A version of this article was published in Scroll.in on May 7, 2017.
The tiny dollop of pickle in the corner of your plate or your banana leaf can never be taken for granted.
At times it is your saviour, making bland meals a little more acceptable. At times it is the best accompaniment giving your food the much needed extra bit of zing. Pair it with curd, and it provides the right finish to a sumptuous meal. But rarely has the pickle been given a larger responsibility- beyond the circumference of our plates.
One visit to The Hudli Project website and you realize that this is no longer the case. In addition to the zing, the pickle is now capable of preventing a village from emptying out. Meet The Hudli Project.
The Hudli Project is founded by three Bangalore-based data professionals- Amit Vadavi, Adarsh Muthana and Pronoy Roy. Through their website, the team is working on generating sustained employment for the women in the Hudli village. By providing subscription plans for purchasing the pickles manufactured at the Khadigram in Hudli, their primary goal is to create long term employment for 125 women. Peep into the pickle jars, and you will find that this project aims to change much more.
With experience in data analytics and solving retail related issues, the trio who met while working at Mu Sigma, connected over the need to apply their skills for a larger cause. “We worked for one of the largest retailers and solved retail related issues using analytics. But we always wanted to do more. We just decided to solve a different kind of problem, where we could employ our skills better, and it would make sense to us as well. Something for a good cause. That is why we decided to quit our jobs and start this project.”- says Adarsh Muthana.
But how did they move from the world of retail to the world of pickles? Adarsh shares the interesting background story of how this nondescript village in the Belagavi district of north-west Karnataka and its pickles became the focus of their work. ” Amit’s great-grandfather was a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi. He was with him in Sabarmati Ashram, and he was sent by Gandhiji to help set up a Khadigram in Hudli. Gandhiji wanted villages to be the strength of India, and he wanted to set up industries so that people would stay there and work towards empowering the nation. In August last year, Amit was talking to his grandfather about the village and the Khadigram, when he suggested that Amit should visit the village.”
Amit’s visit to Hudli turned out to be more than just an exploration of the family legacy. He came back to Bangalore and shared his experience with Adarsh and Pranoy. Apart from pickles, he found, the Khadigram also manufactures soaps, incense sticks, khadi and pappads. With good products at hand, the team felt that a lack of awareness among urban consumers and a lack of appropriate marketing channels hampered the growth of these small scale industries. The team decided to bring digital marketing, e-commerce and good logistics to the villagers and chose pickle as the product of interest.
Why pickle? “The pickle factory in the Khadigram employs only women. The other factories have both men and women working on the products. There are about 25 women working on pickles at the moment. Our goal is to provide employment for 100 more women. We chose to focus on women-centric job creation as this would translate to an all-round strengthening of their respective families and the entire village as a result.”
Adarsh goes on to share that from a product point of view also it made sense. “ Pickles have a low inter-purchase cycle. The time between consumption of various bottles of pickles is less when compared to say khadi. As a product, the pickle lends itself to both caterers and individual consumers. Keeping all this in mind, we thought pickles would be the right choice of product for creating a long-term impact.”
While Amit’s visit in August 2016 planted the seed for the project, the team spent the next few months working on the concept, paying multiple visits to the village and setting up the process. The Hudli Project opened its doors to customers in January 2017 with two subscription plans priced at Rs 1440 and Rs 960 for 18 months and 12 months of pickle delivery respectively. The pickles which come in three flavors- mango, lime and mixed vegetables are sold under the brand name “Jawan” after the famous “Jai Jawan Jai Kisan” slogan. The pickles are delivered pan India.
The team also created a video on the Hudli village and the goals of this project. With more than 190K views and close to 2700 shares on Facebook, this video has made people sit up and take notice of a village they never knew existed. Within the first month Shashi Tharoor, Farhan Akhtar and William Dalrymple expressed their support on Twitter for The Hudli Project.
“We got an excellent response for our concept, and many people found the initiative interesting. While people did wish us well, not many went on to subscribe to our plans. When we looked into it, we found that the quantity of pickles and the duration of the plan was excessive for some of the consumers. So we introduced a new plan to address these concerns. We also have a Taster Pack priced at Rs 99. We found that many people who first tried the pickles through the Taster Pack then went on to subscribe to one of our plans. All this has been a learning curve for us as well.”
The Hudli Project is now receiving support not only from individual consumers but also through bulk purchases from commercial kitchens, resorts and grocery stores. Even the villagers have noticed the increased attention and the flow of orders. “ We definitely see a higher conversion rate than what is the norm. People can buy pickles anywhere. They choose to encourage this project because they like the product and they know that support will be extended to an entire village through this simple act. Some of our customers don’t eat pickles, but buy our products and gift them to family and friends.“
Self-funding this initiative, the team channels savings on monthly subscriptions for their marketing plans and logistics. They recently conducted their first corporate outreach program and also displayed Hudli pickles at the Sunday Soul Sante in Bangalore. The combined effort of all these steps, they hope, will help them inch towards their goal of 30,000 customers, which in turn guarantees employment for 125 women in the Khadigram. But they do not intend to stop there.
“While our current goal is to make Hudli self-sufficient, on a long term basis, we hope to create a prototype which can be implemented in other villages making them financially independent.”
Mixing technical know-how with rural authenticity; looks like the team has found a perfect recipe for empowering our villages. As they put it quite simply -“Charities do not end poverty. Salaries do.”
Visit https://www.thehudliproject.com/ for more information.