In Conversation with Arjun Gadkari


Co-Founder & President, Nilgai Foods Pvt. Ltd.

Tell us about your health and fitness journey?

Arjun: I have actively participated in team sports and individual races from an early age. During my school and university, my main competitive sports were swimming, basketball and athletics. At Oxford, I competed at the university level in Modern Pentathlon, which involves 5 disciplines – swimming, running, fencing, shooting and show jumping (on horseback). I also took part in several half-triathlons. It is only after moving to Mumbai that I started road running as a discipline in itself – this year I completed the SCMM half marathon for the 6th time.

How do you start your morning?

Arjun: My wife and I have adopted a stray dog in Mumbai and this keeps us on our toes with morning and evening walks without fail for at least 45 minutes. Owning a dog is a fantastic way to create a disciplined routine, as a dog’s routine functions like a clock. My morning starts with a 45-min brisk dog walk followed by a session at the gym. Nutrition is the buzz word in my attitude to health because while I have always been enthusiastic about fitness and physical activity, it is so easy to eat the wrong things and take in the wrong kind of calories across the day, especially if you work in an office.

My morning, therefore, is focused around eating right because I know that I will do enough activity anyway. I usually structure it like this:

  1. A fruit, nuts and 1 Cocofly prior to the brisk walk
  2. High protein as soon as I get back from the gym – normally eggs or sardines on toast
  3. I have a multi-vitamin each morning to avoid missing out on some of the key nutrients

By the time, I get through this I know that I am ready for the day ahead of me.

Where does your motivation come from?

Arjun: I am a strong believer in the “healthy body, healthy mind” philosophy. My ambition and drive in my business requires me to be disciplined and structured around my physical health. For me, it flows from the physical outwards – your body is the building block on which everything else – mental agility, emotional stability, spiritual tranquility – can stand strong. And so my motivation starts from the end goal and works backwards. I want to be a happy person and I am ambitious about my career and the future of my business. That is how I motivate myself to stay fit and respect my body.

What’s one thing everyone should do for their wellness routine?

Arjun: The last few years of research and involvement in the Cocofly brand has given me a whole new respect for hydration. Water and electrolytes are the key to so many of our problems – it is like the oil in an engine that keeps everything else running smoothly. I have found that being fully hydrated at all times doesn’t just help you physically, but mentally as well. There is a sizeable amount of research out there, but I have also seen the impact on my own concentration and state of mind. Hydration can never be underestimated.

What’s your perspective on educating society on healthy nutrition habits?

Arjun: In today’s world, health and fitness risks falling into a very superficial bucket. While trim abs and toned muscle are great to have, that is not the only purpose of being healthy. Society needs to understand the deeper benefits of healthy living and the impact on their longevity, not just in terms of life expectancy but also in terms of quality of life too. When habits need to change, individuals need to see the relevance in their own lives in order to engage emotionally with the benefits of changing their habits. Today in India, not enough people relate to the significance of healthy living in their own context. That is why the message needs to get out there from as early age as possible because you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

Why did Nilgai foods step into the beverage segment with packaged coconut water?

Arjun: At Nilgai Foods, our mission is to build F&B brands for the 21st century India. Our hypothesis is that Indian consumers are ready for engaging with the broader international community, but a lack of choice and access limits the consumer’s ability to engage with international trends.

After following the global coconut water industry closely for several years, it felt like too good an opportunity to miss out on. Coconut water was coming to India, it was only a matter of who would take the first step. Coconut water over the last 14 years has grown from a non-existent product category in the west to one of the fastest growing FMCG stories in recent history.

We are looking at a global habit change on an unprecedented level here, driven by technological improvements in preserving coconut water as well as a massive international trend towards healthy living. Coconut water ticks that box in a big way, giving consumers one of nature’s most perfectly balanced isotonic drinks that rehydrate the body better than almost anything. It was only a matter of time before packaged coconut water became a runaway success.

The ironic part of the global coconut water story so far is that India has been sitting on the 3rd largest global supply of coconuts, but so far doesn’t even contribute 1% to the global demand. There is a huge opportunity in India for both the existing domestic demand for coconut water as a refreshing drink as well as supplying into the massive global industry.

On the completion of our R&D, we are really pleased to be one of the first movers in this nascent industry.

Public Health England has asked food businesses to voluntarily cut the amount of sugar they use in their products by 5% this year and 20% over the next three years. Will this help in lowering sugar consumption? What are your thoughts?

Arjun: I think it is a fantastic initiative and I also think it is the right way to go about the problem. The mainstream public still makes purchase choices driven by their engagement level with the brand and the amount of visibility the brand has in their lives.

You will find that by and large decisions are based on the popularity of a product rather than the health benefits or nutritional details. It, therefore, comes down to the integrity and willingness of the major food brands to remove the ‘bad stuff’ from what they are giving to their customers. But the reality is that decisions will always be basis commercial first and humanitarian second. Sugar is in most food for a reason – it is cheap and addictive. It is a very difficult ingredient to reduce unless there is a broader program that these brands need to adhere to.

What is your advice to the young corporate professionals today about maintaining a healthy lifestyle?

Arjun: The 3 fundamentals of physical health are exercise, nutrition and sleep. These are difficult to control as a young working professional. For me, the one that you can control the most is decisions around what you are eating. Be disciplined about what you eat at breakfast because across the rest of the day you tend to have less control over your food choices. A healthy breakfast can at least set you up correctly for the day ahead.



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