The pandemic has seen grocery delivery apps, especially those dealing in fresh produce, scramble to strengthen their supply chains to meet increasing demand from their customers. Bengaluru-based B2B fresh produce supply chain company Ninjacart itself turned its focus to B2C segment in the initial days of the lockdown to connect farmers to retailers and end-consumers. As Thirukumaran Nagarajan, CEO, and co-founder of Ninjacart, says, this unique time has taught the agritech startup new lessons—need for increased awareness towards adopting technology by all the stakeholders, build a sustainable supply chain and further identify and streamline demand and supply gaps. “In the sourcing side of the supply chain, mitigation of wastage, and ensuring safety of the produce until the last-mile delivery, has become very important,” he tells Banasree Purkayastha in an interview. Excerpts:
How has the Covid pandemic changed the business environment for Ninjacart?
In the initial days of the lockdown, the first to be impacted was our network of distributors, farmers, retailers, and consumers. We jumped into action to do everything within our capacity to connect farmers to retailers and even end-consumers. Since then, Ninjacart’s farmer network has expanded exponentially. We also saw an increase in awareness about Ninjacart amongst the end-consumer. This was made possible through two initiatives ‘Harvest the Farms’ and ‘Footprint’. The ‘Harvest the Farms’ initiative established a direct connection between the farmer and the end-consumer, through partnerships with hyperlocal platforms such as Swiggy, Zomato, and Dunzo. ‘Footprint’, on the other hand, implemented a traceability infrastructure in the food supply chain.
While we temporarily shifted our focus to B2C in order to neutralise losses for the farmers, partners and retailers, our focus is B2B as that is the core of Ninjacart’s existence as an agritech startup ecosystem.
Would you say that the online customer has now matured and no longer needs to be lured by freebies?
The lockdown forced consumers to move online who otherwise would prefer to visit the local sabzi mandi to procure their fresh food. As we come back to some form of normalcy, to mobilise the interest in buyers, we do come across freebies more and more. In India, especially after the nationwide lockdown, online consumers have risen to 80%, and with time they have matured to a point where quality and security are given more precedence over freebies or discounts.
Is there any fundamental difference between the many grocery delivery apps that have come up which would allow their survival beyond the pandemic?
The country’s online delivery sector is currently valued at $1 billion, and the graph is likely to increase due to the new set of consumers exploring online buying. However, survival of online delivery apps, specifically when it comes to fresh produce, will not only depend on large-scale capabilities but on conscious selling, i.e., capacity to meet high demand while also being able to efficiently communicate to the end-consumer the entire supply chain trail. We will see a consolidation phase for it to work and operate to its maximum potential. However, to eliminate the intermediaries and replace them with technology, it is vital to have a large backend operation in place, and eventually, the last mile delivery will decide the proficiency.
What are the changes you see in the sourcing/ supply chain business? Can we see a future beyond the APMCs?
In the sourcing side of the supply chain, mitigation of wastage, and ensuring the safety of the harvested produce until last-mile delivery, has become very important. New ideas are rolling in the market after the nationwide lockdown. Everyone is trying to solve the traditional supply chain problems by enabling enhanced technology. Agritech is at an evolution stage, and it will take almost a decade to conclude whether it is fragmented or not.
Emergence of multi-supply chain network will give better value for farmers and retailers. Selling produce through more than one supply chain will give rise to healthy competition and thereby improve the livelihood of farmers.
How do you see technologies such as AI, SaaS, remote sensing and cloud driving the agritech revolution ahead?
These technologies are predominant tools in the agritech sector as it helps to accelerate the sector’s capabilities. Problems like middleman intervention, price volatility, wastage, and unfair practices got replaced or even removed with the introduction of technology.
Multiple AI applications and machine learning tools enable Ninjacart to predict the market price, this way farmers know the price before harvesting the produce, and this increases the chances of better returns. We also use radio frequency identification (RFID) to know exactly which vegetables and fruits have been delivered.