Pickles expanding from Nepali kitchens to global store shelvesIn 2019-20, there was no record of pickles export, due to a negligible quantity. In three years, its exports jumped to 161 tonnes worth Rs109.84 million.
Shelves in most supermarkets, which were once covered with foreign pickles bottles, nowadays flash Nepali brand logos, thanks to growing local entrepreneurship.
Industry insiders say that housewives, foreign returnees and startups have taken up the seemingly overlooked homemade pickles business.
Ama ko Achar, a famous brand established in 2011, now rules the market. It is also one of the key exporters.
The enterprise sources its raw fruits and vegetables like mango and cucumber from Makwanpur and round red chillies from Panchkhal, Kavre.
Prakash Pandey, managing director of Ama ko Achar, said they export pickles to the US, the UK, Japan, Australia, South Korea and Denmark. “The highest demand is in Australia.”
The enterprise exports 90 percent of its production. “The export price is $2 per 200 gm jar. Adding shipping costs and importers’ commission, the price increases to $10 in foreign stores,” said Pandey.
In Nepali markets, the price begins at Rs140. However, meat pickles are more expensive, starting at Rs700 a packet.
Ama ko Achar has over 100 tonnes of cherry pepper, a variety of large, red, heart-shaped chilli called dalle khursani in its factory stock in Chandragiri.
Pickles are popular among Asians, and each country and region has its own traditions and methods of making them.
Studies show that pickles are a rich source of fundamental nutrients including iron, vitamins, calcium and potassium and have various anti-oxidant properties. They are prepared to preserve the fruits, vegetables or a mixture of both, or to extend shelf life, either through anaerobic fermentation in brine or soaking in vinegar.
Making pickles has been an essential part of the Nepali food culture for generations. However, it has been commercialised only over the past few years.
In a country with a short history of trading pickles, Nepal saw a surge in pickle sales, especially after the Covid-19 pandemic. Many Nepalis believe pickles are good for those with flu infections.
In 2019-20, the Department of Customs started keeping records of pickles as the trade started to increase significantly, both in quantity and value.
In the period when the Covid pandemic affected most of the world, Nepal imported 23 tonnes of pickles worth Rs2.91 million. There was no record of export, though.
Traders imported pickles mainly from Australia, China, India and the United Arab Emirates.
According to the department, in 2020-21, Nepal exported 11.04 tonnes of pickles worth Rs3.92 million. Pickles are exported mainly to Australia, Belgium, Canada, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Import and export of pickles started to grow amid the pandemic. Trade record shows that pickle imports in 2021-22 jumped a staggering 16-fold to 367.55 tonnes worth Rs76.46 million. At the same time, exports jumped over five-fold to 59.98 tonnes and fetched Rs38.66 million worth of foreign currency.
In 2022-23, imports and exports of pickles crossed the Rs100 million mark each.
Pickle producers say that with the rise in the number of Nepalis living abroad, the demand for pickles has jumped and the sales are expected to grow in the future too.
The department statistics show that Nepal imported 371.11 tonnes of pickles worth Rs100.21 million in the last fiscal year. Exports were 161 tonnes worth Rs109.84 million.
Pickle producers say that apart from veg pickles, demand for non-veg pickles is also high nationally and globally.
Ama ko Achar has started production of spice mixes of chicken masala and meat masala.
Rohan Shrestha, owner of Ghar ko Achar, started the venture in 2018 and started taking orders online. The venture opened its shop in January. It now has over 50,000 customers.
Shrestha began the business as a part of his Bachelor’s project assignment to prepare a business plan. He continued the business after graduation.
Ghar ko Achar produces about 100 kgs of pickles a week.
“People order in bulk to take with themselves while travelling abroad. They purchase sufficient quantities for themselves and buy on behalf of other relatives and friends,” said Shrestha.
Shrestha said that the appeal of homemade Nepali pickles is higher as they do not use artificial preservatives. The enterprise exports pickles to the UAE, Malaysia and Japan.
According to him, pickles of chicken, mutton and buffalo meat are also becoming popular choices.
Popular varieties of vegetable pickles in Nepal are mango, cucumber, lapsi, red cherry pepper, lemon and radish.
Shrestha said that the monthly sales hover at Rs700,000 and the gross margin is around 30-35 percent.
In the past few years, competition has grown in the Nepali market. There are dozens of pickle enterprises, many of which have now turned into small-scale factories.
While Nepali pickles are finding a good market abroad, foreign pickles are also gaining popularity within the country.
Arun Giri, a cook at a Korean restaurant in Kathmandu, started preparing ‘kimchi’ as a side hustle, almost two years ago.
Today, he runs the Kimchi House Kathmandu besides his job.
Kimchi is a traditional Korean banchan consisting of salted and fermented vegetables, most commonly using napa cabbage or Korean radish.
According to Giri, his business flourishes, especially in the trekking season when foreigners take preserved foods with them to camps.
On normal days, he produces about 10 kgs of kimchi a week. A kg of kimchi costs Rs500.
He hopes that with the increase in Korean tourists, the cuisine demand will also grow and so will his revenue.
Deepesh Chaudhary, a former restaurant employee, quit his work and established Kimchi House Nepal two years ago.
His enterprise produces in batches of 50 kgs, especially for sale to Korean restaurants in Kathmandu Valley.
He buys the special cabbages used in Kimchi from farms in Bhaktapur.
Currently, his family handmakes all production.
According to Chaudhary, profit margins have dropped in recent times due to increasing competition.
“Many people are using their free time to produce smaller quantities of Kimchi and Korean pickles to sell for little money. So competition is tough,” said Chaudhary.