Mom Turns Her Solution for Daughter’s Dairy Allergy Into Startup With Rs 2 Cr Turnover

It was in 2016 that Rupali Kakade, a teaching associate by profession, noticed that her five-year-old daughter was falling ill very frequently. Naturally, as any mother would be, she was worried.  

After numerous tests, the doctors told her that the likely reason for these allergies could be the dairy products that she was giving her daughter. As they explained, when dairy is adulterated, it can have serious repercussions on health.  

So, Rupali and her husband decided to stop buying milk altogether. However, dairy being an integral part of a child’s diet, they needed to find an alternative.  

The couple went on to purchase a few cows from farmers in Pune and brought these to their ancestral land in Junnar, 90 km from the city. 

Mohit Rathod and Rupali Kakade
Mohit Rathod and Rupali Kakade, Picture credits: Rupali Kakade

“We started milking these Lal Kandhar cows,” Rupali says, adding that along with consuming the pure milk themselves, they also began distributing it among their friends and families. 

This was the initiation of Truly Desi, a brand that began formal sales of healthcare and organic products in June 2018. 

‘We started with a few cows, and now have 800.’

As the young mother began building the brand and coming up with ideas for more products to be added, she was joined by Mohit Rathod, a management consultant. Having initially joined as a business consultant to Truly Desi, he loved the idea on which the brand was founded and wanted to be a part of its journey.  

He says, “Rupali and I collaborated and decided to take the brand ahead as co-founders.”

As the duo explains, Truly Desi aims to create an ecosystem where its customers can benefit from fresh and 100 per cent certified organic products. 

Paneer being produced at Truly Desi
Paneer being produced at Truly Desi, Picture credits: Rupali Kakade

“We offer organic indigenous dairy products such as cultured ghee, butter, A2 paneer along with some other healthy items to the consumers,” says Rupali. The main objective, she says, was and still is to find an alternative to adulterated dairy products that are available in the market.

At Truly Desi, a regular day involves milking the cows present on the farm. The milking is done once in the morning at 4.30 and once in the evening. Before milking, the calves in the shed are well-fed with cow milk. 

“This ensures that the cattle are comfortable and are in a state to let us milk them without any resistance,” says Rupali, adding that they do not use any injections, antibiotics or hormones to increase the yield. 

“The process is very simple and completely natural,” she adds.

After the process is complete, the milk is then stored in chillers, at a temperature below four degrees Celsius and then pasteurised, says Mohit. The pasteurised milk is then used to make different products at the manufacturing unit based in Bebadohal village in Maval taluka, Pune.

The list of products includes kulhad dahi, ghee, buttermilk, khawa, and paneer. The duo is also looking at expanding into superfoods like yoghurts, fortified milk, milk-based bars, etc in the future and adding items like shrikhand, ice creams, and more which will be based on the concept of low fat-high protein. 

Dairy products at Truly Desi
Dairy products at Truly Desi, Picture credits: Rupali Kakade

Rupali says that among their many products, the hit ones are the A2 cow ghee and kulhad dahi.

“The milk that needs to be distributed is transferred to the chilling tank after pasteurisation and then the packaging process begins. Following this, it is once again stored in a cold room to make sure that the cold chain is not broken,” says Mohit. 

The delivery vehicles are then loaded and the distribution starts. This entire process is done within 24 hours of milking the cow. 

Currently, the brand is connected with about 8-10 cowsheds and each cowshed has around 100 cows, says Rupali. 

Walking hand in hand with farmers

Along with giving their customers a great experience, Rupali says the brand has always focused on working hand in hand with farmers from rural India, especially villages in Pune. Currently, they are associated with 100 farmers.  

Dairy products at Truly Desi
Dairy products at Truly Desi, Picture credits: Rupali Kakade

“The reason for this,” Mohit explains, “is that we wish to lay a focus on connecting these farmers directly with the consumers so they can sell their products at a reasonable price.” 

Thus, in addition to collaborating with the farmers for the milking of the cows, they came up with another idea. The cow dung and cow urine that was collected on their farm could be decomposed to make manure and fertiliser that could then help farmers in their fields to grow produce using organic means and then the brand sells this. 

Was it easy getting the farmers to make the switch to organic farming? 

“Initially they were resistant. They had never heard of this before,” says Rupali, adding that they were under the impression that this switch would hamper their yield. She adds that the switch from conventional to organic farming is also quite time-consuming and the rules to getting certified as an organic farmer are very stringent. 

After a year and a half of founding Truly Desi, Rupali is now convinced that it was a good move.

“Truly Desi has helped at least 50-60 farmers who are now producing organic vegetables,” she says. 

Sandip Phutak, one of the farmers who has made the switch to organic farming, says he is thrilled he did it. “I am now getting 30 per cent more than I was, by selling the organic produce. They (Truly Desi) not only provide us with organic fertiliser and pesticides at affordable costs but also guide us and support us in our farming. We are grateful.”  

As Mohit adds, along with the organic fertiliser they have come up with a system wherein the cow dung and urine collected from the farms are put in a biogas digester and the gas is used by the company’s workers in their houses for cooking and other purposes. 

About 15 cubic metres of biogas are produced every day. 

“Soon, we also intend to generate electricity through the excess biogas and use it on the farm,” he says. 

Dairy products at Truly Desi
Dairy products at Truly Desi, Picture credits: Rupali Kakade

Moving to the organic way of life

Building a brand that steers clear of adulteration and one that is truly organic hasn’t been very easy, say the duo. This is not only from the point of view of the challenges in getting the farmers to agree to go organic. 

“There was a lack of awareness in terms of what exactly was organic food, what are the benefits, and why organic products cost a little higher,” Rupali adds. However, with time, she says, these issues were solved. 

Today, Truly Desi ships all over India and is available on all major eCommerce platforms. The price of products ranges from Rs 90 per litre in the case of A2 cow milk, to Rs 70 per litre for buffalo milk to Rs 140 per 200 g of paneer. 

The brand sees over 1,000 orders per month and had a turnover of Rs 2.71 crore last year, says Rupali. 

While the duo is confident that more people will incline toward unadulterated products in the coming years, their current customer base applauds their move. 

One of the customers who is also a doctor, Dr Sharayu Rajwade Kshirsagar, says he truly believes the products are of good quality. 

“Their A2 cow milk is often advised to diabetic and patients with obesity and people who have a family history of these conditions. This is because this kind of milk is thought to aid in prevention. Additionally, for a healthy gut sourced with good bacteria, fresh yoghurt is essentially advised and kulhad dahi is absolutely great.”

Edited by Yoshita Rao

Author: Aaron Ryan