For Neha Nialang, a 23-year-old FOSTAC-certified (Food Safety Training and Certification) food supervisor, cooking came naturally, being from Meghalaya. The state has a culture of the entire family cooking together, preparing local meals, making the event and everyday get-together. Cooking for her family since she was 16, Nialang saw that certain foods were in shortage at the markets and decided to try making some jams solely for home consumption. “Making jams seemed to be a necessity at that time because we had bread but neither jam nor butter so that’s just where my jam-making journey started,” she says. It was only a matter of time before her brother suggested she sell her delicious fare online.
Another important observation she made during the lockdown was that a lot of fresh fruit produce was rotting owing to limited shelf life, so much so that even distress selling by the farmers didn’t help. That’s where it ticked. Nialang of turning entrepreneur and offering something tasty to the people while remembering the farmers and ensuring that they do not distress sell.
The young entrepreneur from Jowai – a small town located along the Jaintia Hills in Meghalaya – set up Dalade Foods, with a passion to work with the local rural population and make a positive difference to society while building her venture.
We caught up with Nialang to know more about her venture and its vision.
Up until Nialang started working, her mother – a government employee – was the sole bread-earner for the family who single-handedly raised Nialang and her two siblings). Today, Dalade Foods sells its products offline through retail stores in various parts of North East India, through its website, social media and online marketplaces. Owing to its ‘online-first’ business approach, Dalade has delivered its products in tier I cities like Delhi, Kolkata, and Bengaluru.
Growing up nothing mattered more than studies…
I had my normal school days at St Mary’s Mazzarello School Jowai, where nothing rather than studies mattered to me. Eventually, that changed when I started college, I learned to finally observe the outside world and how things work. Going outside the care of my family made me strong. I completed my BSc in biochemistry during the lockdown and now I’m focused on my venture.
The aim of Dalade Foods is broad…
When I started making jams, I never knew that I could make a difference and help the farmers. The vision of Dalade Foods now is to ensure zero wastage of the farmers’ produce. Dalade is a Khasi term that means ‘by ourselves’.
Some experiences with local farmers during the lockdown moved me…
During the lockdown, the government arranged to open the market one day a week for citizens under strict guidelines. On one such market visit, I happened to see a person snatching and throwing away the basket of a lady in which she had fruits she harvested. This, because she was selling them beyond the time limit set by the government. I heard her weeping, “It’s okay, take the fruits but please give me the basket back because I rented it and I have to give it back.” This incident moved me deeply. What if those fruits were the only source of her income and what if she was in need of the money very desperately? After all, she had rented the basket to just go sell her fruits. Witnessing that I decided that I’ll continue doing what I’ve been doing and source the fruits directly from the farmers for them to have maximum profit with zero wastage.
After a year of setting up, Dalade Foods is growing…
Apart from jams we also deal with different varieties of locally-procured honeys, the world-renowned Lakadong turmeric infused with honey and some delicious chutneys. We are also coming up with new products like cashew butter and honey infused with different spices.
Ours is a women-owned and women-led venture…
…which becomes our USP. Our products are 100 per cent natural with no chemical-based preservatives. Also, since our products are based on value addition of seasonal fruits from Meghalaya, the mere availability of unique seasonal fruits from the region differentiates us from other similar ventures.
Further, in a bid to ensure sustainable and environment-friendly packaging, we use glass jars which can be recycled.
Running a business is never easy; it’s like taking care of a baby.
The manufacturing part of my products didn’t give me a hard time but apart from manufacturing, everything was still new for me. I joined Project Her&Now – an initiative to empower women entrepreneurs – where I learned everything about entrepreneurship and growing a business. It has been a big support to me during my journey. Project Her&Now is implemented by GIZ, on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), and in partnership with the Indian Government's Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE). In the North East Region, the project is running in partnership with ‘Dhriiti–The Courage Within’. Being a first-generation entrepreneur was a big challenge and a big step to take but now everything is coming into shape and I’m glad I took the chance.
Mentorship made a huge difference…
My mentor Aditya Pant who leads Catalyst for Women Entrepreneurship (CWE) operations and new initiatives, also a co-founder of Himalayan Farmers Collective, cleared all my doubts. He pointed out where I erred and guided me in correcting my mistakes. I had the security that if I had a doubt, I could always bring it up with him.
I want Dalade to be a global venture taking small steps at a time…
There’s a lot still needed to be done, and we are working on it!
My two bits for budding entrepreneurs…
There’s a lot I can say from my mistakes and what I’ve learned from them
- Set a process and trust it; this is the first thing that anyone should follow. Success doesn’t come overnight; it’s not a piece of cake. It requires a lot of time, effort and energy, but it’ll always be worth it.
- Don’t be scared. Many are scared to take the chance, thinking, “what if it doesn’t work out?” If it fails, stop mourning over it and get back up and start again. Take the leap of faith, if it works, congratulations, and if it doesn’t, please try again.
- Age is just a number. It’s not an indicator of potential, performance, skill or anything else. You’re never too young to set a goal and neither too old to set another one.
I like to indulge in my hobbies when I have some time…I sing to get away from the stress, and also create digital artworks. I’ve always been into arts and crafts, so I keep practicing.
All images courtesy: Neha Nialang.
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