Safe food startup changing consumers' food habits

Salwa Rafi | Thursday, 12 September 2019

Consumption of safe and healthy food is imperative for a comfortable and healthy life. However, Bangladesh's situation in this regard has been alarming with food contamination and adulteration being serious public health concerns and lack of mass awareness concerning food safety and hygiene. Different studies have revealed the presence of high levels of antibiotics in poultry farm, artificial food colours, preservatives and pesticides in food over determined limits. To protect ourselves from food-borne diseases and combat health hazards from unsafe food, awareness about food consumption and a shift in our buying perception is crucial.
Hygiene and safety of food needs to be ensured on every sphere of the food supply chain. With that in mind, in 2015, three entrepreneurs -- Habibul Mustafa Arman, Tauhidul Islam and Abu Shahed from University of Dhaka founded KhaasFood, an e-commerce company based in Dhaka. KhaasFood aims at removing consumers' exposure to food hazards and transform consumers food habits into a safe, healthy and organic one through an end-to-end organic food supply chain. Salwa Rafi interviewed co-founder Habibul Mustafa Arman to learn more about their startup.
Question (Q): How did the journey of KhaasFood start?
Answer (A): It all started years back when I was a student. My friend and co-founder of KhaasFood lost a year of his student life suffering from different food-borne diseases due to his unhealthy food habits. My another friend lost his father to cancer, one of the root causes of which was his food habit. Food adulteration was a common phenomenon back then. We wanted to solve this problem. With a view to creating a nation where everyone possesses a healthy mind and healthy body, we started the journey of KhaasFood through social media platforms. With our service, we plan on shifting consumers focus to organic farming and organic food.
Q: Bangladesh has a well-diversified food market. What makes KhaasFood unique from existing traditional businesses?
A: We want to ensure food safety from farmers' and consumers' end. To do that, we preplan the food products we want to supply from an initial stage. We only sell food products that have health benefits.
Q: Organic food consumption starts with organic farming. How do you ensure food safety from a production level?
A: From farming level, we ensure to produce foods free from chemical, adulteration and pesticides. The way in which we motivate farmers to produce safe food is through a rigorous process. At the very first stage of production, we consult with agricultural experts regarding production of a selected product. Agricultural consultants prepare manuals and recipes for production of that product. Under their supervision, our producers and farmers develop food following the experts' guidelines. At the second stage, products have to meet our standards. We have developed lab-tested measurements and standards for our food products. With help from our food technologists and food quality assurance team, we check whether the product meets our standard. Only after our standards are met, we supply food products to our consumers.
Q: How is consumer behaviour when it comes to buying food?
A: While some people are cautious of the food they are consuming, a large number of buyers have contorted metrics for pure food. Consumption of unsafe yet attractive looking food is normalised to the extent where people are more attracted to dyed food, pungent smell as opposed to quality food. Identifying quality food has become a major challenge for consumers. Besides, maintaining quality is costly. Consumers propensity for buying cheap food products, however, is high.
Q: People are not always aware of the food they consume. How are you bringing about changes in the consumers' food habits?
A: Buying perception of consumers is a key thing we are trying to improve. Metrics for pure food needs to be significantly changed for the better. Instead of being reliant on attractive processed and dyed food, people need to be able to identify quality food products. To establish that, we are constantly engaging in social media campaigns as well as offline campaigns to educate people about healthy, safe and organic foods, healthy food habits, legitimate metrics for identifying pure food and the importance of resorting to organic foods. Our loyal and supportive customer base is also helping us in that regard.
Q: What initiatives are you taking to accelerate your growth rate in the market?
A: Currently, we are trying to enlarge our product line to incorporate everything customers demand. Also, we are investing in research to provide quality food at a lower cost and we are taking on projects to achieve hundred per cent organic food status. To be a hundred per cent organic food supplier is a long process for which promotion of organic farming is a precondition. We are working on growth in that aspect. We are trying out different production procedures to determine the most efficient way of production. Besides, we now have physical stores for more and better reach. Our customer care department constantly takes feedbacks of customers into account for improvement and further betterment.
Q: What specific campaigns have you undertaken to increase your reach?
A: In 2017, we generated a successful campaign with our digital marketing agency GEEKY Social. We created a two phase Facebook campaign that ramped up our sales by 45 per cent. Our campaign case study was featured on Facebook's global platform -Facebook Business as a success story.
To grow as a healthy nation, more organic food focused businesses need to be promoted. Shift in people's buying perception will eventually shift their food consumption habits. Investors need to come forward to aid startups that care about consumer health and invest in campaigns that promote food safety.

The interviewer Salwa Rafi is currently studying Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) at BRAC University. She can be reached at salwarafi85@gmail.com