Bangalore Organic Retailers Meet on 24 Sept 2008

September 24, 2008

A Report by Meera Rammohan

Venue: United Theological College, B’lore between 10.30 am and 4.30 pm
Organizers: Sahaja Samruddha:N.R.Shetty, Krishna Prasad, Seema, Satish and a few others

Participants: A total of about 25 different groups or individuals; these included a few farmer groups, but mainly consisted of retail outlets from various parts of Karnataka plus reStore was the only group from outside the state. reStore members who  attended: Meera and Manasi
group at blore meet

Aim of the meet: To bring together the various retailers of organic products across Karnataka especially with an aim to get an introduction to each other and gain some perspective about their methods of working; also to discuss problems faced by the groups, try and address these and evolve solutions through exchanging ideas and sharing each other’s experiences. To form a collective or a federation which would function as a producer company that would provide various services to retailers and form a network of retailers.

Some of the groups who participated:
Sahaja Samruddha, Jaivik Krishik Scty; Nesara Organic Service Orgn; Dharwad Organic Growers’ Assn; Rice Producers of Hasan Jille; Aramba Kushi Belaga?; Vasundara Samsthe?; Era Naturals; Aparna and Vidya of Adi Naturals JP Nagar, B’lore; Govind,Simply Organics, B’lore; Mallikarjuna of Jeeva Sudhe from Shimoga; Farmer Ravindra from Mysore; Sahaja Foods; A.R. Nilkant Murthy of Odekar Farm, Nandihalli; S.Kumaraswamy of AIkea; Mr.Ramprakash, retired Forest Officer (interested in replicating an effort like reStore in his area);Dinesh of Timbaktu Collective who is planning to start his own marketing company for organic products; AID India represented by Vatsala, Vidya, and Anuradha.

Short presentations by groups
After some preliminary introductions by Krishna Prasad and Shetty about the purpose of the meeting, Shetty asked each group to talk about their marketing or retail efforts, how long they had been doing what they were doing, a quick idea as to the kind of products they were selling and how successful they felt they had been at achieving their objectives.
Shetty himself and Krishna Prasad had spoken mostly in Kannada, but I was able to follow the gist of what they said with a little help from Vatsala sitting next to me who was there as a representative of AID India. They had a total of three members present from this funding agency; in fact some of the projects undertaken by SS were already being funded by AID.
Once about a half of these short presentations were over, it came to our turn. Mr.Shetty introduced us specially as being the only representatives from Tamil Nadu—he spoke about how we were ‘different’ and how he felt we had already done pretty well by establishing two separate bazaars plus a shop and that too in the short span of time we had been around. He felt that our concept of involving the consumer in the marketing process by means of volunteering, and participation constituted a special way of marketing—since he himself believed that the organic market could be called an ‘alternative market’, this effort was very important. He thought it was the first time that this kind of initiative had been undertaken in India and remarked that it seemed to be similar to some such methods found in the USA.

Presentations by city groups in Bangalorepackaging at blore
Some of the city groups had done some interesting ground work; for instance Adi Naturals, run by Aparna and Vidya was started three years ago and these two women had no experience regarding organic products nor any marketing experience—they just began with some guidance and help from Shetty and now they have a reasonable business going–although they faced many hitches when they started off. Govind of Simply Organics runs a ‘mini-supermarket’ as he calls it from his home single-handedly–he had enough space to even expand and now is planning to also start selling vegetables. Many  of the rural outlets seemed to be small ones that concentrated on just a few products; in some cases they consisted of  producer-cum-retailer outlets such as the Hassan Rice Growers represented by Appaji. This was a group of farmers who grew a large variety of traditional rices and Appaji later showed me a sample of some of their brown and white varieties. One of the famous varieties was Rajamudi.  Dinesh of Timbaktu Collective talked about his group’s efforts with promoting organic farming in Andhra and especially their work with reintroducing millets as a regular crop in the area and as part of the diet.

Our presentation
For our presentation, I spoke about our motivations, our group members, the way we evolved the Bazaar model, our attempts at involving community, and of our recent shop outlet. I also spoke of how we wished to work and support organizations such as Vishranti, Vidya Sagar etc., and also of our principles of keeping sustainability and eco-friendly packaging for instance as important to us as selling our products. All the groups had brought their products such as rices, dals etc., in various plastic packaging; ours stood out as being the only ones in paper—so I spoke a little about how we had experimented with packaging till we had reached the present model. I also mentioned our on-going learning as regards pricing, quality control, storage, predictability of supply etc., as some of the issues we were facing—and how we did not have all the answers at all but had a long way to go.

Post-lunch session—general concerns
After lunch Krishna Prasad started an exercise of noting down the general areas of concern as regards marketing of organic products being faced by each of the groups. Most groups had a commonality of problems or issues as highlighted by the list. Regularity and quality of supply, funds, transportation, consumer awareness, pricing and competition from other outlets which promoted organics but were mainly interested in making profits or were not that interested in ethical selling practices or in supporting the farmers by giving them a good price.

Finding solutions
Once the various problems were listed out, we tried as a group to find solutions to these. Soon after this exercise was over,  Krishna Prasad tabled the main aim behind the whole meet—which was an initiative by SS to start a Producer Company which would form a network with all organic retailers (with similar aims and philosophies), so that many of these issues could be addressed by them. They believed that with their long association with both sides, the small farmer on the one hand and the small retail outlets on the other, they had the experience to form such an organization.

Forming a network
To begin with all outlets in Karnataka could come together under this umbrella, followed by the other states across India. The advantages of such a network would be that certain standards of quality of the products, establishing a better reliability of supply, standardizing the pricing of organic products using some accepted guidelines, certification processes etc., could be put in place more easily. Small and struggling retail units would then not need to be concerned with these issues over and over again and could therefore concentrate on their work of selling and reaching out to larger communities. Other standards that could be established would involve packaging, product information labels and so forth. Mr.Shetty wondered whether our packaging in paper (although very environment-friendly) would suit large-scale marketing efforts.

We broke up about 4.30 p.m. after a general consensus was established in the room that starting such a networking company was indeed a good idea. Both the farmer and the retailer would benefit and the job of linking them up would become more efficient by doing this.

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