Growing up in a Bengali family is synonymous to always being surrounded by good food. The childhood of Madhuja Dey, founder of Vegan World, was no different. Food was the primary aspect in life and every festival or a ritual at her house was marked with it. She confesses to being a foodie and used to enjoy every kind of fare, including non vegetarian. Due to her deep interest in food, she went on to pursue higher studies in hotel management from IHM, Hyderabad.
Right after Madhuja’s marriage, she happened to rescue her first dog Cookie and things began to change. “The rescue was not planned. I never grew up with animals, and therefore, never connected with them. After the rescue in 2016, I started living with an animal for the first time in my life. That’s when my bonding with animals began and I found that connection with every dog on the street. I started feeding stray animals and would carry food in my car. Sometime later, I rescued my second dog, and also started putting up dogs for adoption,” she said in a tête-à-tête with The Vegan Indians.
A Moral Awakening
Madhuja used to talk about animal welfare on social media platforms. There, she started getting a lot of questions. “People used to question me that how, despite being so passionate about animals, I was still eating non vegetarian food. I could not even understand what these people were talking about. I would come up with lame excuses and statements that I now receive from other non vegetarians,” she humorously said.
“Then, there came a point when I actually thought about it seriously and started reading about animal agriculture. That is when I was exposed to this hidden world. I purposefully watched some really shocking and painful videos because I wanted to see what actually happens. After watching those videos, I started feeling a connection with every cow on the road. That’s when I decided to become a vegan.”
However, it was a difficult task for Madhuja to convince her family and friends about her new revelation. “People around me would tell me that I was going out of line and it was too impractical. There was a lot of external and internal clash and I didn’t know what to do. Then, I started reading about vegan food, especially on how to replace animal products with vegan alternatives. I realised that a lot of products were available outside India and even within India, but nothing except soy in Kolkata. That is when this whole idea of Vegan World was born.”
“I wanted to influence people into turning vegan and needed to make these alternatives available to them. At that time, the idea of distribution came up and I decided to make all vegan products available to people in Kolkata. I thought that I will supply these products to the stores in every nook and corner of the city so that everyone has access to these.”
On the initial response her brand received, Madhuja said, “We received a wonderful feedback from people in Kolkata, and many told us that they had been waiting to get access to these products from a long time. Before March 2020, there was nothing available here except a couple of items. But now, so many brands are interested in coming to Kolkata. My biggest satisfaction was that I was able to get these products here and I could influence so many people around me. Since vegan options are not very different in taste, it becomes easy for people to adopt provided there is a ready supply.”
“As a distributor, we supply to both general and modern trade, as well as to cafés and five star hotels. There is one channel through which we sell directly to end customer, and that is, Vegan World store on Swiggy Grocery. It lists all the products that we are dealing in. We have left this option open for customers because we want to make all our products accessible to everyone,” commented Madhuja on her distribution model. Vegan World in currently catering to 25 stores, including Spencer’s, Big Basket, BPCL Retail Stores (In & Out), HPCL Retail Stores (Speedmart), and Organic Stores, amongst others.
The G Factor
Vegan World has seen a very organic and gradual growth in demand. From a couple of products initially, the company now has over 25 brands under its network. On the increase in demand for vegan products, Madhuja said, “When we started, products needed to be replenished every 30-35 days, but now that has come down to 7-10 days, which shows that there has been a steady increase in demand. Initially, when we used to talk about our products, people could not understand what vegan is, but now they are becoming aware.”
Besides Kolkata, Vegan World is supplying to Siliguri and Mayapur in West Bengal. They are planning to move to other cities outside West Bengal soon. Vegan World is also planning to launch vegan versions of a lot of popular Indian sweets such as Rasgullas and Sandesh. “We are already supplying it locally and now we are moving out of state borders too.”
India’s First Vegan Durga Puja
Madhuja and her family had organised a complete vegan Durga Puja this year. “Everything that we used for the puja was vegan and our priest was also very supportive. We used vegan ghee, vegan butter, plant milk, and even vegan curd. We have a tradition of making meat after visarjan, and we served a dish made of mock meat instead of real animal meat. The idol of Durga maa was made of clay, bamboo and hay. Not just this; we recycled everything used in the puja, including flowers, leaves, Havan leftovers, earthen pots, etc,” exclaimed Madhuja.
A Word of Caution
According to Madhuja, it is very important for a consumer to be aware of what they are putting inside their bodies. Expressing her thoughts on this, she said, “As a consumer, whether vegan or non vegan, we must know what is going inside our bodies. We must check and understand the ingredients written on the packet of food that we are buying from a store. A basic research is required for this. A lot of people believe that they are consuming a pure vegetarian item as they normally check the green dot on the packet; in reality, they are wrong. There could be animal fat, crushed insects and bugs inside their food. Every product with a green dot is not necessarily vegetarian. Besides checking the price, we must check the ingredients too.”