Representative photo: ja ma/Unsplash.
Chennai: A startup called Lean Green – which aims to sell ready-to-cook frozen vegetables in India’s National Capital Region (NCR) – is being led by women in an effort to make India’s currently lopsided farm-to-fork chain a more level playing field. But equally importantly, the startup’s impending birth also points to the under-utilisation of the potential of frozen foods in India to improve access to good nutrition.
Founders Priya Kumar and Aditi Rathore have assigned all key roles in their enterprise to women, and in all, 70% of their employees are women. In addition, Lean Green also pays its farmer-suppliers double the market price, at a time when farmers have been protesting to have the government maintain a minimum sale price. It plans to sell chopped okra, cauliflower, broccoli, garlic, corn and peas grown by around a dozen women farmers near Bagru, Rajasthan. The vegetables are sourced, quality-tested, then chopped, peeled, graded, blanched, frozen, packaged and transported, and later stocked in cold-storage facilities in Delhi.
Kumar and Rathore say they had the idea to launch Lean Green when they saw millennial households in urban India struggle to prepare home-cooked meals during the pandemic, with neither domestic workers nor food-delivery companies for help. And according to them, a market survey they conducted found that 95% of those responsible for preparing cooked meals in households were women.
“Ready-to-cook vegetables are convenient and suited to the new age, busy lifestyle as they save the drudgery of peeling and chopping. They are healthy, hygienically sourced, last for 12-18 months” – a longevity that they hope can help curb waste – “and have to just be stored in the freezer,” Kumar told The Wire. “Unlike traditional bulk freezing methods, [the one we use] involves quick freezing of individual pieces of the product that helps retain nutrition, taste and texture.”
Rathore, who hails from Jaipur, said that the biggest takeaway from their groundwork was that women had a fleeting presence in the frozen-food business.
“The men to women ratio is skewed in both established and small vendor companies. We decided it wasn’t enough that we venture into this industry – that a sustainable and more impactful move to challenge gender dynamics would be to encourage women employment especially in those profiles where they are likely to be underpaid,” Rathore said.
Rathore’s reading was that men and women farmers could perform equally well if the latter had access to the same tools, resources and skills. And as it happens, Rathore and Kumar experienced some of the discrimination firsthand themselves, when they had to deal with the industry’s more important members who mostly belonged to “family-backed male domains”. She said they had trouble convincing stakeholders at factories as well as farmers, and were often…