Two years ago, when Dalgona coffee took the internet by storm, there was another trend brewing offline. With the pandemic and lockdowns forcing people to stay indoors, pickling almost became a national pastime for mothers and grandmothers. The best part was that a handful of enterprising homemakers decided to go commercial with their bottles of homemade magic.
Take the case of septuagenarian Ashpinder Kaur Marwah. With very little to do during the first Covid wave, the Delhi-resident made mango pickles by the kilo. Her son recorded her work and uploaded it on social media which led to a surge of orders from friends and relatives. Word spread quickly and her pickles found a loyal following in her locality. The homemaker reinvented herself as an entrepreneur in her seventies and now makes pickles in small batches which are retailed in kirana stores in her neighbourhood.
Women like Marwah prove it’s never too late to start anything, and she is not the only one. There are homemakers who started their pickle business in the pandemic and went on to appear on Shark Tank.
Kalpana Jha, who hails from the Mithilanchal region of Bihar, loves churning out mouth-watering pickles and sharing them with loved ones. She had a dream of starting a pickle brand, but her husband's transferrable job as a civil servant left little time to plan for a long-term business. In 2020, when her husband retired and the couple settled in their hometown of Laheriaserai in Bihar, Jha made her long-held dream come true. “I approached my sister-in-law Uma, who lives in Darbhanga, and we launched our pickle brand JhaJi in 2021. Our online store offers 12 types of homemade pickles, including mango, chilli, lemon, gooseberry and seasonal vegetables such as cauliflower, garlic, ginger, among others,” says the 52-year-old. Last year, the duo appeared on Shark Tank, and although they didn’t raise funds on the reality show, they were ‘overwhelmed by orders’.
Being on a reality show provides the rare opportunity for publicity for a new brand. A tried-and-tested approach to create a buzz is a smart marketing strategy like the one adopted by two Hyderabad sisters who sent food hampers to the superstars of Telegu cinema. Sisters Usha Penmetsa (61) and Datla Seeta Rajeshwari (62) launched a food brand named Baanali in 2021. It has delicious homemade podis (powdered condiments made of herbs, spices and grains), pickles and snacks. “We reached out to the cast and crew of the film Baahubali with a hamper of our products and now the likes of actor Prabhas, director SS Rajamouli, filmmaker Raghavendra Rao and his daughter Madhu are fans of our podis and pickles,” the duo says. Some of their well-known products are uluva podi, karyapaku podi, velliulli karam podi, and non-veg pickles like mutton and prawn.
Some talented homemakers need a little push to expand their business. Anita Gupta was encouraged by her daughter Mihika Daruka to establish a brand and take her pickle business online just before the first lockdown. Before the pandemic, Anita would have pop-ups showcasing her pickles in her family’s restaurant in Nainital. In February 2020, the duo launched Maa’s, a small-scale pickle business, and started to ship pan India via their website.
Pickling as a food practice has been carried forward largely due to home makers. Preserving a vegetable or fruit in oil and spices, letting it mature in the sun and waiting for the process of lacto-fermentation to work its magic and prise out the appetising flavours requires time and patience. Homemakers have perfected the craft of pickling. Entrepreneurs who got into the pickling business in the pandemic knew that they could do with some help from homemakers proficient in this craft.
Ramneet Mann, from Jhanjeri village in Mohali, turned into a small-time entrepreneur in the pandemic and employed two homemakers who needed a steady income. The 52-year-old is famous among her family and friends for her lip-puckering achaars. Mann took baby steps towards commercial pickling in the pandemic, when the popularity of home chefs exploded with people craving for the variety and trust offered by home-run businesses. Her husband owns a dairy business, and she enlisted the help of a delivery man from his dairy. She began to expand with the help of the homemakers, and now retails close to 150 bottles a month from her husband's dairy Mann Health Point in Mohali.
In 2020, two MBA graduates, Hafez Rahman and Akshay Raveendran, quit their jobs to start a pickle venture named Athey Nallatha, which translates to that’s good in Malayalam. Today, their brand empowers over 30 middle-aged homemakers in Kerala who prepare pickles on a small scale. Rahman struck upon this idea in the pandemic while speaking to his mother. She asked him to start something that would generate income for others. “Pickles are a must-have in Kerala homes. The taste improves manifold when prepared with love by mothers,” says Rahman, a Kochi native. The company makes five pickle varieties with quirky names such as Chemeen Connection which is a mix of prawn and papaya, Indo-Arab Connection containing lime and dates and Le Meilleur Beef that is a mix of beef and carrots, among others.
Alisa Ashraf, a homemaker, who has been with Athey Nallatha since its inception, takes pride in her work. She says, “I feel proud to be part of this venture that has sustained many homemakers like me." Delhi-based Marwah, who is earning for the first time in her life, would agree.
Where to buy
JhaJi: @jhajistore, Instagram
Baanali: To order, call on 9063727848
Maa’s: Buy on maaspickles.com
Athey Nallatha: Buy on atheynallatha.com
Ashpinder Kaur Marwah: @pickles_by_pimmy_marwah, Instagram