Mumbai: At a time when most people her age are hooked to Tinder and Facebook, Nidhi Pant (23) loves to talk about enhancing the shelf life of farm produce and keeping its nutrients intact to facilitate healthy eating.
Ms. Pant is one of the founders of DesiVDesi, which procures sun-dried produce from farmers and processes it to serve healthy snacks. Using its patented solar conduction dryer, DesiVDesi dehydrates vegetables and fruits to produce healthy snacking options.
The startup procures the dehydrated foodstuff directly from farmers and processes it at its plant at Sanpada without using oil or preservatives. Its products include Muskmelon Chunks, Kiwi Slices, Pineapple Chunks, Kokam Amla Kandy, Spinach Crisps and Beetroot Chips, among others. The startup plans to increase its offerings in the coming months to cater to more diverse taste buds.
The idea for the venture took shape when Ms. Pant was a student at the Institute of Chemical Technology (formerly UDCT). She was working on a Gates Foundation project to find ways in which nutrition-rich products could be provided to an anaemic rural population.
“While I was at UDCT, I was involved in the project of one of our founders, Dr. Vaibhav Tidke, and we were able to create a solar dryer that could dehydrate farm produce while not destroying the nutrients,” says Ms. Pant, who is one of the six founders of the startup and looks after the business development vertical.
What began as a college project soon took the shape of a venture which aims to minimise the potential post-harvest losses of farmers, most of whom lack the right infrastructure for storing and transporting their produce.
“We were encouraged by the results of our project and thought of scaling it in a manner that we could provide healthy snacking to people at a time when snacks mostly meant fried stuff,” she says.
But it took a while for DesiVDesi to take its present form. While the technology was created in 2013, the concept was unveiled only in January this year.
The dryer is a 6x6-foot machine developed in India. Some of the parts are imported from Germany, by S4S Technologies, DesiVDesi’s parent company, which was formed to sell these dryers to farmers.
The dryers, which cost ₹35,000 apiece, increase the shelf life of perishable foodstuff by almost a year. “It is a very efficient machine with zero maintenance, zero operating cost and can dry almost all foodstuff, except milk,” says Ms Pant.
The dryer has a loading capacity of around 15 kg per batch that can be scaled up to one tonne. The farmer only has to wash and cut the crop before placing it on the dryer. Each batch takes one to three days to dry, depending on the crop, while keeping all the nutrients intact.
The biggest advantage of the dryers, says Ms Pant, is that the farmer is not forced to sell his entire perishable produce at a low price in case of a bumper crop.
DesiVDesi has sold more than 1,200 dryers to farmers across eight countries, and around 800 in India.
While initially the startup connected the farmers with traders or buyers, it later realised that they could even buy back the dried produce and process it in their plant at Navi Mumbai and then sell it in the open market under the DesiVDesi brand.
The startup has a tie-up with an Aurangabad-based self-help group of around 200 farmers from whom it procures the dried produce. The processing plant at Sanpada turns the dried food into an edible snack. The process does not involve any roasting or baking, but maintains the crunch.
DesiVDesi products are available at Nature’s Basket, HyperCity and many grocery stores. It also is available through online channels like Amazon, ShopHop, Qtrove and PropShop.