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Halman apricots from Ladakh

When apricots arrive from heaven in an SUV

Civil Society Trends. Gurugram

Published: Oct. 15, 2020
Updated: Oct. 15, 2020

They are small, juicy, sweet, bright orange in colour and very nutritious. The kind of goodness that is packed into Halman apricots is such that you couldn’t possibly ask for more. They truly seem to be made in heaven.

As the lockdown eased in Delhi and Gurugram and everyone struggled to breathe a little easier, Halman apricots seemed to make life a lot more tolerable — a welcome and much-needed bright spot.

They turned up as though from nowhere, finding special mention on the Salad Days’ website and in its alerts to customers. At Rs 90 a box you just bought them and then went back for more and more. Really it is that easy to become a Halman apricot junkie.

Once properly hooked you also went in for some apricot and orange jam — a perfect combination in small bottles with stylized labels and, most important of all, more fruit and less sugar. 

Angels drove 450 kg of apricots in a Bolero down from Ladakh. It was a mission fuelled by the passion of fruit-growers who couldn’t bear to see livelihoods and such wonderful produce destroyed by restrictions on travel.

Salad Days was the perfect collaborator. A small but feisty food business that specializes in salads, juices and sandwiches, it has the kind of client base that would put the Halman apricot on a pedestal and worship it.

In no time the apricots in the first lot were all sold and more were needed, which now arrived as cargo on Air-India. In a few weeks, Salad Days ended up selling 2,000 kg of Halman apricots — they went to homes, bulk buyers and gift boxes.

When the lockdown happened, Salad Days found its business decimated. Deliveries were not allowed to begin with and when they were, customers weren’t sure if it was safe to order in. It faced the fate of all food businesses at the time.

“Our sales of salads and sandwiches were down to barely 20 percent of what we normally used to do,” recalls Varun Madan, the spirited founder and CEO. At the same time, expenses remained because he hadn’t sacked people and salaries were cut by just 10 percent. Staff camped in his office so that they didn’t have to travel. But there was no revenue to speak of while establishment costs had to be met.

Now Madan is not the average entrepreneur. He is a biker who has journeyed to remote corners of the country and a rock musician as well. He and his buddy, Kunal Gangwani, built Salad Days with much heart. These days it is only Madan because Gangwani moved on to something else in Europe or wherever.

Salad Days, however, remains the kind of outfit it was meant to be — slow to grow, committed to quality and always staying clear of  beaten paths. So, when Madan got calls during the lockdown from farmers he knew who couldn’t sell their vegetables he just bought them and offered them to Salad Days customers who wanted fresh vegetables home delivered.

Madan is into growing vegetables and fruits himself. Even before the Halman apricots arrived, he had a big strawberry rescue effort on his hands. The strawberry variety he grows was ready for picking and distribution just as the lockdown came.

He ended up losing a lot of his crop but not before he had put up a spirited effort to get them to market. An SOS went out to his Salad Days regular customers and then, of course, there was that lovely little bottle of strawberry jam that you could buy to brighten your breakfast.

The pandemic has been without its silver lining. Survival has meant learning some new tricks and improving on old ones. If we weren’t Halman apricot worshippers, we are now.  And we also know where to go looking for high quality strawberries in March. As Madan learns from the experience, he has begun casting his net far and wide. Pineapples and Burma Grapes are on their way from Manipur. They would have arrived — except for the truck driver testing positive for COVID! 

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