“I don’t see activism and entrepreneurship as contrary,” declares Abhay Rangan, founder of one of India’s leading plant-based milk companies. The success of Rangan’s business lends credence to his steadfast belief that “what is good from an ethical standpoint is often what is good for [business] too.”
In 2018, Rangan founded Goodmylk, a company that aims to make vegan milk alternatives—and veganism overall—more readily accessible to people throughout India. Rangan was an animal rights activist before becoming an entrepreneur. He first perceived the need for dairy milk alternatives when, during his activist work, many Indians told him that they would consider veganism if vegan versions of their favorite animal products were easier to find. India has long been a primarily vegetarian nation, but dairy-free diets are relatively uncommon. Hindus, who account for almost 80 percent of India’s total population, widely eschew meat, but the holistic healing system called Ayurveda that many Hindus follow posits that dairy products like ghee and dahi are integral parts of a balanced and healthy diet. In founding and growing Goodmylk, Rangan seeks to displace animal dairy as the country’s most culturally prevalent milk option.
“You need your products to be as ubiquitous as they can be,” says Rangan, adding that “scale and access” are “crucial aspects” of growing vegan culture. Rangan is from the city of Bangalore, a tech hub often called “India’s Silicon Valley.” Compared with the rest of the country, this hip and progressive city has more readily-available vegan options at eateries and corner stores, much like the vegan-friendly cities of London and Berlin. Making vegan choices just as accessible, visible, and convenient throughout India as they are in Bangalore, Rangan believes, would encourage many more people to transition to veganism. One of Goodmylk’s main goals is to support the continued growth of veganism in India while providing products for the tens of thousands of Indians whom Rangan says have already made the switch.
Goodmylk seeks to produce plant-based milks that are as affordable as they are accessible. In India, a vegan diet is currently widely associated with the need to purchase expensive and fancy products. In a nation where the average income is less than $150 per month, cows’ milk is often delivered daily in “milk packets” at the doorsteps of middle-income households; this animal milk costs around 40 rupees (50 cents) per liter. Almond milk can only be purchased in stores, typically for some 300 rupees (almost $4) per liter. Goodmylk’s oat and cashew milks cost just 120 rupees (around $1.60) per liter—a price that Rangan aims to lower even further. “[W]ith affordable vegan alternatives present, it will become a lot easier to help people go vegan,” states Rangan. “I don’t want my vegan alternatives [just] selling in a handful of high-end grocery stores.” Rangan points out that while plant-based diets don’t necessarily require dairy alternatives, increasing their affordability helps make the transition to veganism easier and more likely for many people.
According to Rangan, Indian consumers perceive that plant-based dairy alternatives, in addition to being more costly and less available than animal dairy, are also functionally more limited. “Adults [in India] don’t want to simply drink a glass of milk. They use it in their teas and coffees and cakes; here is where vegan products in India need to improve,” says Rangan, referring to the common belief that such uses of vegan milk fail to achieve the desired creaminess or texture. Goodmylk heavily spends on in-house research and development for the purpose of maximizing product performance and versatility. As Rangan understands, increasing vegan products’ popularity in India requires improving and effectively marketing their functionality—both perceived and actual.
The COVID-19 pandemic creates both an opportunity and a challenge for Rangan regarding his goal to facilitate India’s broad cultural acceptance of plant-based diets. While veganism’s popularity was already increasing in India prior to the pandemic’s onset, COVID-19 is further ramping up interest in plant-based diets and driving dramatic recent growth in Goodmylk’s sales. The pandemic’s impact on global markets has also made it difficult for the company to access the few raw materials that it sources from abroad. But Rangan is optimistic, describing the supply chain disruption as “a good thing since now we can move completely toward sourcing from local supply chains”—a shift that aligns with his goal “to build a local reliance here.” By sourcing all ingredients domestically, in addition to producing more product in bulk, Goodmylk has even managed to recently reduce its carbon footprint.
Rangan sees activism and entrepreneurship as two sides of the same coin. As a social entrepreneur, his company’s mission is clear: Goodmylk strives to combine the altruism of a mission-based nonprofit organization with the money-making agenda of a for-profit business. “A lot of my own team has been involved with the vegan and animal rights movement in the country at the grassroots level,” Rangan says. Noting the parallels between good ethics and good business, Rangan sees immense potential for plant-based companies like Goodmylk and the animal rights movement to prosper. He points out that many people—both consumers and employees—strive today “to live in line with their values and beliefs.” Rangan and his team at Goodmylk exemplify his call for a “cross-pollination of efforts” between India’s vegan movement and plant-based businesses; the prospering company demonstrates that making a positive impact need not be a zero-sum game.
Rangan and his team are competing directly with the domineering influence of the country’s massive dairy industry. India is currently the world’s largest producer of cows’ milk, due largely to a National Dairy Development Board initiative known as “Operation Flood,” which was launched in 1970; the initiative, by creating a nationwide network that links producers directly to consumers, eliminated the need for distributors and reduced seasonal and regional price variations. The success of the initiative enabled India between 1970 and 2018 to increase its share of world dairy milk production from five to 20 percent. India’s colossal dairy industry now annually produces 187.7 million tons of cows’ milk, estimated to be worth $83 billion, while employing 8.47 million people. Despite the animal dairy industry’s dominance, Rangan, looking toward the future, believes that reliance on cows for milk “is an ineffective way of moving forward”—because animal agriculture greatly contributes to climate change and causes animals pain. Rangan reassures that transitioning away from animal-based dairy would not be economically disruptive because any widespread move toward plant-based milk production would be gradual. “Change is going to come about slowly,” he predicts. “It is not going to happen all of a sudden.” Rangan is confident that this slow shift away from economic dependence on cows will enable the dairy industry’s current employees to smoothly transition to different jobs and trades that do not involve rearing cattle. “The future is vegan,” he asserts. “A solution to our problem [of overreliance on cows] is bound to appear. We’re all working on it collectively.”
Despite the efforts of Goodmylk and other plant-based companies, the adoption of veganism is still in its nascency in the dairy-loving country of India. Rangan would ideally like for animals to obtain legal rights and believes that the continued rise of plant-based industries may help to make this wish a reality. Plant-based companies that collectively employ meaningful proportions of the Indian population and significantly bolster the country’s economy would wield greater government influence and also serve to increase the vegan movement’s visibility. Voters, whether employed by the plant-based sector or newly vegan themselves, may become more inclined to support the legal push for animal rights. The result, Rangan asserts, could be new laws granting animal justice.
Despite many challenges and the often glacial pace of social change, opportunities abound for businesses like Goodmylk to earn a profit while furthering a social cause. For-profit businesses and vegan activists have ample opportunities to work together toward shared goals. In India, companies such as Rangan’s are successfully making delicious vegan products more accessible, less expensive, and fully functional. By repositioning veganism to be more inclusive, Rangan is doing his part to bring every Indian along toward a more ethical, sustainable future. Social entrepreneurship is not a myth—Goodmylk, for one, is an inspiring testament to this business model’s transformative potential.
Shrita Pathak is a 23-year-old vegan writer traveler and business women trying to make the world a better place.