From using recyclable and reusable packaging to sourcing local ingredients, here’s how food brands, both large and small, are making their businesses sustainable.

Gobble Cake (L), Mason & Co (R)/ InstagramInstagram/ Gobble Cake, Mason & Co
Features FOOD Tuesday, January 25, 2022 - 11:51

When home baker Niyyaati Pramoad started her Bengaluru-based cloud-bakery Gobble Cake in 2014, using sustainable practices was never part of the plan. Like most home bakers, she used single-use plastic containers, with colourful stickers, to send out her freshly baked cupcakes and bomboloni to customers. However, once she realised the impact this plastic would have on the environment, she started exploring sustainable alternatives that were available in the market and switched over in 2020. Whether it is using eco-friendly packaging or sourcing local ingredients, various food brands, both large and small, are incorporating sustainable practices in their business models.

From home bakers like Gobble Cake and Hyderabad-based Started With A Cookie, to health food brand The Huda Bar and more established food brands, building businesses along sustainable lines and using eco-friendly alternatives at every step possible is the common thread that runs through them all.

Vocal for local

Small-scale food brands are making it a point to source fresh and in some cases, organic ingredients or produce, from local vendors. “Wherever possible, I source my ingredients from businesses that follow sustainable practices. I get cocoa powder and coconut sugar from Indian Natives and organic spices from LAW India (looms & weaves) which is a woman-owned social enterprise. I also get fresh organic produce from Urban Kisaan and Gourmet Garden for my recipes,” says Harini Challapally of Started with a Cookie, which specialises in gluten-free desserts.

Niyyaati of Gobble Cake points out that turning to sustainable practices could be a difficult process for smaller brands like hers but she says that finding alternative, cost-effective options like buying ingredients in bulk is a good way to start. Speaking on similar lines, Pratibha Panth, co-founder of Bengaluru-based The Huda Bar, which specialises in organic granola bars and nut butters, says, “We work with indigenous communities, cooperatives and vendors to promote locally sourced, organic food. There have been times when adding no preservatives or chemicals has made the process of parceling the product difficult for us, but we will have to look at the bigger picture and find ways to contribute towards a sustainable future.” 

Started with a Cookie's Diwali box. Source: Instagram

Eco-friendly packaging

As a first step towards making a food brand sustainable, many small businesses start off by making their packaging eco-friendly. Started With A Cookie, which is a little over a year old, has been using plastic-free products from the get-go. “I use windowless paper boxes and brown paper bags, both sourced locally from DePack Wrap. For bigger orders I use customised cloth bags sourced from Rewheel Eco Solutions, another local small business. Even my logo stickers from Blue Cat Paper are made with tree-free paper with a water-based adhesive,” says Harini. 

Niyyaati, who switched over to brown boxes to deliver her cakes, notes that the plastic packaging that is used by many brands is easily replaceable. She adds, “I was not using any logo nor printing the brand name on the boxes, since graphic logos are mostly printed on plastic packaging material. Customers love how the packaging is minimalistic and simple.” 

The Huda Bar, not only uses biodegradable packaging for its products but also offers customers the option of returning the glass bottles and some of its containers for recycling. Pratibha Panth says that consumers can do their bit by finding food brands that don’t use single-use plastic and reuse or repurpose biodegradable containers. “Reusing glass bottles and containers for storage is a common practice in Indian households,” she adds. 

The Huda Bar's products. Source: Instagram

Amplifying the message via social media

Many of the food brands say that social media has been instrumental in promoting the message of sustainability and popularising their businesses. “I am not exaggerating when I say that 95% of clients discovered my business through Instagram. Every vendor or brand we want to extend our support to or gain more information about, is literally one DM away,” says Niyyaati.

Creators using social media, especially Instagram, put out a range of content to make sustainability fashionable. From a simple do-it-yourself video to reels about sustainable packaging; these trends have gone viral online. This has in turn opened new avenues for food brands to market their products better.

“Everyone is learning about sustainability. Consumers are eager to know about the people working behind-the-scenes, meet our network of small-scale vendors and farmers from different parts of the country, as well as understand the ethos of the brand. And social media has helped us do just that,” says Pratibha.

Customised cupcakes by Gobble Cake. Source: Instagram

How big brands are promoting sustainability

Tamil Nadu-based organic chocolate maker Mason & Co aims to support farmers. “We source our beans from ethically and organic certified farmers and co-ops in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka,” says Mansi Reddy, director of marketing at Mason & Co. The brand specialises in chocolate bars in unique flavours and cacao products like cacao powder, drinking chocolate and cacao nibs.

Araku Coffee, which sells coffee produced by farmers from tribal communities in Andhra Pradesh’s Araku Valley, also has a cafe in Bengaluru with an extensive menu that includes everything from gluten-free cookies and vegan waffles to roast chicken with vegemite and scotch eggs. All the dishes are made from scratch and use seasonal produce. “We ensure that our processes generate as little waste as possible – from our composting practices at the coffee plantations to the ingredients we use as part of our menu. A prime example is our Cascara bonbon. Cascara, the skin of coffee cherries, is typically discarded during coffee production. Except, our coffee cherries in Araku, Andhra Pradesh, are very sweet. As a result, we decided to add them to our menu in the form of bonbons that we serve with coffee,” says Manoj Kumar, co-founder of Araku Coffee.

The company started by selling in global specialty coffee auctions before it opened an outlet in Paris and subsequently in Bengaluru, India. Manoj tells TNM, “Our coffee is grown with bio-dynamic methods, in small plots and is cultivated and picked by hand. Our approach to regenerative agriculture improves the overall soil health.”

Manoj also adds that the team has gone to great lengths to ensure that even the furniture and decor used in the cafe is in line with their ethos. “Our chandeliers designed by Sandeep Sangaru are made of bamboo. The shelves and railings are made of recycled metal, our vents are made of recycled paper and we don't use single-use plastic in the kitchen,” he says. Araku Coffee’s takeaway cups and coffee pouches are biodegradable and do not have a plastic coating.

Meanwhile, Mason & Co, which produces waste in the form of organic cacao bean shells, supply it to local farms to be used in compost and mulch.

Mason & Co's chocolate bar. Source: Instagram

Araku Coffee. Source: Instagram

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