Plantrich Agritech Private Limited is an organic spice exporter based in Kerala, India that brings the fragrant flavours of the east to the global market. It has been recognized as one among the best organic spices manufacturers, suppliers and exporters in India with exceptional quality, as per Fairtrade and other international organic standards. Bijumon Kurian, MD, Plantrich Agritech Pvt Ltd, talks to AW about his venture, strategies and export opportunities of spices. His commitment to organic farming has won him many international and national accolades like Biggest Fairtrade Fan (2016) and Best Entrepreneur Award from Government of Kerala, India. Excerpts...

1. Tell us about your venture, Plantrich Agritech and the initiatives you were taken to promote organic and sustainable farming?

We are in the business of organic and Fair-trade farming and processing of spices with complete value-added as well as traceability to supply chain mechanism. We started in 1997, as an organic entrepreneur with a vision to sustain farming and give some respect to farmers. We later broadened our horizons to add farming, processing and export of value-added spices. Now around 3400 hectares of land has been organic certified in Kerala as a part of our social responsibility drive and partnership with co-operative. We are procuring best quality organic produce from farmers offering them a good and fair price and exporting it.

2. About your product portfolio and what are the key strategies, you have adopted to ensure the sustainability of products and quality?

Our product portfolio includes specialty spices like black pepper, dehydrated green pepper, white pepper, black pepper powder, ginger powder, turmeric powder, cinnamon powder and nutmeg powder for industrial and consumer market. Our strategies are sourcing from the origin, maintaining purity and promoting ethnic verities with the help of our state-of-the-art R&D wing which is well equipped to identify specialities like aroma, flavour of our products which makes them different from competitors’ products. We have a system to document each batch with specification as per international standards. All these features enhance our sustainability model.

3. What are the challenges in this firm and how do you plan to overcome?

The basic challenges compared to conventional farming are that organic farming is costly and needs more market linkages. Basic knowledge at farmer level about the merits of organic farming is also a challenge. Hence, we need more awareness programme which requires time and money. Through various partners, we organize events to promote all things ‘organic’. We are constantly leveraging digital media for education and public participation. Our messages are reaching the community slowly and steadily through these efforts. We have a website www.plantrich.com and are also active on social media that include LinkedIn, twitter and facebook to talk about our products and activities.

4.What do you think of the technologies and innovations needed to enhance the spice industry?

Spice industry is a premium industry where we need to invest in modern technologies to reduce any flavour loss as well as aroma. Many of the indigenous equipment have problems like losing aroma and flavours during processing. Hence, we need R& D for re-engineering the process flow towards the international demand of specifications by leading customers. Further to the farming activities, we need more mechanised farming. For example, traditional pepper plucking involves climbing tall trees with a height of more than 40 ft. Hence, we need a more sophisticated mechanism.

5. As one of the leading exporters of spices, how do you evaluate the export opportunities of Indian spices?

Indian spices have high brand value and demand in Europe and other Middle East countries. However, the price competition from other countries of origin gives a set back to our export. We are the largest producers and exporters of chilly, turmeric and gingers. We have unique quality specialised spices like cardamom and pepper. Our products have fewer pesticides compared to any other country. Moreover, our processing facilities are controlled by FSSAI which quality control standards in processing.

6. Your company has performed an incredible role in organic spice export. How do you plan to be distinct from your competitor?

We are the largest organic spice exporters from South India, both in quality and quantity. We prefer a sustainable quality approach and offer the best service to our customers. We also provide transparent feedback to our consumers which create more trust and long-term business partnerships. We spent more on R&D and quality control than any other companies in this sector.

7. Eating habits and food consumption patterns of the world has changed a lot over the past few years. In this scenario, how do you see the scope of value-added spice products, especially with respect to export?

The new trend in food habits is towards high-quality food products as well as snacks without any dangerous preservatives. So, this offers a big scope of spices which has more anti-oxidant and other medicinal properties that make food healthier when used in snacks and meals.

 8. How do you analyse the impact of GST?

GST has a mixed impact. We are surprised to see that the opportunities of regional support by the state to farmers have been lost. For example, ginger had nil tax in Kerala for the past several years. Now due to the GST elements, the price will go up and farmers will lose in the process. However, the advantage of GST is that it is reducing several tax cuts and leading the way to a digitally organized business community.

9. Share your future plans and expectations.

We are planning branded organic food experience shops which will club both as retail outlets and cafes. We would also like to create a line of diet and health supplements from various spices and herbs.

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