Dealing in authentic and organic produce from the Valley, Kashmir Rare might be less than a year old, but it’s already making a big impression in the world of Indian gourmet brands.
As difficult as the pandemic has been, with lockdowns, shutdowns, restrictions abounding, it has also served as a time for new enterprise. The period of inactivity goaded many to chase after long-nurtured dreams and more importantly, find suitable means of income while the most obvious routes remained blocked off. Even as businesses and livelihoods across the world were devastated by dreaded disease, there were some who turned crisis into opportunity.
Homegrown entities, in this scenario, became a beacon of hope for local economies and communities. Kashmir Rare, started in 2020 in the thick of the first wave, is the brainchild of Manjot Chawla and the brand’s story is one of homegrown success.
“My husband is from the Valley. I have always heard him say, no matter where we are in the world, when eating produce that is also found in Kashmir, that it isn’t anything like back home. Over my years spent in Kashmir, I have found this to ring true. There’s something about the air, the soil that imparts this unique quality to the produce. I had already been helping friends who wanted produce from the Valley, to source it from the right suppliers. I have extended family there and my husband, having worked in the crafts sector in the valley for nearly two decades, has a very strong network. So, there was this germ of an idea about taking things to the next level. When the lockdown happened, it actually gave me the time and opportunity to give the whole thing structure and start off the brand formally,” says Manjot.
Manjot’s goal was to present the most authentic natural produce from the Kashmir Valley to the world and to start off, she had four main products. “We have a lot of extended family in the Valley who have farms and grow their own produce. So, we reached out to them and started sourcing these products. There was saffron, which I believe is the best in the world. Then there was almonds and walnuts, Kashmir being the largest grower of these in the country. And it’s all certified organic. We also got in touch with growers in Ladakh to source dried apricots. So, these were the four best products that we have sold across the last year.”
But she didn’t just leave it at that. To add to the product basket as well as cater to seasonal demands, Manjot added a couple more things to the list come winter. “We did chocolate bark with almonds and walnuts, which fold really well. It was quite well received. Then there was a batch of dried vegetables, which actually has deep ties with the history of Kashmir. In the winters, it gets bitterly cold and back in the day, before there was the option of moving goods by air, once the roads were blocked, there was no way to access anything.
“I have heard stories from my mother-in-law about how it would be difficult to get even basic things such as rice. During these times, it was dried vegetables that saw them through. The process of drying these vegetables is done entirely at home by local women. We had a small batch of sundried tomato, aubergine, bottle gourd and morel mushroom.”
Manjot diversified further, using some of the main products to make entirely new offerings. “The chocolate bark worked well for the nuts, while with the dried apricots, we do an apricot jam on pre-orders or as part of a hamper. We also do an apricot sharbat.”
Other offerings in the pipeline are honey and oils, which are being worked on right now.
When it comes to sourcing, although many of the suppliers are well known to Manjot, before the brand was launched they conducted multiple trials of all the different kinds of produce Kashmir Rare was going to put on offer. “It’s a matter of taste after all. And it’s been great. We’ve gotten some great responses from our customers, which goes to show all the rigorous tasting has paid off.” Manjot is also in process of getting certified for organic produce, and most of the suppliers she works with already have the certification in place.
Of course, organic farming naturally moves the conversation towards sustainability. Kashmir Rare uses mostly biodegradable materials for packaging, while in terms of engagement with local communities, it has set in motion, a healthy cycle of sorts. “We work with several families who grow their own produce. Many of them also involve people in their immediate circles. So, in a way, it goes to impact a large cross section of people.”
The processing and packaging facilities are currently based out of Jaipur. A small team does everything, from quality checks to packaging manually, with no machines used. Even when it comes to making products such as the chocolate bark, it’s made by Manjot herself at home.
And while the main point of sale is Instagram, Kashmir Rare is also tied up with You Care Lifestyle by Luke Coutinho. There are conversations on with a couple of other websites in different parts of the country, while at the home base of Jaipur, a few standalone shops stock Kashmir Rare products.
But the big news is an upcoming website, which, Manjot feels will really open up the brand to customers. “Not everyone is on Instagram. While we have done rather well on the platform, there are still many more folks who would be able to reach out once we have the website in place. Aside from the technical aspects, we’re expanding our product bouquet so there’s that much more on offer for the customer when they do log onto the website.”
So, less than a year old and already making a mark, Kashmir Rare is a great example of how a homegrown brand can not just relate to the world the story of a place but also make an impact on local economies and communities. And for consumers looking for authentic produce, it’s a win-win situation.
All images courtesy Kashmir Rare