Coronavirus: How Ninjacart is ensuring a steady supply of vegetables and fruits even during lockdown
The nationwide lockdown to combat the coronavirus epidemic has frozen India’s entire supply chain infrastructure, disrupting the delivery of daily essentials like vegetables and fruits. In such trying circumstances, agritech startupis keeping its wheel running with quick thinking and innovations on the fly.
The Bengaluru-headquartered startup, which supplies horticulture produce like vegetables and fruits to retail outlets and others across the country, has been able to keep up its deliveries even as each day throws up new challenges.
In a conversation with Thirukumaran Nagarajan, Co-founder and CEO of Ninjacart – popularly known as Thiru – says, “Every day is now a war and the situation has become very hectic as we have a skeletal operation.”,
Ninjacart co-founder and CEO Thirukumaran Nagarajan
Backed by investors such as Walmart, , Tiger Global Management, and Accel, among others, Ninjacart has, over the last five years, expanded its operations across India, delivering 1,500 tonnes of fruits and vegetables every day.
However, the situation is now completely different as there is a greater focus on how one can enable the supply when nobody is sure which part of the network will be operational.
“The situation is still very tough as there is a lot of variabilities and we need to understand how to deliver in these circumstances,” says Thiru.
The first few days of the lockdown witnessed considerable confusion. There was no clarity on what kind of establishments could be opened or exactly who was still allowed to travel and commute.
There were also instances of authorities resorting to violence to punish ‘violators’ of the lockdown – including individuals associated with essential services.
Additionally, different cities across the country had their own regulations on the kind of establishments that could be opened and more importantly, different time restrictions.
However, even before taking all these challenges into account, Ninjacart had to ensure that one very important element in its supply chain remained intact – its workforce.
Thiru says, “On Day 1 of the lockdown, we met our staff and assured them that their jobs are safe and secure.”
The startup ensured that all its staff are cordoned off and have minimal contact with people outside their line of activity. It disinfected the workforce, and took care of all their basic needs like shelter and food.
The coronavirus lockdown led to another unintended and unwanted event when lakhs of people from various cities started to migrate to their hometowns on foot. Also, many others shifted from the cities back to the villages due to the fear of coronavirus.
This led to a widespread impact across the economy, especially for players in the supply of daily essentials. Ecommerce marketplaces like Flipkart and Amazonalready announced that only essentials would be supplied, suspending the delivery of all other items.
Others like Bigbasket and Grofers, which largely focus on the supply of daily essentials witnessed delays in fulfilling customer orders.
Linkages with farmers
In such an environment, Ninjacart’s biggest advantage was its long-standing relationship with the farmer community. “There is a very strong relationship with the farmers and we cannot let them down in these circumstances,” says Thiru.
It is important to remember that vegetables and fruits are highly perishable commodities and any delay in procuring the produce means everything turns into waste. There have been instances where farmers had to destroy their produce as there were no tackers available.
When it comes to actual delivery to various outlets, Ninjacart had to bring in further innovations. Before the lockdown, the entire supply was undertaken by four-wheeler vehicles but with the current restrictions in place, it has started to engage two-wheelers.
“We used this period to scale up our e-bikes because the use of other vehicles are difficult. Also, we are looking to collaborate with other players who can become resellers,” says the co-founder.
At the same time, Ninjacart had to constantly juggle the mapping of its supply chain network. For example, certain cities marked its zones red, yellow, and green, indicating the riskiness of coronavirus.
In other cases, some retail shops itself were closed as the owners had left the city and gone back to their hometowns.
“We are constantly reinventing ourselves to adhere to the new regulations. We understand what various state governments are trying to do is in the best interest of the society at large,” says Thiru.
Ninjacart started to operate through nights so that deliveries could be done early in the morning. This startup, which primarily caters to B2B outlets, has also opened its doors to supply for apartment complexes directly to the consumers and has received positive reviews on social media.
The founders say that there were times when they felt that it would be better to shut down operations and restart once the situation got back to normal.
“It is getting very difficult day by day, but we also feel that we are like doctors providing essential services. It will be a catastrophe for our partners if we stop operations,” says Thiru.
At the same time, it has not been business as usual for Ninjacart. The startup is now providing essential food items to the less privileged sections of the society at lower rates. These include orphanages, old age homes, and slum dwellings in Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Delhi-NCR, Pune, and Ahmedabad.
Ninjacart has kept its engine and is now running at 70 percent of its peak level. Moreover, Thiru is confident that it would operate at 100 percent capacity even during this coronavirus lockdown.
(Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta)