A frozen foods entrepreneur was not getting satisfaction from what he was doing; his products were not making a difference in consumer’s life. He wanted to change something about himself too. Then, one day he watched the Netflix documentary ‘Forks Over Knives’, and his life got a purpose.
“The documentary left me absolutely gobsmacked! I realised how we all eat habitually, not intentionally. Every culture categorises certain foods as good and others as bad. We do not have a deeper understanding of what we eat and why we eat. I decided that this is what I wanted to educate people about and this is the industry I want to tap into,” said Harshvardhan Agrawal, CEO & Founder at O’Greens, over a conversation with The Vegan Indians.
A Trek That Gave Birth to an Idea
During a trek in Himachal, Harshvardhan felt like munching on something like an energy bar. He made it a point to keep some with him the next time he goes to trek. After coming back, he started to research on healthy vegan bars and realised that there was no company selling such a product. Finally, he found one but that too was also not totally clean as it had emulsifiers, saccharides, and other unwanted ingredients. “We realised that there was a gap in the market and we decided to fill it. The idea of O’Greens was seeded in our minds. We hired a chef and a plant-based nutritionist and they helped us create the product. We wanted to create energy bars that are absolutely clean with no sugar, honey, jaggery or stevia; our bars are naturally sweetened with dates. We also did not use any emulsifiers to bind the product.”
However, it was a big challenge to make it shelf stable. The team hired a food technologist and it took them 18 months of R&D to finally crack the process, through which they achieved the desirable shelf life and were also able to mass produce.
Sadly, pandemic hit around the same time and the team had to halt all operations. “We started again in July but there was a lot of apprehension as we had already put in a lot of investment, and we did not want to do anything that could make us go into a loss. However, after a lot of contemplation, we finally decided to launch the brand,” said Harshvardhan.
O’Greens finally hit the market in July 2020 after 18 months of rigorous R&D and has been growing 30% month on month since then. The ‘O’ in Aurangabad-based O’Greens stands for Organic, Originality and Oxygen. “We wanted the brand to resonate with nature because we believe nature has everything that we need in terms of nutritional value.”
Vegan and Natural: The Growth Trajectory
Harshvardhan is of the view that vegan market is evolving and growing like never before. “The vegan industry has evolved and we know there is a big piece of pie in the market that we want to grab. We decided to get into other product categories too. Our R&D is on and we are going to launch first-of-its-kind protein bar before Christmas this year. It is unique because there is no company in India currently offering bars or any other food item made of the protein we are using. In the coming year, we are going to introduce six new product categories, which will be 100% vegan. The R&D team is working on it.”
“By offering such products, we have been able to give something of value to the consumer. We stand for clean, natural and vegan nutrition that helps consumer achieve a fit body, an active mind and a bold spirit. That’s our entire core.”
Giving his views on the growth prospects in vegan and plant-based industry, Harshvardhan said, “What e-commerce is to this decade, plant-based industry will be to the next decade. Post pandemic, we have seen the launch of several plant-based and alternative protein brands. Everybody wants a share of this industry, including big brands, as they all know that this industry is ready to take over. Plant-based industry is going to be the next big thing in the coming decade. A lot of my non vegetarian friends have told me that if they get safe plant meat alternatives, they would definitely leave non vegetarian food.”
Blending Sustainability and Spirituality into the Brand
Harshvardhan is an ardent believer in sustainability and spirituality, and wanted to embody those values into the brand. “I believe that every human being wants to do something for the environment but 90% of these people don’t have time or resources, or just don’t know how to start. Therefore, we decided to plant a tree for every product we sell. When someone buys our product, they are not just giving a gift of health to themselves but also giving something back to the nature.”
The company has tied up with Sadhguru’s Cauvery Calling Foundation as their official partners. Cauvery Calling aims to plant 242 crore trees in 12 years and O’Greens aims to grow 10,00,000 trees with this initiative in the next 5 years.
“Besides this, we wanted to embody spirituality into the core of the brand too. So, we hired a mind and body coach to make this a brain food. We use ingredients in certain combinations that produce spiritual vibrations in your brain. For example, pistachio is one of the most potent stressbusters that is available. We combined pistachio with saffron, which elevates your mood, and then we added Amaranth to make it protein-rich. We were the first ones in the country to launch a saffron bar.”
“Right from sourcing of ingredients till the manufacturing and packaging, everything is done under a small set up by conscious people. We have a small meditation practice before we start production because we believe that when you are eating the food made by someone, you are not just eating the food but you are also consuming their consciousness as well as the consciousness of the farmer. We want to make sure that our food is made by people who have high consciousness and high energy, so that the ingredients become even more potent and elevate the spirits of the consumer.”
On the packaging used by O’Greens for its products, Harshvardhan told us that the company first wraps the bars in a cellulose film and then covers it with a paper packaging. It doesn’t use a two or three layer plastic wrapping. It also plans to change the cellulose film to a bio-degradable one, which naturally breaks down within three weeks. “The only challenge that comes here is the costing as the seller we are sourcing it from is in Germany. But we definitely want to be 100% plastic free by next year.”
Government and the Vegan Industry
Harshvardhan believes that government support for vegan and plant-based is required but getting it is not an easy task. “We as a nation are obsessed with milk and milk products. To challenge this, the government must be ready to face a huge backlash. This is my personal observation. The government might support the plant-based industry but it will never say anything against dairy. Even from the economic angle, big dairy producers contribute to the GDP of the country. They also employ thousands of workers. I am a practical person and I feel that the government support for vegans might not come in the way they want. We should just continue doing what we have been doing. Once this movement starts to grow, the government would also need a piece of the pie and that will give a boost to this industry,” he concluded.