Mother and daughter padmaja and likhita bhanu have made a mark in the organic food market with their time-honoured love for farming.
What started as just a hobby for this mother-daughter duo has now become a full-fledged entrepreneurial undertaking. And, Padmaja and Likhita Bhanu of Terra Greens Organic couldn’t be more kicked about their flourishing business.
“I never considered becoming an entrepreneur. It so happened that we had abundant produce one season and we had to sell it, and we did. We were solving a problem and before we knew it, we were businesswomen,” says Likitha Bhanu, founder and executive director of Terra Greens Organic.
Coming from a bureaucratic family, Likhita grew up in Assam and lived there for most of her life. She says, “The seeds for my mother’s passion in agriculture started from there. Being a total foodie, she was very particular about her veggies and Telugu dishes. Since we didn’t get them there, she started growing them herself. Her small kitchen garden grew over time and now she does large-scale farming in 40 acres of land; but even today, she plans everything that grows in those 40 acres with the same zeal and fervour.”
After graduating as a biotechnology engineer from Vellore Institute of Technology in 2010, Likhita took a year off and joined her mother Padmaja, who was doing organic farming in their family-owned farms as a hobby.
Likhita shares, “After I graduated, I started helping my mom. We were giving the produce to our family and friends or in the regular mandi. That particular season, we had a bounty crop of mangoes; so on a casual visit to Nature’s Basket, we asked the store manager if he would be interested in selling organic mangoes. He said yes and we started supplying certified organic mangoes under the brand Terra Greens. We got a phenomenal response and then, we sat down and figured out how to take it to the next level and we did.”
This is how the Bhanu women decided to start their own brand — to sell and market their farm produce — which is today known as Terra Greens Organic. Likhita and Padmaja wanted everyone to eat healthy, so they decided to make it the major focus of their business. “Mom is very passionate about working with the farmer community as she is one herself. We didn’t know that what we were creating was a supply chain, but that’s what it turned out to be. Today, we have a very strong farmer base,” reveals Likhita.
The mother-daughter duo initially adopted 1,000 farmers with a buy-back guarantee of their produce. Today, their network has grown to a strong 3,000 farmers across the nation.
Talking about the challenges they faced at the time of scaling, Padmaja says, “Our initial challenges were mostly setting up the processing and packaging units and the marketing of the products. Speaking to farmers and convincing them was also challenging in the beginning but now that we have a brand recall in the market, farmers do know that they will be well taken care of. We believe in the saying Annadaata Sukhibava. Our primary annadaata is the farmer, so we have to keep them happy.”
However, it’s not just the farmers that these enterprising women have won over — even consumers have fallen in love with Terra Greens, thanks to their products that are now a staple part of many lives in the state as well as the country.
Now five years old, Terra Greens is currently a team of 25 and operates all across India in both modern and general trade. “Our customers are mostly people who are aware about organic food and those who want great quality,” says Padmaja.
Sharing the hardest lesson these businesswomen have learnt so far, Likhita says, “Any entrepreneur has to face challenges every day and that’s what makes it exciting. We are still a growing company and I don’t think we have seen it all. The more you scale, it gets tougher, but we are geared up for the challenge.”
Terra Greens produces around 92 staple products and a line of eight ready-to-cook products.
It’s difficult to remember the first client in a consumer business but I think I have to give credit to Spencer’s, who was our first retailer and gave us a chance to be in their stores at a national level.
“I always take time off to travel. I love to bake and paint. But my current obsession is journaling.”
A day to remember
“Study your market and listen to it, don’t think the market thinks like you. Time is money. Also, money is money. Keep track of it”
— Likhita Bhanu