Ankit Agrawal is an utterly optimist, experienced and conscious entrepreneur who runs an environmentally sustainable company called Naturo Earth. He started this company with a vision to utilize the raw materials that are abundantly available in Nepal and to employ the ayurveda knowledge that has its roots here. Along with that, he plans to make this venture globally scalable using ethical practises and collaborating with similar companies.
Read this article to find out more about his journey with Naturo Earth and more.
1. Can you introduce yourself and your company to us?
I have been born and brought up in an entrepreneurial environment. My family always encouraged me to pursue my own ventures rather than going for a comfortable 9-5 job. After completing my graduation from India, I immediately jumped in the bandwagon and started with the restaurant Industry. I opened a successful restaurant in my hometown of Biratnagar. Then I entered into the education sector as well with a small post graduation institute.
While pursuing these ventures I got more and more interested in the manufacturing potential in Nepal seeing the large number of manufacturing Industries in the Industrial belt of Morang-Sunsari. But I did not want to do the run of the mill manufacturing. I thought it was worth to look in the vast natural resources available within the country to make something that was totally indigenous to Nepal.
With a lot of trials and tribulations, I came to know about the medicinal herbs and Ayurveda potentials in Nepal. Identifying these niche sectors led me to start NATURO EARTH. We are a company focused on harnessing the abundant raw material available in these sectors and make products in the food, beverage and skincare sectors. Although initially the focus was to make products for the international market, we soon found out that our brand’s focus on natural raw materials and sustainability was having a good connection with the local markets as well. The journey has been a very enlightening and rewarding experience on a personal level. From attending the 2nd Mid East Organic Exhibition in Dubai where I was the only representative from Nepal to finally launching the brand has been a huge learning curve. There, I came to know how vast the international potential for product was and then starting the journey to actually bring the product to market has been with its challenges. But seeing how the brand has come out has been very accomplishing for me.
2. What kind of products are your offering through Naturo Earth?
We have segmented our products in 3-4 categories that include superfood like moringa, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds and a lot of herbal products from high mountains from Nepal. We also cover skin care/ self-care products ranging from hair care to body care, which again can be segmented into sub-categories. Then we have lifestyle products that we ventured into recently. We’re also making a lot of hemp-based products and before lockdown, we had partnered with someone with good knowledge in sustainable construction using hemp.
I’d also like to add that 95% of our self-care products are handmade from natural ingredients. We make them in small batches according to client’s requirements but we also customize them.
3. Where do you get the raw materials from? Where is the production done?
All of the skin care products are made in either Kathmandu or Biratnagar while we have made a strategic partnership with another company to produce the teas. As for raw materials, all our organic tea and super foods are organic certified. They’re rain-forest aligned and CERES certified which are major certifications we need if we want to stand out as a reliable brand in the international market. To do so, we had taken a small loan from the bank.
4. What is the range of products that you offer?
We’re currently offering superfoods, tea/coffee, skin care or self-care products and lifestyle products. You can check them out here.
5. Do you have a physical store? Since you do not add preservatives to your products, can you tell us more about their longevity?
Yes, our store is located in Kupondole but we also have showcased our products in different concept stores around Kathmandu and currently have 22 points of sales. Since, we make most of our products based on pre orders so we never had to use preservatives. Even then, most of our products last for six months to one year but depend completely on the product. Hence, you’ll need to ask us specifically about each product to know more.
6. What do you think is blocking or stopping your business from reaching full potential?
There are a couple of things that we have disadvantage in. One would be regarding logistics, mostly related to shipping. Since we’re a land locked country the only options we have is to deliver to the international market by road or by air and if it’s not in large quantities then the only option is by air, which is costly. Then there’s lack of awareness in people of the large-scale impact of using Nepali sustainable products. Then comes the government! I have seen a lot of governmental bodies working with startups, creating and releasing grants to help them but it’s all messy if you look closely. For startups like ours, not only are we aware of those grants but also aren’t even considered eligible. Mostly, it’s the old players who have been working in the field for more than 20-30 years that receive those grants so it’s very monopolistic. Likewise, there’s unethical practices, unhealthy competition with little or no support from the government. Again, we can create as gloomy a picture as we want but there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.
7. What kinds of opportunities do you see for your products?
Well, there are as many opportunities as there are challenges. Firstly, people have started to become really aware of sustainable living and switching to organic food. Plus, there’s already so much demand for ayurvedic and organic products that we produce such as soap berries, organic skin care and herbal tea in the international market. This means that the market is ready to buy our products if only we can make it accessible to them. Secondly, we have the raw materials to create the products right here so we do not have to import anything. Additionally, so many wonderful things can come out of collaboration with similar companies in Nepal so if we can do that then I see a lot of opportunities in Nepal.
8. How many people are there in your team?
We have 3 people in our core team, all family. I look at creation and marketing while my sister- Bhawana looks at operations and my sister in law- Gazal looks at overall management and finance. Beside the core team, including admin and marketing, 7 people excluding production because we’ve done a strategic alliance for that.
9. Who are your target customers?
We assumed that Nepali people would not be willing to buy our products while we were still ideating but right now, we can see the growing trend of using organic products among Nepalese too. Hence, our primary customers are in the West, our second customers are here in Nepal.
10. What are your average monthly sales like?
We divide sales in two or three segments- B2C through our outlets/ online channels, then B2B where we partner with hospitality sectors. From 2018 to the beginning of 2020, we were focusing more on improving the product and venturing out into new products and making strategic partnerships. So, we were not stressing too much on sales, because of that it won’t make sense to add a number to this.
However, we’ve already identified sales channels and activated placement processes. Along with that, we also have amazing strategic partnership opportunities in India. We were also planning to do the Great Himalayan festival in June where we were planning to give first-hand experience of organic products, bee keeping, Agro- based tourism and spiritual based tourism to visitors. A lot of situations have changed because of COVID19 so let’s see what happens.
11. Has Naturo Earth break even?
We’re still trying to give Naturo Earth a shape and to reinvest so we can’t say if we have break even yet. Recently, we have gotten good market response so we’re currently trying to explore this more.
12. How difficult is it to be an entrepreneur? Or to try to sell premium products in the Nepali community?
I am a very optimistic person and I always see opportunities within a problem. As for the work I am doing now, I am really enjoying it; it’s something I believe will work out and is necessary for the society, economy and individuals. I have tried my hands-on different businesses but this is something that really gives me satisfaction right from production to selling to people actually appreciating the products. Even though we do not have a large number of consumers as of now, those who have used our products have really appreciated and praised them.
13. Have you done any collaboration with other Nepali brands?
Yes! I whole-heartedly support and engage in collaborations because the impact is always bigger with more players. We have collaborated with sustainable brands such as Moware and Ecoorb as of now. Everything that we use for packaging is made by Ecoorb, which uses elephant dung to make paper. It’s not possible for a single entity to do everything on their own. The model that I’m making includes a value-chain involving a lot of players including farmers. They have expertise on agriculture but we have expertise on processing, packaging and marketing. So, we use each parties’ skills to get the most benefits.
14. What are your future plans for Naturo Earth?
For the nearest future, we’re planning to attach plant seeds along with the packaging box we get from Ecoorb. Suppose you buy a rosemary soap from us then you’ll also get a layer of seed that you can peel off and plant in your garden. I’m really excited about this addition.
And for the further future, we want to have at least 1000 selling points globally for our products. Apart from those two, we’re always looking for meaningful collaboration with like-minded organizations.
15. Any message to people interested to come into this field?
It’s a very challenging time right now but there are plenty of opportunities too. You can reach out to anyone in the startup ecosystem and trust me they’ll always be willing to help or connect you with someone who might. Just remember that working collaboratively always works better than working alone. A lot of you have great ideas for sure so be synergistic and partner with people you think would help you attain mutual goals.
For more information about this company, please check out their website- Naturo Earth, connect with them on Facebook here, Instagram here. You can shop their products at Daraz here. Lastly, connect with Ankit at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have more questions!
Interiewed and article by Yangzum Lama.