PUNE Have you ever ever questioned the place the meals we eat comes from? Is it recent, nutritious and wholesome to devour? What sort of practices are adopted throughout farming, harvesting and at last transporting the produce to your close by mall, retailer, vendor or residence? Pondering this, two professionals – Ganesh Nikam, an agri-finance guide 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 shoppers at giant.
Mehta was working as a supervisor at Central Financial institution of India, Pune when Nikam met him for just a few agri-financing-related proposals in 2012-13. The duo constructed a robust rapport as they interacted repeatedly relating to their work.
Says Nikam, “I got here from a farmer household background and wished to do one thing for farmers. After my MBA, I did a job in an organization. I used to be working as a funding guide with a particular concentrate on agriculture and agriculture-related actions. I helped a number of dairies, agro-processing industries, and meals models to boost funds.”
“After I met Mehta, he stated he was being promoted and needed to relocate to Assam. He was unhappy and never keen to go. So, I recommend to him that he can be a 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,” stated Nikam.
Palms on agricultural actions
Earlier than really moving into the ‘enterprise’, Nikam and Mehta continued with their consultancy providers for just a few months. Mehta used to journey from Mumbai to Pune repeatedly and skilled the standard distinction between the agricultural produce acquired at Mumbai and Pune and on the farm supply itself.
Sharing their preliminary days of the journey, Nikam stated, “We generated some income from our skilled providers 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 commonplace 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 tasks and used the income to fund the agricultural venture.”
Shift from sugarcane farming to floriculture
With the preliminary success of sugarcane farming, we determined to strive our palms in floriculture stated 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. Nevertheless, the unit economics of poly home and floriculture wanted to be matched.
Nikam stated, “We had taken finance from banks to start out the venture in 2016-17. As a substitute of doing orchids on your entire farm, we did 3 acres of Orchid, 20 guntha of roses and gerbera every. The explanation 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 might begin. We determined to get well the bills like labor expenses, electrical energy and different bills by way of the income generated from roses and gerbera.”
“In the meantime we had began advertising and marketing and mentioned the flower produce with some merchants. We finalized one of many merchants who, with an exclusivity clause, determined to buy your entire 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
Regardless that 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 tasks in India. The duo realized that there have been just a few such models in Goa, Chennai and Pune, nonetheless, both the models have been too small in scale or mismanaged.
Mehta was searching for 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 your entire unit; nonetheless, it did not undergo.
“We have been searching for land for nearly one 12 months. We wished to attain two issues – hold the land price low and the situation must be such that the produce provide must be per the market. Therefore, we have been exploring the Raigad, Ratnagiri, and Konkan areas. In 2018-19 we acquired 10-acre land simply behind our present polyhouse unit at Devadi close to Ketkavale in Pune itself. It was a bit pricey however we determined to go forward and acquired financial institution finance and accomplished all crucial authorities formalities,” stated Nikam.
The founder duo additionally acquired a chance to get a 250-acre land plot on lease in Phaltan. “It was accessible on an 11-year lease and we had submitted our tender utility. We introduced this barren land plot underneath cultivation inside 3 months with crucial natural certifications, and so on. We’re producing fruits there and the plant is run totally on automated processes. The fruit produce from there may be exported,” Nikam acknowledged.
With the polyhouse unit prepared and produce in hand, Nikam and Mehta had additionally accomplished tie-ups with e-commerce gamers, five-star motels, malls and different distributors. Inside per 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, motels, and so on. 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 stated.
“Initially after 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 area was already captured by the large gamers and we had no selection however to be on the provision aspect. All e-commerce, malls and distributors had just one request that the provision must be constant. Nevertheless, the lockdown modified your entire state of affairs. We had by no means considered branding our personal merchandise however we needed to do it through the lockdown. We had the Nutrifresh model identify 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 motels have been closed, drivers weren’t accessible. 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 recent produce to clients,” stated Nikam.
Nutrifresh partnered with Tigressmoms, a community group of passionate and financially unbiased ladies, who helped them market and distribute their hydroponic farm merchandise throughout Mumbai and Pune.
Nikam stated, “We developed our personal packaging, branding, web site and cellular functions on Android, and iOS. We deliberate the manufacturing as per demand and requirement. We had approached townships and enormous residential societies when Tigressmoms group which labored on ladies health acquired in contact with us. They posted our message on teams and we supplied fee based mostly on gross sales to all ladies who participated within the actions. Every girl participant had a singular code by way of which product sale was recognized and fee paid.”
Mehta stated, “The affiliation helped us with a very good attain throughout the size and breadth of the cities with our merchandise. With ladies forming 80 per cent of our workforce, we strongly consider in empowering ladies and this partnership will solely reaffirm our dedication to it.”
Sharing his views on the way forward for agriculture, Nikam stated, “Agriculture depending on monsoon is not going to be sustainable. We have to undertake protected cultivation and at current hydroponics is the very best expertise accessible on this phase. The one downside of hydroponics is that it’s capital-intensive.”
“We want to increase within the retail area however that phase wants extra cash-burn and powerful distribution channels. We do not want to be a cash-burning firm. Even the HoReCa phase wants grade B produce however we do not produce it and therefore that phase contributes solely 10 per cent of our gross sales. We’re at present focusing solely on huge townships in Pune and Mumbai to maintain our supply prices low,” says Nikam.
Revealing future plans, Nikam stated, “Now we have began salad supply at residence. If we take into account 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. At present now we have reached solely 15 thousand clients. We’ve not even captured 1 or 2 per cent of the market. Simply to cater to the Pune and Mumbai market, we’ll want 150 to 200 acres of land and even after enlargement we can seize solely 3 to 4 per cent of it.”