One of the regular Fridays, I decided to visit an Agro Mart that was happening at Patan Museum premises on 31st January 2020 to look for some interesting Nepali products. What caught my eyes was a lady with a big smile who was asking me to taste her Mango pickle enthusiastically. Allergic to mangoes, I requested her to give me something else from her wide range of pickles. I don’t exactly remember which one I tried later but I sure got her card and scheduled an interview with her in her pickle lab.
After talking for an hour with her and understanding why she started the business at 61 years of age, I could feel positivity and optimism rise in me. Here’s what she had to say. Read along!
1. Could you tell me the story behind your business? Is this your first venture?
I wouldn’t say that this is my first venture because I come from a business family and we had a sweets shop in Biratnagar. That’s also how I was attracted to the food industry since my family loved to feed people. After shifting here, I used to make sweets and snacks and give it to my family and friends. You see I have always been a food lover. There was this one time I thought I’d make nimki and sell it in the market but I wasn’t confident enough to do it.
Around 2 years ago, I got the opportunity to get training from the Rotary Club to learn pickle making for free. It was a great learning opportunity that I turned into my own business. So, right after the training, I went to Denmark to meet my daughter and her family for 6-7 months. There, I saw the struggle that Nepalese were facing and how busy their lives were. I realized that instead of spending the money they send us back, I could start my own business and do something with it. So that’s when I bought half a kilo methi, 1 kg chilly, 2 kgs lemon and 1 kg radish and started making pickles right away. That was my initial investment of around 600-700 rupees and everything that was invested after was through bootstrapping. The business I started with 4 varieties of pickles has now grown to 25 varieties, all with no preservatives.
I hadn’t thought that I would sell the pickles to anyone. I just thought that I would make them and give it to my family and listen to what they have to say. They gave me money in return though which I invested back in the business.
Then I took a few of my pickles and approached a retail store and requested them to keep my pickles there. I also told them not to pay me right away but only after the bottles are sold, and in case none of them gets sold, I promised to take them. Luckily, everything had got sold and people were asking for more.
2. How do you deliver the pickles to different stores?
I go to different places, like small retail stores to give my pickles. I don’t approach big stores like Bhat Bhateni because they demand high quantities but I only make small batches without preservatives. Plus, I don’t give in credit because I do not have a high quantity and only make small revenue out of it.
3. Do you work alone or do you have a team?
I worked for 1 year alone then I have hired 3 female helpers who help wash and clean the vegetables. I do not ask anyone else for investment but pay them from the profits themselves. But it’s not a lot. They come here for a few hours where I teach them how to make pickles too. I always tell them to learn properly so that when I am not there, they can start their own business too. My daughter in law also helps me. My son drops me wherever I need to go. So, I would say I have a lot of family support.
4. Did you face any difficulty registering your business?
Not really but to be honest, I would’ve faced difficulties had I not been headstrong. I clearly told them that we need to be empowered and if the government officials do not support us then how can we progress. Then they easily registered my business. It might sound like I’m bluffing but I think my confidence got me through the process easily.
5. How did you price them?
I don’t have a hard and fast rule to price my pickles, so it’s usually just based on estimation. I always try to get high-quality raw materials to make my products so there’s a lot of bargaining with the suppliers. I get most of my products from organic markets as much as possible. Then I wash the vegetables with a solution that kills bacteria and leave it to soak in the sun. I also ensure that the room I make the pickles in is regularly sanitized and free of dust and germs.
6. What are the challenges that you are facing right now?
I think most of the challenges I am facing are in terms of policies and legal processes right now. It would’ve been great if they could make their process systematic and on time so that we do not have to visit their offices and spend the whole day there to get one thing done. Plus, they could provide us training that’s more advanced than the one I got from Rotary. If you think of it, I will be able to claim elderly stipend after a few years but if the government helps me become empowered on my own then I wouldn’t need that, will I?
The next challenge is the physical store. Since my business is very small, I only sell them either through retail stores, exhibitions and a few online. You must’ve seen me talk to a lot of people at the exhibition, right? Even after doing all that, I’m only able to sell a few of my bottles and there’s the charge for the stall that I need to pay for the organizer. So, for a small business like mine, there’s a lot of effort that needs to be put in return for a small profit.
7. What keeps you going?
My learning mindset! I always go out in hopes that I will learn something. Even in times of failure, I remind myself to not give up and keep the hopes high. There will always be difficulty in every step in life but that doesn’t mean you should give up. If we can work then we should always be independent and work for ourselves.
8. Where can people buy your pickles from?
I have kept the pickles in Krishi Fresh where I deliver myself. Then I exhibit them and then in small retail stores. I do not approach big stores because they aren’t willing to pay me early and when I ask them for the money, they get annoyed and tell me to go away. That hurts me.
9. How much do you sell monthly on average?
The season is off during winter but usually, it’s around 100 bottles per month. As you have noticed, I like to talk a lot so most of the sales I make can be credited to that.
10. Where do you get the vegetables from?
I go to organic markets to get vegetables. On Saturdays, I go to Dining Park and on Tuesdays, I go to Bhani Mandal for the organic market. I only buy them if they give me a good price.
11. What do you do in your leisure time?
I like to listen to Bhajans and old Hindi songs. I’m also a member of Bhajan Ekata Samuha, through which we collect 500 from each member and use it for social causes. Last time, we provided medicines to patients in need and before that we provided food and electricity to earthquake victims.
For more information about how you can purchase pickles from Manju ji, please contact her at 9813686391.
Interviewed and article by Yangzum Lama.