Iniya Organics – Flavouring Curries with Natural Nutrition

Sudha with her husband Kumar and kids

A gritty tale of how a failing student from a penurious background found a toehold in the business world, delivering health benefits of local, indigenous greens in convenient powder packs.

Here’s a heartwarming story of a food-related startup, Iniya Organics, inspired by a kindergarten experience! When Vengarai Periyasamy Sudha joined as a teacher to work at Namma Veedu Kulandai Maiyam in Coimbatore, little did she think her strife-ridden life would take a new turn. The school’s approach to teaching included helping students follow a healthy lifestyle by rejecting junk food and embracing wholesome home-cooked meals. This appealed to Sudha too. Having her hands full, caring for two toddlers while managing home and work, she came upon a convenient method to introduce nutrition into the meals she prepared for her family. That caught on and soon she, along with her husband, were running a full fledged business in packaged organic masala powders.

Sudha with her husband Kumar and kids
Sudha with her husband Kumar and kids

Struggling with academics

Sudha hails from a very humble, daily-wage earning family living in Kolakattupudur, a little known village near Vengarai Town in Namakkal District, Tamil Nadu. Her father climbs coconut trees to pick fruit and her mother used to help harvest sugarcane in the fields. They were part of an agrarian ecosystem and it’s natural that Sudha wanted to study Agriculture. But fate had other plans. She was not good at academics and failed her fifth, sixth and seventh grades! Supported by her mother who felt that at least one educated person in the family could pull the others up, she persisted in school. There was a transformation in eighth grade which she cleared.

Rice Mixes
Rice Mixes

Making it through

Her path forward was not easy as she had to manage physically taxing household chores, attend school and find time to complete schoolwork and study. Through sheer hard work and the support of well-wishers who seemed to present themselves at the right moments, she completed her schooling and then graduated in Botany from Kandasamy Kandar College in Paramathivelu. Only when she wanted to apply for Agriculture did she come to know that a degree in Botany did not meet the eligibility criteria. Undaunted, Sudha was keen to continue studying. She chose to finish a Bachelor’s in Education (B.Ed) that would help her get a job as a teacher. Convincing her mother to part with half the dowry money she had saved for her wedding to pay her fees, she joined college again and completed her next degree

A variety of Idli Podis
A variety of Idli Podis

Support from well-wishers

Even as she pursued her education she kept trying to clear her Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission (TNPSC) exams. “I kept giving those exams whenever I could, but never got through. Because I just didn’t understand the rules or the method to clear them. I tried at least 25 times!” she laughs at her own naiveté. But she is grateful for all the people who helped her get through out her journey. “Fortunately, when I joined a new school in my 9th standard a new principal, Ponkai Sankaravadivel sir, took charge. Since we girls were all from villages we were not exposed to English language and this was a huge problem. I just couldn’t follow English at all! Our principal was a great support. He gave us pointers on how to answer question papers. Till then if I didn’t know an answer I’d leave out the entire question. But he insisted we attempt to write all answers, whether we knew the answer or not. Then tips like underlining, writing neatly, finishing with conclusions and learning something as simple as a differentiation between genders, were really useful for us. Even if we got one mark per page because of this, we could pass. And that’s what we did!” she shares.

Motivating awards
Motivating awards

Finally a teacher

Another person who tried to help her was her neighbour who was also a good friend. He fixed an interview at a school he was a partner in. But Sudha couldn’t make it, as the night before the interview her mom fell very sick. Though Sudha had finished her B.ED she was finding it tough to land a job. She was married off to Kumar and they moved to Chennai. Unable to make ends meet caring for two little kids they shifted to Coimbatore, nearer their home town. That’s when Sudha joined as a kindergarten teacher. The school’s insistence of teaching the value of wholesome nutrition in food made her focus more on her children’s diet. To manage time better she started drying and grinding together wholesome produce like coriander, mint and moringa leaves with protein-rich dals. She’d add spoonful of these to curries, served them with idlis or mixed them with rice. 

For nonvegetarians too
For nonvegetarians too

Blending local superfoods

South Indians are known for their love of curry powders and very soon these convenient ground recipes became popular in her neighbourhood. Though she started sharing them for free, soon friends wanted to pay to get a regular supply from her. Sudha included powders made from indigenous greens with powerful healing properties such as Thooduvali, Manathakkali and Modakathan in addition to Moringa to her range. Lentils and pepper or red chillies added taste to these masalas. Her mother’s recipe of Sambar and Rasam powders became bestsellers. With the increase in clientele, her husband stepped in to help with the business. They registered their company as Iniya Organics in 2021.

New age masalas
New age masalas

All in it together

As Iniya Organics grew, they’ve made a conscious effort to move towards organic produce. Since the region they’re based in has plenty of organic certified farms they source their raw material from there. Under Iniya Organics they supply to 25 stores across cities and towns in Tamil Nadu including Chennai, Tiruppur, Erode, Cuddalore, Nagercoil and Puducherry. Apart from these retail outlets they also deliver to over 500 homes. While Sudha handles the manufacturing process with the help of two other women where necessary, Kumar manages the packing and distribution. In addition to the staples they have recently added soup powders. “Just take a spoonful and add it to hot water. Mix and enjoy the healthy soup after a few minutes!” explains Sudha.

Sudha with Award for upcoming entrepreneurs
Sudha with Award for upcoming entrepreneurs

Promotions to help with profits

“We’ve grown so far without any promotion. We have a site from which one can order but apart from that our network has been created by word of mouth. Through the PMEGP (Prime Minister’s Employment Generation Programme), we’ve availed a loan of Rs.2 lakh using which we’ve bought a roaster and solar dryer box. These ensure the leaves maintain their colour and nutrition while they are dehydrated. We have the capacity to produce more now. We now need help to spread awareness of our products so we can take this homegrown business to the next level!”  appeals Sudha. 

Nutrition of local greens
Nutrition of local greens

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