There used to be time a when people had to go distances to find an organic food store, just to buy a kilo of organic tomatoes. And even then, only a few retail outlets like Brown Tree or Dhanyam used to have a small quantity of organic produce — but all this is a thing of the past. Organic products can now be found quite easily in retail supermarket chains like Spencers Daily, Nilgiris, Food Bazaar, Heritage and so on. “People come to shops looking for organic products and the products sell quite well,” said Vijaya Lakshmi, Purchase manager of Nilgiris’ Adyar outlet.
So what has pushed Chennai to eat more healthy? Better knowledge of the health benefits of eating organic food and a craze for fitness, is the top reason. Besides this, quite a few doctors have been prescribing an organic diet for patients with health issues. Cancer patients, diabetics and people who are suffering from blood pressure have been making a beeline for organic rice, millets (which are not easily available in other stores) and cold pressed oils. Ananthoo, the founder of reStore, an organic food hub, explains, “People are well-informed these days and understand that food is the major cause for many diseases that they are affected by. So they are slowly shifting towards healthy food habits and organic food is one of the solutions,” he said.
In fact, ever since they started, reStore has increased their sales volume by holding a weekly bazaar. “Every week the bazaar starts at 12 noon but you can see the crowd standing outside the shop from 11 itself, the fresh vegetables and fruits are immediately sold out. This shows the demand of organic food among people,” he added. The journey hasn’t been quick though, “The shift was very slow, as initially people asked so many questions. Earlier only old people who used to have health complaints or people whose doctors had prescribed organic food would visit the place. But once they see the benefits (health and taste), they do not give it up. They spread the word and bring in many customers. We also promote our organic goods through social networking websites and stalls to educate people. So now, people have understood that organic food is not only for old and diseased people but a healthy food option for everyone,” said Thendral, who along with her husband Madhusudhanan runs Dhanyam Organic Super Store. Madhusudhanan, a graduate from IIM – A, started this shop three years back, to promote food that is natural and healthy. “And now we have nearly 3000 regular customers,” she added.
Unfortunately, the biggest deterrent to organic veggies going the ‘mainstream’ route is the cost factor. As organic vegetables are easily 30 per cent more expensive than their normal counterparts, they are affordable only to the upper and upper middle class. However, middle class people who are health conscious but cannot afford to go completely organic opt to invest in only organic rice and oil. Sya Rajan, a regular user of organic food products said, “Health is something we should not compromise on and I am very particular about it, but organic food products are expensive; I think only the elite can afford to go completely organic.”