Bala Sarda on Indian wellness, made in India

In a turmeric-drenched, yoga-filled world, one could imagine that the Indian wellness secrets that have permeated the mainstream would be shared with the world by Indian brands themselves. When Bala Sarda realized that the answer to this was, indeed, No, the Delhi native set out to change the playing field. The absence of an Indian wellness brand with authentic Indian provenance was all the motivation Sarda needed to launch Vadham teas.

“It was the West that began to adopt our herbs, yoga and Ayurveda, all originating from India. And I realized that there was no Indian brand that would bring this to the world. And it was very surprising,” says the founder.

Launched in 2015, Sarda, then 23, started Vadham outside of his family business structure; a business that has been immersed in the tea industry for almost a century. He, being the eldest son and the fourth generation in line to take over the companies, was expected to carry on the bloodline, but instead decided to break out on his own.

“To be very honest, growing up the industry seemed very dull and commoditized from the outside. It wasn’t sexy, it wasn’t something I honestly wanted to do,” explains Sarda. “But I always had the entrepreneurial bug and realized that I needed to step back and build something valuable and scalable, that I can do for the next ten years or more. I decided to go to Darjeeling where we have a small family home and spent a few months researching ideas and it was in Darjeeling that it really hit me.”

What Sarda means when he talks about what hit him is that while India produces almost 30% of the world’s tea and 80% of the world’s turmeric, there was not a single Indian brand of either of these products that achieved permeate the global market.

“India is this land of magical ingredients; we have been using turmeric for 5000 years; however, London sells more Darjeeling tea and Starbucks sells more Chai than any other Indian brand,” laughs Sarda. “And that’s where I decided that, ‘Okay, wow, I’m going to take that challenge and hopefully change that. I need to get into this industry.’”

Confidence was the biggest problem in the Sarda effort. He didn’t trust his sources or his vision, it was the trust that Western and global consumers had towards Indian products of which there was little or none. So regardless of his family, Sarda, through storytelling, authenticity and transparency, set out to build a global Indian wellness brand made in India by Indians.

It started with the supply chain. Sarda first and foremost cut out the middlemen, including the auction houses where brands traditionally buy tea. Instead, it sources its raw material directly from farmers, ranches and cooperatives, almost 200 of them. Then came the process and the technology. Because for consumers to trust the brand, they had to know that what they were buying was simply a better product than the competition. Sarda spent 4 years setting up the systems that influenced the quality of their product, such as processing, cleaning, manufacturing, and packaging. It was imperative to use the highest quality technology in all of these areas so that the end product in a consumer’s cup would be the freshest, most flavorful tea on the market.

“We are now one of the best factories in the world in this category, we are a BRC certified Grade A facility,” says Sarda proudly. Furthermore, by cutting out the middleman and going directly to the farmers, Sarda achieved two things. First, he added to the transparency of the brand in terms of quality assurance. Second, he proudly positioned the brand as Indian. After all, Darjeeling tea is so fine and rare that it is the only tea in the world with a geographical indication similar to Champagne from France or Parmesan from Italy. This helped create the authenticity factor but more importantly created value for the local Indian farmers.

“Of course, all of Vadham’s products are organic, natural and ethically sourced because organic and natural is a default,” he says. “However, high potency is the word I will use for our products, because high potency spices are exponentially more beneficial to wellness.”

The formula worked. So good that Vadham was named to Oprah’s famous list of favorite things twice, celebrities from Martha Stewart to Mariah Carey are fans, and the teas have won more than 30 awards around the world, including the World Tea Championships and Great Taste Awards. As for Sarda’s entrepreneurship, her work has earned her a place on the Forbes 30 Under 30 (Asia) list.

Meanwhile, Sarda never lost sight of the central principle of Vadham. He has been able to successfully streamline the best practices, insights and wisdom of the Indian wellness philosophy and streamline it into a unified narrative that originates directly from India. Today Vadham teas, which is a fond nod to Sarda’s father, whose name is spelled backwards (Mahdav), are sold everywhere from Walmart to Bergdorf Goodman, and from Erewhon Market to Amazon.

“We take the best of everything and bring it to the world,” explains Sarda. “It’s honestly a super set of even Ayurveda. Ayurveda, yoga, teas, everything we’re talking about are basically subsets, so we don’t do a range of Ayurveda per se, but what we do is, being from this country [India] With the experience and lineage we have, we inherently understand what is good. And we work with doctors, experts and tasters in the development of our product and I still spend 30-40% of my time developing and testing the product.”

These findings inform the end product, like getting the right turmeric to create blends with higher potency and absorption, or ensuring your green tea is healthier by including only longer-leaved tea leaves that have higher amounts of antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins. .

“To be honest, it feels amazing,” says Sarda when asked about Vadham’s success. “More than recognition, I think the fact that we can bring India to the world and bring the best of Indian welfare to the world is moving to be able to make life better by doing something that is good for farmers, good for consumers and enjoyable. for our teams. Everything lines up when you see something like this. So yeah, it feels amazing.”

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