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This enterprising couple aims to bring healthier lifestyle changes in people by promoting organic food

Anger is palpable in Anne Sajeev’s voice when she talks about cancer deaths among children and how much pesticide-laden and adulterated foods available in the market are responsible for it. “We are killing our own children,” she says.

Any mother would feel jolted at the prospect of their children consuming an inordinate amount of pesticides that come with food but it’s just a handful of people like Anne who would go that extra mile to do something to make a difference, however minuscule it maybe.

A medical microbiologist by training who has worked with the Ministry of Health in the UAE, Anne volunteered at the paediatric division of the RCC in Thiruvananthapuram for a brief period.

It was during this period that she became aware of the health effect adulterated food has on little children.

I kept thinking how to stop this (cancer in kids) from happening. Food is the number one cause of it. We needed to start there.

How the idea was born

A retail outlet for organic produce, Aroma Fresh was conceived thus in the year 2014. Simultaneously, they also started developing farms in places like Gundlupet in Karnataka and some parts of Kerala to grow organic vegetables to bring to their stores.

 

Anne, however, admits that Aroma Fresh is not a money spinner. “We had opened three branches in Bangalore, all of which had to be shut down soon since we couldn’t sustain it. The stores in Kerala (one in Kochi other than the one in TVM) are not profitable but it’s fine.

The idea is to bring about lifestyle and habitual changes in people. Choosing fresh organic produce over cheaper, pesticide-laden ones should come naturally to us.

Aroma Fresh is the third venture of Anne and Sajeev, an enterprising couple who has a successful construction company in Dubai that goes by the name Aroma Group of Companies that started its operations in 1996.

If you’re wondering Aroma wasn’t a strange name for a construction company, we asked her. Anne says she had always harboured this dream of starting a hospitality business. She had even listed names for her future venture and Aroma was one of it. The couple didn’t waste time looking for a name as this one resonated with their idea of how their business should take shape, whether it was construction or hospitality.

organic food

About the company

Headquartered in Dubai, with a turnover of Rs 800 crore, Aroma Group of Companies started with the idea of becoming builders with the highest quality of delivery and commitment; timely delivery being the motto and the USP of the company.

The couple was also certain from the start that they would do ethical business. They still manage to stick to their conviction primarily through taking good care of their employees. As a recognition to their commitment to employee welfare, the company was awarded Dubai’s prestigious honour, Taqdeer Award, in 2016.  

 

A different approach in the journey

A little over a decade later, Anne’s longest dream of starting a hospitality venture was realised with Fragrant Nature Hotels & Resorts in Kollam— their primary endeavor in the hospitality industry in 2009.

The couple, who have always emphasized on doing ethical business, have stuck to their identity with responsible tourism as the mantra. Anne says that they are committed to growing their own organic food to be served at their properties and conservation of nature.

They are also mindful of employing local hands in their properties, thereby generating employment and livelihood for the locals.

Apart from employing locals at our properties, we design interactive programmes with them for our guests like cooking and eating with local families or catching fish with the local fishermen or a visit to the cashew nut farmers.

Fragrant Nature properties are experiential resorts and hotels that have five-star rated properties at Fort Kochi and Munnar and an upcoming one in Mararikkulam. The company is also mindful of conserving water and treating the waste. They have desisted from money-spinning water sports at their waterfront properties, focusing instead on boating and bird watching as entertainment for guests. This has played a vital part in conserving the mangroves and islands on the water bodies.

 

The keenness on ‘making a difference’

Ardent movie lovers, Anne and Sajeev have produced a Malayalam movie under the banner Fragrant Nature Film Creations and are driven to make more meaningful movies.

organic food

The latest from their stables is East India Street Cafe that was launched recently in Kochi. Anne promises that they plan to open branches in Thiruvananthapuram and Bangalore as well very soon. The couple is also planning to venture into the IT sector by 2020.

Also in the offering is a boutique selling authentic cotton garments using natural colouring agents and traditional printing.

In the Middle East where they have established themselves, construction and contracting is a $1.2 trillion industry which is only growing. Still, with the quality of construction, on-time delivery and customer satisfaction as their strength, the Aroma group has been able to surge ahead in their business.

 

With unique experiences to offer, responsible tourism, and customer satisfaction as their strong points, they haven’t had to regret any of the business decisions that they have made so far. But the path to success continues to be replete with challenges.

Fighting against the market and trends had put us down in markets like Bangalore for Aroma Fresh. We are still trying to explore and develop new destinations like Kollam, Kappil through tourism which is in return bringing job opportunities and revenue to these markets.

Having an unshakable faith in the MSME sector as one of the key drivers for India’s transition from an agrarian to an industrialized economy, the Sajeevs are planning to start an angel fund to promote startups and MSMEs with a strong focus on opportunities for women entrepreneurship.

 

On asking, what is the advice to people who want to set up their business in the same sector? “Get creative. Identify a plan. Stick to it with passion and determination. Always remember about giving back to society as well.”

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