Organic’ might be ‘cool’, but Earth Food chooses to go the no-residue-farming way.
Making chemicals-free fresh fruits and vegetables available at market prices might sound unreasonable, but this Pune-based startup is proving it can be done.
From their 307 acres of land in a state infamous for droughts and farmer suicides, this one-year-old agri-tech startup (part of VTP Group) is striving to change the concept of farming. It grows a wide range of fruits and vegetables without using harmful chemical fertilisers or pesticides, which are then sold to customers without adding preservatives and synthetic food enhancers.
Nilesh Palresha, Director, VTP Group & Earth Food, says the use of pesticides, long lag between harvest and selling, transportation in unhygienic conditions, and involvement of middlemen are the problems they are trying to solve.
“People often complain about how vegetables today are no good compared to what was available 20 years ago. However, we do natural, residue-free farming and sell only what we grow.”
Earth Food has generated Rs 1 crore in revenue over the last one year and hopes to raise funding now. Planning to produce 150 tonnes per month, it is aiming for monthly revenues of Rs 1 crore in 2018.
From farm to fork
Normally, farmers hire small trucks to carry their produce to the market, bound by wholesalers’ rates because vegetables deteriorate in two days. Even then, they reach consumers only by day three.
Earth Food fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, are harvested, inspected, packed, and sent to retail outlets in AC vans on the same day. Since it has end-to-end control, vegetables reach partner retailers in five hours and are delivered to the consumer in eight hours. Efforts are on to reduce the home delivery time to four hours. Its fresh produce includes 40 vegetables like iceberg, broccoli, pokchoy, zucchini, French beans, gawar, ladies’ finger, and green chilli. Onion and potato are now being introduced.
“Our plan is to grow whatever the end user is using at home every day; we want to deliver to their homes whatever we can in that huge basket,” says Nilesh.
Careful first step
A mechanical engineer with an MBA, Nilesh entered his family’s 25-year-old business of cement and construction material, and started a construction business too. He entered agriculture three years ago, and Earth Food began in early 2015 with an investment of Rs 5 crore.
“Although we had money from other businesses, for Earth Food, we raised money internally and through a bank. We had a very tight budget for months,” he recollects. For the first year and a half, he did not sell anything under the Earth Food brand, taking the “normal sabziwala” route.
“What we grow must have consistent quality. Then we can sell under our brand. Once you put some chemical in the vegetable when it is sown, it is impossible to track it. If you test our vegetables, there will be zero chemicals,” he claims, adding that in the last eight–nine months, they have been on track.
Earth Food aims to get the Global Gap certificate, which is similar to ISO for fruits and vegetables; it is recognised in Europe where standards are very strict. Currently, Earth Food sells only within India, to the likes of Reliance Fresh and Nature’s Basket.
Nilesh is an investor in tech startups like Plobal Apps, Yolo Homes, Workout.case, and The Circus Works. This technology has helped Earth Food’s functioning as well, since the strategies are decided with optimal results.
The prices were decided after a 100-person survey found that the prices of organic products discourage consumers. “So we decided against calling it organic and charging a premium. Our pricing is the same as anyone else’s. We wanted to make sure the backend and supply chain were taken care of so that we need not take a premium to cover the costs. Because even if it is superior quality, a 20 percent higher charge will cause people to retract,” he says.