Self-sufficiency with chekku oil

By Anushree Madhavan| Express News Service | Published: 03rd April 2021 06:15 AM

CHENNAI: I love living in Udumalpet. Come what may, I would not want to leave my town.” Sindhu Arun emphasises on this sentiment throughout our conversation. Perhaps, this was a lingering thought when she moved to London in 2008 to study Information Systems and Management. A decade later, she knew the time had arrived to put her dear town on the world map and so, birthed Presso, a cold-pressed oil brand. The idea, she says, was born in the fields of the town in Tirupur district. “We have always used chekku ennai at home. And the food tastes different from those cooked in refined oil. So I thought, why not take pure, unadulterated oil to the masses,” says Sindhu.

Before the concept came into fruition, Sindhu did some intensive research, which included talking to dieticians. “Traditionally, we have all been consuming only cold-pressed oils and the switch to refined oils is a recent one. They pointed to the fact that the increase in heart disease and cancer is also linked to the use of refined oil,” shares Sindhu. Presso sells three variants coconut oil, groundnut oil and sesame oil. “According to Siddha, consuming all these three oils is good for our health,” she points out.

While focussing on consumer care is key, Sindhu is equally concerned about making women in the village employable. “There aren’t many opportunities for women here. They often leave their hometown to bigger cities in search of jobs. So I thought of creating opportunities for them here. From manufacturing to business development and dispatch, every team consists mainly of women,” she says.

Home is where her heart is
Growing up in the green lap of Pollachi where most businesses are related to coconuts, it was a natural step for Sindhu to be engaged in a similar market. Besides, her periappa, she says, was a source of inspiration. “I have grown up seeing him do business. The fact that he was providing jobs for many stayed with me and I wanted to do something similar. My brother also had a huge influence on me. My parents were teachers and my brother was the first businessman from my family. I was confident that if he can do it, I can do it,” she recalls.

But, setting up a business is no easy feat. “There are several brands that sell cold-pressed oil. I spent a lot of time thinking about how will I make Presso stand apart. It is said that to succeed, you have to brave the fear of failure. I fixed my mind on that. We are giving something pure and unadulterated to the customers and I was sure we can overcome challenges,” she says. Once she won over her mind, she had a lot more to do on the ground. First, was tackling the electricity issue, which took a good 18 months. 

“As we are in a village, getting electricity was a huge task. Visiting officials and getting the factory up and running took one-and-a-half years. The other task was to get skilled, educated people for marketing and sales, which is difficult to get in a village. So, I introduced a work-from-home model where people can work from anywhere to run the business,” she says.

Presso uses coconuts and groundnuts grown in and around Udumalpet. This way, they can help local farmers. “We know that there is good groundnut production in Gujarat and there may be cheaper options in other cities too. But we have noticed that the raw materials we use from our native land produce a nice aroma and taste,” Sindhu details. 

Family support
The young venture calls for Sindhu’s attention at every stage be it getting distributors onboard to sell the oils in different fcities, or providing door delivery within a few days of order. This would not be possible without her family’s support. And in this regard, Sindhu says she is “blessed. We are a joint family of seven people. The running of the household does not depend on me. My athai always tells me to just focus on work, as that is what I like the most. My work time does not bother her or my mama, they just want to see me grow. I don’t have to take care of any chores. Their support, and my husband’s motivation, helps a lot as we face a lot of challenges in running a business. It is easier to focus on that when you don’t have challenges from home,” she says.

Sindhu’s daughter Laya is also a driving force. “When she looks at me, I want her to see how I have managed to start a business and run it successfully. I want her to realise that a girl/woman can do anything. She will understand that being a woman has nothing to do with excelling at something. Also, in villages, there are not many role models when it comes to following a career. Even if one child looks at me and thinks that he/she can do something in life, it is still a success,” she shares.

Working towards a vision
Having started from scratch and already taking over markets in several cities in India, and Qatar, Sindhu’s vision for the brand is simple — make it a homegrown global brand.  “I want chekku ennai to be synonymous with Presso. That’s what I want people to remember. I want to make it a global brand born out of a village, which sells a product everywhere. For this, I want to build a world-class team from the village itself.

Apart from this, I want to support one lakh micro-entrepreneurs. We can sell our products in a market, but when we are giving jobs to those in need, there is a certain satisfaction,” she shares. In three years, the brand has set out to achieve big. But Sindhu’s dreams came to a halt in 2020, thanks to the pandemic. After around five months of dull business, they are now back on track, thanks to loyal customers.

Sindhu urges customers to switch from packaged oil to cold-pressed ones not just because the latter is pure, but as it can also support the country’s economy and the farmers. “Chekku ennai is as natural as it can be as we don’t add or remove any nutrient. And raw materials are grown locally. If everyone starts buying chekku ennai, the oil production of our country will increase and we will be supporting our farmers. Currently, we are 80 per cent dependent on other countries. Why are we not being self-sufficient? The answer is — we go for cheap alternatives,” she notes.

Coconut oil is Rs 330/L, groundnut oil is Rs 340/L and sesame oil is Rs 380/L.
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