Elements, whose brand tagline is “Food that does not lie to you”, makes it a point to declare openly the ingredients that make up its products. “Our business is based on the four principles – true to our food (nutrition), true to our word (being transparent about our products), true to our people/families, true to our planet,” he said.

Transparency in packaging

The start-up makes it a point to be transparent in its packaging of products even at the cost of getting lower ratings from some customers. “Our endeavour is to bring transparency in packaged foods. We don’t follow any hyper process, no flour is used and no frying. Fibre is important and we retain it as naturally as possible. We make it as natural as possible by adding honey, nectar and jaggery rather than sugar,” the firm’s COO said.

In the next phase to bring more transparency to its product preparations, True Elements plans to provide video recordings of its products from the farm to the retail end that will be provided through a QR code. “The customer can see the entire process of the food he buys,” he said.

Also read: Electric tractor to be launched soon: Nitin Gadkari

Moolayil, who along with the firm’s co-founder Puru Gupta had the experience of building brands for other firms, said True Elements wants to provide “honest food” especially in the packaged segment where such food was the “villain” in view of the process being “opaque”.

‘Total traceability’

“We are the first brand that provides total traceability of our product in the pack,” he said, adding that consumers can witness the entire journey of the products in the packages.

“We have built our technology around this and got global attention for this. We are the first to declare that the raisins in our products are sulphur-treated. Grapes are treated with sulphur for conversion to dry grapes. Again, we declare that chocolate granules in our products are alkalised,” the True Elements COO said.

Also, most of the chocolates contain only 80 per cent cocoa. Therefore to provide 100 per cent clean cocoa, the firm has begun to source cocoa products directly from growers in Kodagu in Karnataka, Kozhikode in Kerala and Udhagamandalam in Tamil Nadu.

‘Willing to pay the price’

“We are willing to pay the price for our transparency in packaging. True Elements is also among the firms to employ 100 per cent women in the first shift at its production centre,” Moolayil said.

The 100 per cent women deployment in the first shift is also to meet labour norms. “Therefore, production and packaging are only done in the first shift. Cleaning and processing of products are done in the other two shifts,” he said.

Also read: Tractor sales hit rough patch in Nov, production at 11-month low

On the clean label front, True Elements has decided to store flax seeds in cold storages because traders often mix boric powder to maintain its moisture and maintain it mainly during the off-season. “We have taken a warehouse on rent to store the flax seeds. There are small steps in our bid to provide honest food,” the firm’s COO said.

During ensuring quality, the firm has also been used to taking “firm and tough decisions” such as rejecting forest honey source from Maharashtra-Chhattisgarh border as there was ajwain smell in it, said Moolayil, adding that the firm used blockchain technology for the entire process from “the farm to the fork”.

True Elements has so far raised investments to the tune of ₹12 crore and its revenue is expected to be ₹75 crore during the current fiscal.