This IIM grad quit her job to start vegetable dehydration business; empowers farmers

In 2021, Keerthi Priya started Koh Foods with her mother to produce dehydrated vegetables. They source raw materials from marginal farmers in Telangana and sell products all over India and overseas. Koh is set to clock Rs1 crore in revenues this fiscal

Rashmi Pratap
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Keerthi Priya started Koh! Foods in 2021

Keerthi Priya started Koh Foods in 2021

Keerthi Priya was staying alone in Bengaluru when she started working after completing her MBA from the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Calcutta. Since she had little time for cooking but did not want to miss out on the nutrition provided by home-cooked food, her mother Odapalli Vijaya Laxmi would send her dehydrated veggies from Hyderabad. 

“I would add just two dehydrated tomatoes to dal and it would burst with flavours like with fresh ones. That got me interested in vegetable dehydration and I began researching it,” says Keerthi, who completed her Bachelor of Pharmacy from BITS Pilani, Hyderabad, before doing her MBA.

The business of dehydrated vegetables

Dehydrated vegetables are easy to store, available throughout the year and can be turned into a meal quickly. So they are a popular choice among working professionals, young mothers and people staying away from family. 

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The global dehydrated vegetables market was valued at 72.7 billion dollars in 2022 and is expected to reach 159.6 billion dollars by 2033, says a report by research firm Future Market Insights.

“I realised that dehydrated vegetables is a big market. My mother also wanted to explore it further. So in 2018, I bought her a solar dryer. It was a medium-sized setup costing Rs1.5 lakh,” Keerthi tells 30Stades.

Keerthi Priya with her mother Odapalli Vijaya Laxmi. Pic: Koh Foods

Her mother Vijaya started using it for processing vegetables on an order basis. In 2020, when the Covid pandemic hit, Vijaya received a big order to supply dehydrated gooseberry (amla) as people became more health conscious. “At that point, I thought of expanding this work. I realised that solar drying may not be able to take care of contamination,” says Keerthi, who then began researching from two angles -- on the farmers’ side and from the customers’ side.

Solving problems 

She was familiar with the farmers’ pain points regarding wastage. “My father is a head constable in Telangana and also interested in agriculture. My extended family is involved in farming. So I was exposed to consumption as well as production. When I went to the village, I saw how food is cultivated,” she says.

What caught Keerthi’s eye was the wastage of produce when the price was unsustainable. About 18 percent of India's fruit and vegetable production, valued at Rs 13,300 crore, is wasted annually, says a report by Emerson Climate Technologies. 

“This is a big revenue loss to farmers. I thought why not process these products so that farmers don’t lose out on income? With dehydration of vegetables, I could solve the problem and also provide them assured purchase at a predetermined price,” she says.

Koh Foods works with small and marginal farmers in Suryapet, Telangana. Pic: Koh Foods

That led her to set up Nurture Fields Industries, with her mother Vijaya, in 2021. They sell dehydrated vegetables under the koh! brand. “In 2021, I bought an acre of land and we took a loan to start the factory, currently spread over 6000 sq ft,” she says.

“We can process 1 to 2 tonnes of fresh produce per day. Right now, we are processing 400-500 kg daily,” the woman entrepreneur says.

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Healthy and empowering

For the food business, she put up the factory in Thonda village, in the Suryapet district of Telangana to remain close to farmers for procurement. “We source fruits and vegetables from around 20 small and marginal farmers who practice chemical-free cultivation. We guarantee them fixed purchase prices and consistent volumes and pick up the produce from their farms. Farmers make 30 percent profit on investment,” the food entrepreneur says.

“We train the farmers to not use any chemical pesticides and our agronomist visits the fields regularly so that we know the process and produce,” Keerthi adds.

Keerthi’s mother Vijaya looks after day-to-day operations at the factory. Koh’s product range includes dried tomatoes, carrot cubes, curry leaves and green chillies. The vegetables available in powder form are beetroot, carrot, gongura, green chilli, spinach, moringa, and others.  

working women
Women working at Koh Foods factory in Suryapet. Pic: Koh Foods

The products are sold online through the company website and other marketplaces. “We are also present in a few speciality stores and will start shipping to Dubai and the USA soon,” she says, adding that North America is the largest market for dehydrated vegetables. 

“The revenues stood at Rs40 lakh in FY24 and we are targeting to cross Rs1 crore in the current fiscal,” says Keerthi. 

For processing and production, she employs 15 women from Thonda and other nearby villages – Thirumalgiri, Velisala, Kotamarti etc. “They earn between Rs4000 to 8,000 per month and work for 8 hours,” she points out. Saidamma, production lineperson at Koh, says, “Earlier, we worked on farms only when work was available. We now have regular employment and assured income.”

Koh Foods' products on display at an exhibition. Pic: Koh Foods

The production process does not use any chemicals or additives and the products retain around 80 percent of the nutrients. 

“Like for spinach, we use hot water, salt, and lemon to clean it while ensuring that the green colour is not lost. The produce is put in an electrical dehydrator at 60 degrees Celsius s,” Keerthi says.

“One of our biggest customer segments is young mothers and singles living alone who have less time for chopping and cooking. The colours make food from dehydrated vegetables attractive for kids. We are trying to make good food also aspirational in contrast to the perception that good food is boring,” Keerthi adds.

(Rashmi Pratap is a Mumbai-based journalist specialising in business, financial, and socio-economic reporting)

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