How a spoiled picnic pickle gave birth to Oddy Uniwraps. Find out
Atul Garg, the face of paper industry talks about the challenges that he faced while creating a new eco-friendly product and how he wants to grow his business ethically and principally
Neil Banerjee March 8, 2023
MORE IN SME Icons
In 2012, Atul Garg was out on a picnic with his family. They were carrying home-cooked food with them. Atul noticed that the pickle that they were carrying wrapped in aluminium foil had turned blackish. It left him wondering ‘why did the colour of the pickle change?’
Atul searched on Google and to his dismay found that aluminium was a health hazard; it starts leaching when it comes in contact with food.
Atul says, “My initial goal was to discover the best packaging material for my own personal use, something that is food-safe and healthy for Indian food.” Surprisingly, there were no such alternative readily available, and at that very moment, Atul sensed a massive opportunity. And this gave birth to the idea of Oddy Uniwraps, India’s first food- safe wrapping paper.
“We first identified the properties of such an ideal packaging material, which were – food-safe, chemical-free, inert, keeps the moisture of the food intact, keeps food fresh for considerably long hours, non-stick, grease-proof, its user should be able to reheat the packed food without removing the packaging in the microwave/oven/OTG/tawa, should not tear even when wet, and should be environment-friendly,” Atul explains.
It was quite frustrating for Atul and his team when even after more than two years of R&D and after testing food grade papers sourced from paper mills across the globe, none of the papers ticked the checkboxes for all these properties.
That’s when Atul decided to set up a processing unit which added the missing properties to the closest base paper.
“We also went an extra step to design a unique packaging material that keeps the wrapping paper untouched by human hands during the production process. Users can pull and cut the desired length with the inbuilt blade while the remaining material remains safely inside the box. It is also rolled without any cardboard core, resulting in compact & light packing that lowers transportation costs,” he says.
Finally, Oddy Uniwraps Food Wrapping Paper took shape. It was the first-of-its-kind Indian food specialty paper that made packing food healthy, hygienic, and hassle-free while being compostable in just 90 days in a landfill.
“We then launched it in the market and made meticulous product improvements based on the feedback that we got from extensive direct consumer interactions at stores, societies, and schools,” Atul reminisces.
Atul comes from extremely humble beginnings. His father had started a wholesale stationery business in Chandni Chowk, Delhi, which soon became a successful venture. Atul has witnessed the nuances and intricacies of traditional business from up-close.
“I used to love listening to the strategy discussions and the sales pitches and dreamt of growing the business to a multi-million empire since I was a young kid. Finally, I joined the family business when I was still in college,” Atul says.
And from there, the real journey of this second-generation entrepreneur began.
Atul had always nursed the dream of creating something of his own — his own brand. He had been observing the flurry of business activities at his father’s shop and that served as an inspiration for him.
“When I finally joined my family business, my first step was to do backward integration and develop the in-house manufacturing of certain hand-picked products under our own brand. Hence, I founded the brand ODDY which is an acronym for ‘ON DEMAND’ – as my vision was to one day create a range of high-quality useful products that are the real need of the market and not limit ourselves to just manufacturing stationery products,” Atul tells us.
“Today, Oddy is a 100+ Cr brand with products ranging from office stationery to kitchen items. If you look around in your home or office, I’m sure you’ll find a product with the ‘Oddy’ logo on it,” he adds.
True. The Oddy logo seems to be slowly becoming an omnipresent symbol in our lives.
But establishing Oddy was not a cakewalk for Atul. He had to surmount some tough challenges at the beginning.
“One of the toughest parts of the journey was that stationery products are inherently commoditised and generic. There is cut-throat competition for every other product. We initially struggled to grab a foothold in the market but eventually customers started appreciating the high quality, accurate quantity, timely supply, and the overall honest business practices that Oddy brought to the table. We were steadily able to carve a niche for our brand and stand out from the competition,” Atul says.
There were two other major challenges that his team faced when they were trying to create and launch Uniwraps in the market.
Atul explains, “First, when developing the product with all the unique characteristics that we desired was extremely tough. There was no paper mill in the world that offered the exact properties. Eventually, we had to apply our ‘jugaad’ brain to create the perfect product. Second, when we were ready with our product, we were not able to readily place our product at retail shops, e-commerce marketplaces, and modern trade chains. The reason was that we had not just created a new product, but an entirely new product category. Again, our consistency paid-off, and we were eventually able to place our product at various points of sale. A major help during that was the huge demand that users created for our products.”
Key to success
Atul learnt very early from his father that “even if you become very successful, never stop learning new things”. Even though Atul developed a strong expertise in paper and paper products, he made sure that he learnt more. He visited and participated in trade fairs and met other experts from the industry.
“A by-product of this keen learning attitude is that you get very good at observing your surroundings and sensing opportunities. Uniwraps is a perfect example of this ‘observing and sensing’ quality,” he says.
And Atul strongly believes that the success and growth of a company depends on the “ethics and values” on which it is founded.
“The uncompromising honesty in quality, quantity, and business practices has been a common theme in all of the ventures that I’ve ever been a part of. This has helped us to get a loyal customer base which has a strong brand preference for Oddy and Oddy Uniwraps, because they are sure that they can trust us,” Atul underlines.
The road ahead
Atul and his team’s future plans are to make Uniwraps and its family of products an integral and indispensable part of every Indian household.
“My responsibilities are towards the environment also. My future plans are aligned with our prime minister’s vision of reducing global carbon emissions by 1 billion tons by 2030. We aim to contribute towards this goal with a reduction in our carbon emissions by 50,000 tons by 2030. This would automatically be achieved once we reach 25 lakh urban households with our product,” Atul says.
Despite this being the digital age, the Indian paper industry is experiencing a lot of growth! It is because of the increasing literacy levels and the expansion of offices, services, and products to the rural market, which was previously untapped. Also, India imports a majority of its wood pulp and paper.
Atul points out, “Finding and promoting innovative and efficient manufacturing processes that can make paper from faster regenerating sources like bamboo or even agricultural waste is a promising idea.”
Innovative specialty paper like Uniwraps could do wonders. It offers a great opportunity, Atul says. And his vision is reflected in his words.