In line with the recently popular trend of consuming organic food and maintaining sustainable practices amongst the modern-day consumers, Out Of The Blue restaurant in Bandra organised its maiden edition of ‘The Blue Launch Pad’ themed on the SLO (Sustainable, local, organic) initiative, in which, it provided a platform to six startups in the F&B sector that hail sustainability.
The event saw a spread of stalls of the six startups which included, Fresh Roots- a tech-driven hydroponic farm; Bon Vivant Chocolates: an artisanal chocolate startup; Taru: a fair trade network connecting over 10,000 small-scale farmers to markets with healthy and organic produce; Yellow Bohemian Coffee – known for its German engineering in roasting the coffee beans; Farm2Fam: a premium quality micro-greens producer, and The Abhinaya Store – a crafts brand which enables reduction of one-time-use products.
On the sidelines of the products showcase, the event also hosted a panel discussion on SLO which marked participation of who’s who of the F&B industry including Kumud Dadlani, Amrita Kaur, Antoine Lewis and Chef Vivek Swamy, executive chef at Out Of The Blue. Following this, was a spread of 5-course meal specially curated by Chef Swamy using ingredients sourced from the participating startups.
The panelists, in the panel discussion, shed light on many aspects that revolved around the concepts – organic produce and sustainability. Contributing insights on the awareness of organic foods among the consumers these days, Dadlani said that the consumers who earlier didn’t realise the quality of the imported fruits and vegetables like the apples and kiwis, they now know that they are often the products which are of substandard quality and are dumped in the Indian markets as the produce did not meet the standards set by the country of origin for the poor quality of the produce. “I do see that there is new energy and liking amongst the Indians to consume local produce and we are beginning to enjoy the diversity of our country and its widespread homegrown organic produce on offer as well,” she added. Kaur in this regard says the pricing of organic is high in metro markets which is not the case in tier-II and III markets of India, however, the consumers here are willing to shell the extra bucks off their pocket to consume organic foods than spending a lot more on medication after consuming non-organic products. She also highlights that social media is the way ahead to spread awareness. “It has become a fad now to post photos on photo-sharing app Instagram and has flooded the social media channels with the organic hashtag movements, which in a way educates and attracts a larger audience to join the cause of going organic,” she added.
When asked about the distinctive points that help one differentiate between organic produce with a non-organic one, Chef Swamy said, “It’s a very simple answer. The bigger it is, it is not organic. This generation of people has not consumed that kind of natural organic produce. The older generation, usually above 35 years can easily understand which fruit or vegetable is organic and which is not. People always say that the fruits with holes due to worm infestation are unhygienic, but that is how it is, the fruit grows in the wild and worms will eat it if it is organic an untouched by any artificial fertilisers. You can just wash the fruit and eat it. We consume a lot of bacteria daily, these worms won’t harm us.” Organic produce will not be that shiny bright from outside, but it is good from the inside, he informed. Suggesting ways to promote the organic produce among more and more Indian consumers, he suggests that we are in India and we need to give out freebies for things to change. If one charges a higher price right from the start, their initiative will not work in a price-sensitive market like India, he added. Lewis, replying to a question about the transition of availability of organic produce from supermarkets to local fruit and vegetable vendors, said, “I think that is bound to happen. It was the system earlier, quite evident prior to the industrial revolution after which a lot of chemical fertilisers and pesticides came into play. You still have the Sunday markets in certain villages which sell and promote the organic produce. People are now aware of what they are putting in their bodies. They are becoming careful about where things are coming from. They are also asking chefs and restaurateurs about the ingredients and their origin.”
Dadlani concluded the discussion by calling out the state government that they should follow suit of Sikkim which has been the torchbearer of promoting organic produce. She said it takes a lot of time to switch from non-organic practices to producing all-organic vegetables and fruits, which spans for around 4-5 years. “Sikkim started this in 2003 which is a really long time back. The state governments need to take the initiative with a lot of discipline and also need to educate and train the farmers about the organic produce which has long-lasting benefits to the farmers, the environment and the end consumers of the produce.”
Speaking about the USP that keeps Bon Vivant Chocolates sustainable in terms of sourcing its ingredients while also providing their customers with a virtual culinary tour through their flavourful experiences, Naved Shaikh, co-founder director, Bon Vivant Chocolates said, “We source our ingredients from the place where they are best renowned for, like the Cardamom used in our chocolates is from Sri Lanka while the saffron is sourced from Kashmir. We also have Yuzu, a citrus fruit which comes from Japan while the cocoa comes straight from Madagascar and Peru. What makes us a French chocolate brand is the creations that we bring to the consumers. Praline is what makes us truly distinctive as an artisanal chocolate brand as the process in making it is all hand made. Also, Rodolphe Bianchi, the chocolatier at Bon Vivant hails from France and comes with over eight years of experience in making chocolates. So we are trying to introduce something that is for a higher experience than regular chocolate.” Institutional market is an important business generator for Bon Vivant and their chocolates are already present in Hyatt Centric Candolim Goa, and will be also expanding their presence in more hotels and restaurants pan India, informed Shaikh.
Ruchi Jain, founder & CEO, Taru said that they provide a platform to a lot of small-scale farmers to train them about the benefits of organic produce. The brand currently has a portfolio of more than a ton of products and services with the same to about 60 restaurants and food outlets in Mumbai, she added.
Pankaj Chawla, director & partner at Fresh Roots, while talking about the brand’s sustainable practices, he said that they do not use any artificial pesticides or fertilisers since the use of soil is completely discarded to produce the range of exotic greens. In the traditional farming technique, the fertilisers showered on the plants get absorbed by the soil which makes it unfit for cultivation and also severely affects the groundwater which can directly impact wellbeing of the locals,” he points out. “To keep our practices sustainable while paying heed to keep our produce organic, we grow our plants in a farm in the outskirts of Mumbai and do not use any fertilisers, pesticides and also soil, hence making us a hydroponic farm,” he concluded.
Interestingly, the restaurant will showcase the startups’ products for sale for a month-long period.