“Find your ikigai! We are all unique, and you must find congruence in who you are, your beliefs, values and your true calling. When these factors align, the world will reward you with opportunities”. – Sanjay Sethi’s advice for those young individuals who are just starting to do something independently.
Sanjay Sethi is the Executive Director of the Plant Based Foods Industry Association (PBFIA). The goal and purpose of PBFIA are to meet the protein requirements of India by building a sustainable and reliable system for plant-based food businesses. They want to create and support such initiatives with proper infrastructure, guidance, and expertise from food scientists and other professionals. This association is to ensure health, sustainability, and prosperity for food businesses and farmers in the coming years.
In this interview with Business Upside, Sanjay Sethi describes his directorial journey with the Plant Based Foods Industry Association (PBFIA). Moreover, he also talks about other aspects such as business concept, mission, current business model, marketing strategies, lessons learned, challenges faced, recruitments and satisfying moments, etc.
Edited Excerpts from the Interview
Business Upside [BU]: What shaped your experience, and how did you get your idea or concept for the business?
Sanjay Sethi [SS]: Work has taken me around the globe, and those experiences have taught me well. My career path spans over three decades, along which I have set up winning integrated supply chains in Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, South Asia, and India. I have led cross-functional teams and rolled out large supply chains, sustainable food production, irrigation, and agri-infrastructure projects. In India, there were several sporadic efforts to build the plant-based sector. The industry also faced a few pushbacks from competing industries in the process. Slowly, the plant-based industry began coming together. I have invested in the agricultural potential of India through my educational and professional journey. The exposure while working in various geographies and parts of the food value chain provided valuable insights that I itched to bring to India. The idea was born out of the need to meet nutritional needs and improve health and sustainability in India.
[BU]: What was your mission at the outset?
[SS]: The Indian diet is carb-heavy, which means our protein intake is drastically low. However, our country has an immense geographical and agricultural capacity to produce plant-based protein. The goal of the Plant Based Foods Industry Association (PBFIA) is to meet the protein requirements of India by creating a reliable system for plant-based food businesses. The association will help build and support such initiatives with expert support, infrastructure, and guidance from food scientists. PBFIA is an initiative that will usher in the next era of health, sustainability, and prosperity for farmers and plant-based food businesses.
[BU]: How do you market your business, and which method has been most successful?
[SS]: Most plant-based businesses are nascent, but the fraternity and support are immense. Our biggest channel for marketing has been word of mouth through our satisfied customers, friends, and support system. Information channels dedicated to the plant-based foods sector have always shown their support of our work. PBFIA finds relevance amongst budding businesses trying to set foot in an industry that is yet to equip itself with investments, infrastructure, and policy backing. Given the work we put in to meet these needs, our support system for the cause keeps growing!
[BU]: What is unique about your business?
[SS]: At PBFIA, every step we take is towards our goal of supporting the plant-based foods industry. Through collaborating with the Government of India, investors and scientists benefit all the stakeholders involved. PBFIA is bringing together young entrepreneurs and scientists at the 1st Plant Based Foods Summit on 26th May 2022 in New Delhi. It aims to work on the agenda of showcasing the opportunities for India in the plant-based foods industry and position to improve the quality standards for brand building.
PBFIA, a CEO led association along with its members, recently had an in-depth conversation about the potential of the rapidly-growing plant-based foods industry with Shri Prahlad Singh Patel, Minister of Food Processing Industries of India, which led to the planning of 1st ‘The Plant Based Foods Summit’ in collaboration with MoFPI& APEDA. Along with GFI as partners, PBFIA will help plan and host the summit.
The year 2023 will be the International Year of Millets, for which we are fastening our belts as we believe that millets are the indigenous source of plant protein. Indian entrepreneurs use peas, soybean, and millet to create world-class plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy. This point was discussed during PBFIA’s recent stakeholder consultation virtual meet. These young entrepreneurs also discussed their pain points in terms of the supply chain, quality, sourcing, consumer awareness, and technology demands which were carefully listened to and included in our upcoming report titled “Dawn of the Plant-Based Age: India to lead the way to world food security and nutrition” to be launched during the 1st Plant-Based Foods Summit. We are working relentlessly to bring the spotlight where it rightfully should be on the plant-based foods industry.
[BU]: What have been some of the essential lessons that influenced your work?
[SS]: The food and agricultural sector is crucial to the health and future of the country. Yet, there are many lessons to learn and goals to achieve on this front. PBFIA dedicates its efforts to finding sustainable solutions.
On my internal journey, I am still a work in progress. I have realised that our strengths, beliefs, and convictions can become our weaknesses when we do not express them with empathy, patience, and flexibility. While working with individuals every day, I learn that I must meet them in their capacity. It doesn’t matter if we start by taking small steps. If we’re in the right direction, it will all add up!
[BU]: What do you look for in an employee?
[SS]: We have been lucky and grateful for the people who join us, who are firm believers who throw their backs into the cause. It is intensive research-led work that takes time, effort and a drive to build a humane future. Integrity, dedication, and belief are high on the list.
People join us from all walks of life. They are all unique in their ways and beliefs but unite for the cause. We are everyday people doing great work.
[BU]: If you had one piece of advice for someone just starting, what would it be?
[SS]: Find your ikigai! We are all unique, and you must find congruence in who you are, your beliefs, values, and your true calling. When these factors align, the world will reward you with opportunities.
[BU]: What were the roadblocks or challenges you had when you first started in the profession, and how did you overcome them?
[SS]: I had so much that I wanted to achieve as a professional in the food and agricultural space in India, and it made me restless. I soon realised that success needs discipline and focused action. I have been fortunate to be surrounded by the blessing of good Samaritans on this journey, people who have actively helped me get here. I learned to work from the heart and mind. It led me to work with African farmers, which was such a mutually rewarding experience.
I experienced a unique sustainability leadership course with a batch of 45 sustainable managers offered by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development in partnership with Yale University. Business school had put me on a different journey. I had spent so much time trying to achieve food security through chemical pesticides and fertilisers. This experience led me to believe in the importance of regenerative methods of growing food.
In India, the initial challenge was the affordability of sustainable products. Upon my return, the growing consumer base for sustainable products caught my attention. Indian customers were willing to pay the extra buck, go that extra, and make conscious choices. I believed I could contribute to these developments, especially when backed by a generation of entrepreneurs who wanted to drive change. I am happy for the acceptance I have received from the industry, and their trust in my experience and expertise keeps me going.
[BU]: What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
[SS]: The most satisfying and encouraging moments, by far, are the ones I spend not just with the team. It includes the people who volunteer and enthusiastically dedicate a piece of their lives to the cause, which might not be rewarding at every moment. And food entrepreneurs who have pep in their gait, a spring in their shoes, and are raring to go. The zeal they bring with them is so contagious. I am not getting any younger, but they keep their belief strong and hold steady to their true calling. And, as cliché as this may sound, it has to be the smiles! The smile on the face of an entrepreneur who then brings a smile to the customer. PBFIA is here to help create and grow this ripple of plant-based foods.
[BU]: How did you plan to provide better results during a crisis?
[SS]: This answer is simple yet hard to achieve- it is good planning. We make decisions as a team, and when things do not work out, we experience setbacks together. I value our friends, partners, and the people who have given us their unwavering support on this journey. I do get vulnerable around them, which creates an environment of mutual respect and learning. The team groups together often, and every person involved is allowed to voice a concern to the rest, which helps us work through crises faster with everyone onboard.
[BU]: What is the next goal you wish to accomplish?
[SS]: We hope to keep growing the network of PBFIA startups and form a robust task force. We aim to create a mutually beneficial environment where every stakeholder in the plant-based foods industry can engage in healthy competition and collaboration. We are always going to be stronger together.
- Company URL: https://pbfia.org/
- My designation: Executive Director at Plant Based Foods Industry Association (PBFIA).