PUNE Have you ever ever questioned the place the meals we eat comes from? Is it contemporary, nutritious and wholesome to eat? What sort of practices are adopted throughout farming, harvesting and eventually transporting the produce to your close by mall, retailer, vendor or house? Pondering this, two professionals – Ganesh Nikam, an agri-finance marketing consultant from Pune and Sanket Mehta, a banker from Mumbai – got here collectively to construct agricultural startup ‘Nutrifresh’ in 2019 with the concept to offer wholesome, pesticide-free and residue-free meals to customers at massive.

To start with…

Mehta was working as a supervisor at Central Financial institution of India, Pune when Nikam met him for a couple of agri-financing-related proposals in 2012-13. The duo constructed a robust rapport as they interacted often relating to their work.

Says Nikam, “I got here from a farmer household background and needed to do one thing for farmers. After my MBA, I did a job in an organization. I used to be working as a funding marketing consultant with a particular give attention to agriculture and agriculture-related actions. I helped a number of dairies, agro-processing industries, and meals models to lift funds.”

“Once I met Mehta, he mentioned he was being promoted and needed to relocate to Assam. He was unhappy and never keen to go. So, I counsel to him that he can be part of me in consulting actions with the main target being on agriculture and associated actions. Mehta had religion and belief in me after which left his job and we each began our consultancy service,” mentioned Nikam.

Arms on agricultural actions

Earlier than really moving into the ‘enterprise’, Nikam and Mehta continued with their consultancy companies for a couple of months. Mehta used to journey from Mumbai to Pune often and skilled the standard distinction between the agricultural produce obtained at Mumbai and Pune and on the farm supply itself.

Sharing their preliminary days of the journey, Nikam mentioned, “We generated some income from our skilled companies and determined to take a position that quantity in agricultural actions. We thought why not begin one thing of our personal. Since my father had a 4-acre land in Daund we determined to do sugarcane farming there. Earlier, we used to do flood irrigation however as a substitute of that, we determined to go for precision farming and customary agricultural practices together with drip irrigation. In 2015-16 we cultivated sugarcane on that farm and acquired bumper produce of 110 tonnes. We have been persevering with with our session initiatives and used the income to fund the agricultural mission.”

Shift from sugarcane farming to floriculture

With the preliminary success of sugarcane farming, we determined to strive our palms in floriculture mentioned Nikam. “We acquired on lease one other 4-acre land which was subsequent to a dam. Whereas doing the market survey of flowers, we realized that there’s inconsistency and gaps within the provide and demand of flowers. Whereas researching, we narrowed down on orchid which is imported in India. We thought why not produce it right here and therefore we arrange a polyhouse on the 4-acre farm,” added Nikam.

Nikam and Mehta have been helped by Nikam’s brother Yogesh Memane to arrange the poly home unit as he was earlier working at the same unit. Nonetheless, the unit economics of poly home and floriculture wanted to be matched.

Nikam mentioned, “We had taken finance from banks to start out the mission in 2016-17. As an alternative of doing orchids on the complete farm, we did 3 acres of Orchid, 20 guntha of roses and gerbera every. The rationale behind this was orchid has a gestation interval of 1.5 years, which meant we needed to bear the bills for this era earlier than the precise flowering may begin. We determined to get well the bills like labor prices, electrical energy and different bills via the income generated from roses and gerbera.”

“In the meantime we had began advertising and mentioned the flower produce with some merchants. We finalized one of many merchants who, with an exclusivity clause, determined to buy the complete produce from us. With this, each our ventures proved to achieve success in a brief span of time,” Nikam added.

Hydroponics or soil-less farming

Although the floriculture experiment was profitable, Mehta and Nikam knew that it had limitations in scaling up. The flower market is restricted to cities like Pune, Mumbai, Delhi, and Bengaluru. Whereas researching new experiments within the agriculture sector, Mehta got here throughout the idea of hydroponic or ‘soil-less farming’. Mehta and Nikam noticed numerous movies of this system and looked for some profitable initiatives in India. The duo realized that there have been a couple of such models in Goa, Chennai and Pune, nevertheless, both the models have been too small in scale or mismanaged.

Mehta was in search of profitable hydroponic models when he got here throughout one in Talegaon. It was properly managed and one of many promoters was shifting base to Singapore. Mehta and Nikam had supplied to accumulate the complete unit; nevertheless, it did not undergo.

“We have been in search of land for nearly one yr. We needed to realize two issues – preserve the land price low and the placement ought to be such that the produce provide ought to be in step with the market. Therefore, we have been exploring the Raigad, Ratnagiri, and Konkan areas. In 2018-19 we acquired 10-acre land simply behind our current polyhouse unit at Devadi close to Ketkavale in Pune itself. It was a bit expensive however we determined to go forward and acquired financial institution finance and accomplished all essential authorities formalities,” mentioned Nikam.

The founder duo additionally acquired a possibility to get a 250-acre land plot on lease in Phaltan. “It was obtainable on an 11-year lease and we had submitted our tender utility. We introduced this barren land plot beneath cultivation inside 3 months with essential natural certifications, and so forth. We’re producing fruits there and the plant is run totally on automated processes. The fruit produce from there may be exported,” Nikam said.

Lockdown challenges

With the polyhouse unit prepared and produce in hand, Nikam and Mehta had additionally accomplished tie-ups with e-commerce gamers, five-star lodges, malls and different distributors. Inside every week of really beginning gross sales, the Covid-19 outbreak began and the lockdown was imposed by the federal government.

“We had planted capsicum and cucumber and equipped it to malls, lodges, and so forth. Sadly, all these institutions have been closed and all our agreements have been placed on maintain. We had a few export consignments to Dubai and Singapore which have been additionally caught halfway. It was a struggling interval for us,” Nikam mentioned.

“Initially once we started our operations, we needed to choose one choice – to be on the retail aspect or manufacturing or manufacturing aspect of the enterprise. The retail house was already captured by the large gamers and we had no alternative however to be on the availability aspect. All e-commerce, malls and distributors had just one request that the availability ought to be constant. Nonetheless, the lockdown modified the complete situation. We had by no means thought of branding our personal merchandise however we needed to do it throughout the lockdown. We had the Nutrifresh model title with us already so we determined to go forward with it,” he added.

“When lockdown kicked in, we had 3.5-tonne cucumber able to sale however we have been unable to move it. Since roadside garages and lodges have been closed, drivers weren’t obtainable. So, we made preparations for lodging and meals for drivers and labor at our polyhouse unit itself. With all precautions and Covid-19 protocol, we began delivering contemporary produce to prospects,” mentioned Nikam.

Empowering girls

Nutrifresh partnered with Tigressmoms, a community group of passionate and financially impartial girls, who helped them market and distribute their hydroponic farm merchandise throughout Mumbai and Pune.

Nikam mentioned, “We developed our personal packaging, branding, web site and cellular purposes on Android, and iOS. We deliberate the manufacturing as per demand and requirement. We had approached townships and huge residential societies when Tigressmoms group which labored on girls health acquired in contact with us. They posted our message on teams and we supplied fee based mostly on gross sales to all girls who participated within the actions. Every girls participant had a singular code via which product sale was recognized and fee paid.”

Mehta mentioned, “The affiliation helped us with attain throughout the size and breadth of the cities with our merchandise. With girls forming 80 per cent of our workforce, we strongly imagine in empowering girls and this partnership will solely reaffirm our dedication to it.”

Future plans

Sharing his views on the way forward for agriculture, Nikam mentioned, “Agriculture depending on monsoon won’t be sustainable. We have to undertake protected cultivation and at current hydroponics is the perfect expertise obtainable on this section. The one downside of hydroponics is that it’s capital-intensive.”

“We want to develop within the retail house however that section wants extra cash-burn and powerful distribution channels. We do not want to be a cash-burning firm. Even the HoReCa section wants grade B produce however we do not produce it and therefore that section contributes solely 10 per cent of our gross sales. We’re at the moment focusing solely on large townships in Pune and Mumbai to maintain our supply prices low,” says Nikam.

Revealing future plans, Nikam mentioned, “We have now began salad supply at house. If we contemplate solely Pune and Mumbai area, the full inhabitants is about 3.5 crore. Out of this, 10 per cent (35 lakh) is taken into account to be consuming unique greens and salads. Right now now we have reached solely 15 thousand prospects. We’ve not even captured 1 or 2 per cent of the market. Simply to cater to the Pune and Mumbai market, we are going to want 150 to 200 acres of land and even after enlargement we will seize solely 3 to 4 per cent of it.”

By Piszz