"When I come to India, I turn vegetarian," a friend of Abhay Hanjura's declared once. It didn't make any sense to Abhay as he felt some of the best tasting meat-based food was found in India. When he dug deeper, he found the main reason for this apprehension was that people were simply unsure of the quality of the meat used in India.
Licious, started by Abhay and his friend Vivek Gupta, delivers fresh meat. As a part of Helion Ventures, Vivek had worked close with the fund's portfolio companies on operations, scale and strategy. Abhay, on the other hand, was working as a Senior Vice President in Futurisk, a risk advisory and corporate insurance brokerage firm.
Though comfortable in their respective jobs, Abhay one day happened to bounce off the idea of building a startup in the fresh meat space. This idea was further fuelled by the fact that the lamb chops and fish steak they had ordered lacked texture and was insipid.
Conversation with the staff indicated they had used frozen meats for most of their preparations and this reinforced what Abhay had been telling Vivek all along. "But I guess having been with a VC for so many years, Vivek brushed me off instantly thinking I was not serious," adds Abhay.
However, Abhay knew it was something he was sure of, so he began an independent research in Gurgaon and Bengaluru, to find out what consumers think or do before making meat-buying decisions. Taking complete stock of the market and the space, Abhay put together a presentation and met Vivek in his office.
"It is then that Vivek understood that I was serious and that there's a brilliant opportunity, untouched, unexplored and unorganised, waiting to be disrupted," says Abhay. When the duo spoke to their respective bosses Kanwaljeet Singh and Praveen Das they immediately agreed to be their first angel investors.
The first office the duo opened was at a friend's apartment. "We realised that we need to address the problem and there was no problem of availability in the market. That's when we decided that we will walk the brand path as this is a consumer business and the consumer stays with you if you fulfill a brand promise, “adds Abhay.
It was this led them to work with one of the best brand consultants in the market and went over close to 300 names including frescameat, chopshop365, papabuchr, and chompbox before zeroing with Licious. They decided to steer clear from the aggregator path and only deliver fresh meats, where they were completely assured of the quality.
The duo also realised that it was important to get the core team in place. Hence, early on, they got in experts and people with years of work experience. Abhay adds that they spent their initial time, savings and energies in putting together a watertight process and building a strong scalable infrastructure.
"Our expert team has people who've successfully set up the entire backend operations and supply chain for some of the first and largest hypermarkets in the country. In that sense the team has a deep understanding of complex sourcing and cold chain management," adds Abhay.
Licious has a state-of-the-art central processing unit, where the product is reviewed on the parameters of health, safety, environment and quality for adherence to its fresh chain management norms and then moved to production which comprises of a team of expert chefs and skilled butchers who pay attention to detail and understand the importance of neat, clean and prime cuts.
This then moves to temporary cold storage, from where it's moved to the delivery centres spread in different parts of Bengaluru. Depending on which location the consumer orders from, the product is shipped after a stringent last-minute quality check by the hub managers.
The entire fresh chain management is maintained at every step of the way including the last mile. The team's endeavour is to run a highly efficient, zero-inventory model by the virtue of which it ensures that no product stays in cold storage for protracted periods and every consumer gets only the freshest meat.
"To give you some sense of how fresh our product is we sell prawns that are caught on the same day and shipped to us within 24 hours from catch. The best Seer fish from Cochin comes to us within 24 hours as well," says Abhay. Licious, he adds, has gained great amount of traction with meat lovers in Bengaluru.
The company has served close to over 1,300 orders in just over a month of starting active operations from one delivery hub in Marathalli. "This gave us the confidence and we started operations at our second delivery hub in Kamanahalli. We just concluded a small round of angel investment and we will use these funds to open three more delivery hubs in less than a month from now," adds Abhay.
In its initial research, the team discovered that the Indian meat market is close to USD 30 billion, and India also happens to be one of the largest exporters of meat. The industry has been registering and encouraging double digit growth YOY and some segments like poultry are growing at about 20 percent CAGR YOY.
"About 90 per cent of the market is unorganised, whereas the organised players share the rest of the space. In this space, most players play in the frozen areas and the organised players are mostly export-oriented, “says Abhay.
He adds that most of the urban consumers are unaware about the source or origin of their meat and have outsourced this activity to their house help. Some others have been forcibly converted into frozen-meat eaters as they find that convenient considering the constraints of their lifestyle and schedule.
The pain point really is hygiene, safety and freshness of the meat which eventually ties into the trust factor. "In the coming years, we aim to organise this space systematically by adding value at every step of the existing ecosystem. We have been ahead of the curve by bringing on board the best team which understands the intricacies of consumer business models and the importance of scale," Abhay says.
Licious aim to launch the next version of its front-end consumer technology over the next three months. It also intends on adding new categories under its fresh and marinated segments and is looking to add interesting new segments for gourmet food lovers. "The vision is to be in 11 cities across India in less than three years from today and to see Licious emerge as India's most loved food brand in the coming years," Abhay adds.