Dalade Foods started in 2020 during the Covid 19 lockdown period. It is basically a venture where we add value to local products based in Meghalaya. We have a workforce which consists of 80 per cent women. Currently our line of products is clear forest honey, infused honey with turmeric and ginger. We also have orange and pineapple jams, cashew butter and tamarind chutney.
Entrepreneur Neha Nailing, started Dalade Foods in 2020 during the lockdown with a vision to ensure zero wastage of farmers' produce. The young entrepreneur from Jowai-Meghalaya set up her venture with a passion to work with the local rural population and make a positive difference to the society she lived in. Her enterprise, Dalade Foods, aims at encouraging traditional farming of seasonal produce, and promotes sustainability of local farmers by procuring the best crops from the farmers while also ensuring that their harvest is processed . Today, Dalade foods sells its products online through its website, social media and online market places and offline selling through retail stores in Shillong, Meghalaya. Dalade Foods has delivered its products in various parts of India, and is soon planning to go global. We caught up with Nailang to know more about her venture and its vision. Excerpts from an interview.
How would you like to introduce yourself to our readers?
I am Neha Nailang from Meghalaya and I am the founder of Dalade Foods.
Where were you born and brought up?
I was born and brought up in Jowai, Meghalaya.
Who are the members of your family?
I have a mother, who is working at BSNL office, Shillong. I have an elder sister, who is a housewife and is engaged in the bakery business. I also have a brother.
Give us a glimpse into your educational background?
I completed my high school from KJP Higher Secondary School in Jowai. I acquired a degree in Biochemistry from St Edmunds College in Shillong. I have also done a few trainings in entrepreneurship and business from Her & Now.
Please introduce Dalade Foods to our readers. What exactly is Dalade Foods?
Dalade Foods started in 2020 during the Covid 19 lockdown period. It is basically a venture where we add value to local products based in Meghalaya. We have a workforce which consists of 80 per cent women. Currently our line of products is clear forest honey, infused honey with turmeric and ginger. We also have orange and pineapple jams, cashew butter and tamarind chutney. Recently we have launched a bamboo leaf beverage.
What was the inspiration behind Dalade Foods and when did you start it?
During the lockdown, life came to a standstill. The shops were closed and we would open only for one day a week or for two or three hours in a day. Because of these strict restrictions, there was less resources for us. That was when I decided to make jams at home for our consumption. My mother and our other family members really liked the jam. That was when the idea struck me, why not make a business out of it. And also, the vision of Dalade Food is to ensure zero wastage of the farmers' produce. So, we are taking this along with us as the main motivation. We get all our materials from the farmers, and are running a business after processing the raw materials into other products. Through Dalade Foods we are also helping others to get a taste of Meghalaya. So, that is basically the idea of Dalade Foods.
Were you mentored by someone to start your business?
Suman Mukhopadhyay Sir and Subir Singha Sir from IIM Kolkata, under Prime Hub, Meghalaya taught me the nitty gritties of how to run an enterprise. When I was starting my business, I had a lot of difficulties, as I had no idea about what entrepreneurship meant. The first problem I faced was procuring the raw materials, as well as balancing the price of the products. I had many sessions with my mentors, who taught me a lot. Initially, when I started there were times when I got one thing solved, and another problem would arise. This continued for some time. Their mentorship helped me overcome all my difficulties.
How many employees or team members did you start Dalade Foods with? What is the present status of employees?
When I started Dalade Foods, there were only two members. But now I am very happy as we have a solid workforce of 7 people in team. They consist of all women who are homemakers. We also have few members who are still pursuing their higher studies.
Do you have any other franchise of Dalade Foods or is it based only in Meghalaya.
Right now, it is just based only in Meghalaya. But we planning to open more franchise.
Where are your customers mostly from?
Right now, we are focusing mostly on the online sale to get more exposure. We have customers all over India. We have also reached a few potential clients from Dubai as well. So, we are looking forward to make it happen and go global.
What is the production figures of Dalade Foods? How do you sell your products. Is it focussing only on digital marketing? What has been the response so far?
Currently we have a small processing unit. Most of our products are hand-made. We make them in small batches. The honey products are made in bulk. Our products are available online and in the retail shops in Shillong, Meghalaya. Locally, the response has been very good. I have also got very good feedback for the jams and even for the cashew butter. People from Meghalaya, who reside outside the state, also love my products. They tell me that it reminds them of their home.
Are there any other competitive ventures like yours in Meghalaya?
There are many competitors. Kissan Jams has a strong market presence, and is my biggest competitor. But, as far as locally produced jams are concerned, I have not seen much competition. As for cashew and honey, I hardly have any competition. They are basically all from Meghalaya. Whatever competition is there has helped me to improve my products. When I see something selling better than my products I start focusing on making my products better. It is like, if they can do it then I can do better. And, actually I am friends with my competitors. I know what they are making and they know what I am making. Although we are competitors, we compete in a healthy way. We are learn from each other.
What is the manufacturing process of Dalade Foods?
We have a processing unit. We basically procure the raw materials directly from the farmers. We have a processing team, which makes the products in small batches. As for honey, we can produce around 10 kgs per day. That way it ensures that the farmers get the price for their produce.
How do you procure the raw materials from the farmers? Do you have any kind of arrangements with the suppliers?
We procure the raw materials directly from trusted local farmers. We also have a written agreement with them. To procure the raw materials for the products like cashew and cashew butter, we have a middleman. As for the fruits, we have middle-men too. As for the honey we get that also directly from the farmers.
What are the challenges you faced in your journey?
The journey was not easy, it was very challenging. When I started I had only two members in my team. We had very less manpower. Hiring suitable employees was a challenge, because I did not know whether they would be able to do the work properly. The cash flow and financial management was also a challenge. But I got these sorted out with the help of mentors. Being a women entrepreneur is very challenging.
Were your peers supportive of your business idea?
They were all very supportive. At times they do lose hope, but they have seen me standing tall and not giving up. So, they also have not given up on me.
How did you come to join the startup incubation programme? Have you been provided any assistance from government schemes?
I was first incubated in Her & Now – which is an initiative to empower women entrepreneurs. That was where I learned everything about entrepreneurship. Since Biochemistry was my subject in College and entrepreneurship was something very new for me. I did not have any idea about entrepreneurship and how it worked. I got to know everything from Her & Now. Then I got incubated by Prime,- in 2021. There are many schemes from the government that were very suitable for me. There is a scheme where to you can buy your machineries at a subsidy of 35 per cent from the government. Prime provided many grants for my business.
From MSDE, there are many schemes which are very suitable for me. I also applied for these and got help from them which helped me to expand my business.
Tell us of any awards and recognitions you've received?
I was selected as the top 25 startups of Meghalaya by Prime Meghalaya in 2021. Our product, ginger infused honey, was selected as the top 10 finalised products in SIAL India Exhibition in Delhi in 2020. I have also taken part in many exhibitions like the North East Food Show where I got a lot exposure. I also take part in exhibitions which are organised locally. We also arrange our own exhibitions.
What is the thing you enjoy the most about being an entrepreneur. If not an entrepreneur, what would you have been?
There are so many wonderful things about being an entrepreneur. You can surround yourself with people who share your vision and work on them together. You get to nurture new talent. You also get the best out of your team members, and also from yourself. You get to meet likeminded people. Getting to know more about your clients and customers is really interesting. If not an entrepreneur, maybe I would have just pursued higher education in Biochemistry, become a biochemist and would have been working in a lab. That was my plan at the start. But I switched to entrepreneurship
What do you like to do in your free time. What are your hobbies?
I like crafting stuff. I inherited this from my father. I really like making things. I also like singing in my free time.
What are your future plans for Dalade Foods?
I am really looking forward to growth, growth and growth. As I have already mentioned we have got a few clients from Dubai, so I see an opening there. We are working hard on that.
We are planning for Dalade to go global very soon. We are also working to create a strong online presence. It will help us to achieve our goals. We are also in the process of making a new product and hoping to launch it soon.
What are your plans for your personal life?
Personally, I have always done what I liked. My first goal is to have a balanced life. I would also love to focus on my physical health. I also want to ensure my financial stability and explore the fields that I am working in more.
Would you like to give any advice or suggestion to other women in the entrepreneurship domain
I would definitely say, when you are starting a new venture, you should have a proper business model. Once you have it, you are really set. And you also need to have a good network, so surround yourself with good people who can add value to your start up. Do not depend much on others. Depend and trust yourself. And lastly, take risks and trust the process. Success will not come overnight, it will require a lot of effort and energy, but it will always be worth it.