The bustle of a vegetable market with its farm-fresh veggies and fruits have been romanticised in books, cookery shows, and travel guides. So much so that the image created makes you want to experience the energy of the ‘sabzi mandi’ (vegetable market). However, for Sharath Loganathan, IIM-Kozhikode alumnus and co-founder of Ninjacart, a visit to the market was an eye-opener to the darker side of the much romanticised experience. He was appalled at the amount of vegetables and fruits that were being dumped as waste. Recalling that experience Sharath said-
“When we went to the market, we discovered that the market was in total chaos. A lot of vegetables were lying as waste, and people trampled over them.”
It is hard to put a figure to how much food is lost and wasted in India today due to lack of adequate infrastructure; however, a 2011 report by a UN body, FAO, puts wastage of fruits and vegetables as high as 45 percent of produce (post-harvest to distribution) for developing Asian countries like India. In India, where over 58 percent of the rural households depend on agriculture as their principal means of livelihood, such wastage proves to be expensive.
Thirukumaran Nagaranjan, also an IIM-Kozhikode alumnus and co-founder of Ninjacart, who was accompanying Sharath, realised another glaring flaw in the system. He told us-
“Inefficiencies could be seen in almost every aspect. There were a lot of middlemen involved, there was no price transparency whatsoever. The produce of the farmers exchanged a lot of hands before reaching the eventual consumer, which resulted in farmers hardly making any money in this whole scenario. We felt this is a market which has huge potential, has tremendous scope of development and is literally untapped. We almost instantly realised there is a lot of value addition that can be done in this space by bringing technological and operational efficiencies.”
And thus was born Ninjacart, an online platform through which retailers and merchants can source fruits and vegetables directly from the farmers. Ninjacart has successfully done away with middlemen, commission agents and auction agents present in “mandis”. This startup also provides an efficient price discovery platform to the farmers. Since Ninjacart ensures that the produce reaches their clients effectively via an efficient and technologically driven supply chain, they have struck a win-win situation. Kartheeswaran KK, an IIM-Ahmedabad alumnus and one of the six co-founders of Ninjacart, explains-
“Technology is involved at every single step in Ninjacart. All the operations at Ninjacart are carried out and monitored using technology. All the information of planning, sales, and warehouse operations is stored in the system. We have an in-house Enterprise Resource Planning and Management System. Every item and and activity is tracked almost in real time. For managing all these platforms we have a web-interface and various mobile applications.”
Though Ninjacart started its operation in May 2015 as a hyper-local grocery delivery company, after six months of operation, the co-founders including Ashutosh Vikram, IIM-Kozhikode alumnus, Sachin P Jose, with over three years of experience in UI/UX and Vasudevan Chinnathambi, SOIL alumnus, Sharath, Thirukumaran and Kartheeswaran, felt that the backend supply chain of fruits and vegetables was broken and inefficient. So, by December 2015, the company pivoted the model to become a full-fledged Business To Business (B2B) marketplace, changing the way kirana stores and supermarkets source their supply. Ashutosh says,
“As of June 2016, we had a customer base of over 400 retail stores and restaurants in Bangalore. Our average monthly tonnage is about 1.4k tons and monthly revenue of around Rs 4 crore.”
Bangalore-based Farmily, co-founded by Karthik Natarajan; Farm Taaza, founded by Silicon Valley veterans; and Gurgaon- based fresh2all, founded by Purnima Rao, are some other players in the B2B fresh produce supply chain. According to Vasudevan, Ninjacart is the only player in this space that delivers quality goods in a span as short as eight hours.
Ninjacart, which is funded by Accel Partners, Qualcomm Ventures, M&S Partners (Singapore) and Zop Smart, has two distribution centres – one near Hoskote and another in Jigani. The startup has many collection centres across villages surrounding Bangalore. Ninjacart currently serves Whitefield, Marathalli, Bellandur, Indiranagar, HAL, HSR, Koramangala, BTM, Madiwala, and Bannerghatta road, all in Bangalore.
Every stakeholder who is a part of the Ninjacart ecosystem benefits.
The farmers (suppliers) are able to sell their produce at a better price than the market without being exploited by the middleman through a one point sale. The farmers receive their payment immediately via a bank transfer. The farmers are also spared from dealing with the uncertainties of price, associated with selling in markets. Ninjacart procures all the produce through a fair grading procedure. Ninjacart sends their vehicles along with crates to farmer locations to bring goods to their collection centers, free of cost.
Shopkeepers and restaurants (customers) get fresh and good quality vegetables and fruits at their doorstep at competitive prices without having to visit the market very early in the morning.
Ninjacart also holds seminars to educate farmers on the working of the market and fair pricing. Sachin explained to us how “Rythu abhivrudhi karyakrama” (Farmer Development Programme) works-
“We educate the farmers about the exact market prices and how we bring transparency in the whole process. We also discuss good varieties of seeds and suggest best practices that a few farmers follow to get good yield.”
When one is determined to disrupt a market and bring efficiencies, others firmly established in the system become uncomfortable. In the case of Ninjacart, it is the age-old market mandi commission agents and local transport middlemen who regularly attempt at disturbing operations. The team frequently receives threatening phone calls to stop operations. But, thanks to Ninjacart’s dedicated field team and farmers, this startup is rapidly spreading its roots. In the coming months, Ninjacart plans to expand their distribution throughout Bangalore and expand to Chennai and Hyderabad.