The income of Indian salt farmers is absurdly low, argues TU Delft alumnus Nick van der Velde. “They earn € 120–€ 180 per year for producing tons of salt. They need to work hard for that.” Since last August, he has been living in Ahmedabad, India, and selling salt in a modern way with his company Chakri Originals.
Nick van der Velde was studying strategic product design at the Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering when he went to India with three fellow students in 2010. A non-governmental organisation (NGO) had asked the students to help in the development of a metal windmill to replace the unsafe and inefficient bamboo windmills. They were happy to do so, and there are now fifty of them in India.
At € 900, however, the metal windmills are expensive for the farmers, and the price of salt is low. Buyers take away a mountain of salt weighing 10 000 kilo for just € 30–€ 40.
The students discovered that packaged salt sells for 150 times more. They created a streamlined packaging design, targeted towards the rising Indian middle class. This, combined with natural and fair-trade certifications, would help farmers increase their income, or so the students expected.
They had a lorry full of salt washed and packaged in a trendy, reclosable bag. Together with the farmers, they sold these bags at a food expo for consumers. They were sold out within three days. After this success, the students had to return to Delft. Nevertheless, the salt farmers remained on Van der Velde’s mind. In 2012 he founded Chakri Originals in 2012 and, having graduated, in August 2013 he left for India to develop his company, with assistance from the incubator Enviu. He ordered a new packaging design, hired two employees, opened his company to Indian interns and started work in earnest. The salt of Chakri Originals is now being sold on a trial basis in 20 stores; after this expansion is planned into Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi and the Netherlands. This will require the sale of thousands to hundreds of thousands of bags and salt grinders. Van der Velde is still looking for investors.
In the meantime, he is also focusing on pepper sales. Other herbs, spices, coffee, tea and sugar should follow in the future. All will be natural and fair trade, and all will be aimed at improving the income of the farmers. If everything goes according to plan, Chakri Originals will be “the established name in organic and fair trade products in India” within five years.
His company is currently operating at a loss. According to Van der Velde, however, the goal is not to turn a high profit within five years. First he hopes to increase the income of the farmers to three to five times what they earn now. At the same time, he would like to continue to improve his products. “For as long as necessary,” he will remain in India, a country that is not at all similar to the Netherlands in terms of enterprise. “Bureaucracy, corruption and an unstructured environment make the work a challenge. I am enjoying myself – I’m not the type to get homesick.”
Name: Nick van der Velde
Study: Strategic product design (IO)
Company: Chakri Originals
Established in: 2012
Mission: Increase the income of Indian farmers
In 5 years: The established name in organic and fair trade products in India