FROM FARM TO TABLE
The Machinist|July 2021
An insightful interview with Thirukumaran Nagarajan, CEO and Co-founder, Ninjacart as he delves into the intricate world of food supply chain management.
Kruti Bharadva

Tell us about the idea behind setting up an agri-tech start-up in India’s fragmented supply chain industry?

I started Ninjacart in 2015 with my Co-founders, Sharath Loganathan, Vasudevan Chinnathambi, Kartheeswaran KK, Ashutosh Vikram and Sachin Jose, as a hyper-local B2C grocery model. We aimed to deliver fresh produce to consumers in less than sixty minutes. The goal was to move retail produce online, helping grocery store owners expand their customer base as well as making it convenient for buyers to have fresh vegetables delivered to their doorstep. After operating for six months in Bengaluru city, we realised that the demand for online grocery was at its peak, but the supply side was fragmented. It was the farmers and the retailers struggling to meet the demand. Farmers had to sell their food at a low rate to intermediaries, while retailers were forced to compromise on quality, which impacted the end consumers. Considering all these factors, we decided to make a transition from B2C to B2B, where we started engaging with farmers directly to standardise the process at all levels of the food supply chain.

What are the challenges you faced during your journey?

Ninjacart was one of the first agri-tech start-ups in India to identify the pain points of the supply chain. The transition was difficult as we faced various challenges executing the business model as there was no reference or example that we could look up. It was easier for farmers to work with a known face than an agri-tech business, so gaining trust wasn’t easy either. We did overnight visits to mandis (farm markets) to understand the framework because of the complexity in the supply chain management. And it took us almost a year to find an approach that would work. There was a great deal of learning and growth for the entire team. We made ourselves aware of every minor and major difficulty that could obstruct the development of the infrastructure in the long term. One of the first triumphs as an agri-tech start-up in India was leveraging technology to address difficulties and increase efficiencies of the end-to-end supply chain. We can confidently claim that we have successfully eliminated intermediaries in the food supply chain, backed by cutting-edge technology and analytics.

At present, we operate in all 11 metro cities, transporting fresh produce within 12 hours across India. Furthermore, we conduct farmer outreach programmes throughout networks to identify their existing expertise and provide up-skilling ways to keep them up to date with recent market trends. We also provide retail outlets with a one-stop shop for all of their supply needs, allowing them to eliminate the burden of dealing with many intermediaries by accepting safe payments.

What have been major growth hacks in the early days of Ninjacart?

Ninjacart is India’s leading B2B fresh produce supply chain company, a pioneer in the tech-driven supply chain space for fresh vegetables and fruits in India. To standardise the process at all levels, we use sophisticated algorithms, leverage big data, predictive analytics, and a mobile-based platform. We ensure that high-quality fresh produce gets delivered without compromising the efficiency of the food supply chain.

We carry tons of fresh produce every day and connect farmers with stores, restaurants, and small business owners directly. Everyone at Ninjacart is given an app and stakeholders must follow the directions in that app. Our communication with farmers is absolutely transparent. We have developed specific apps to aid farmers with demand predictions, harvest planning and determining the value indent. We assist them in finding the most appropriate ways of farming and we inform them about better varieties of seeds and suggest sustainable harvesting practices.

Ninjacart’s paperless supply chain also connects farmer produce to retailers. Technology is utilised to reduce the needless intermediary cost of middlemen, lowering the risk of quality deterioration in fresh produce. It contributes to increasing the value and providing consistent delivery at the right time and the right price to the consumer while also paying the farmers a fair price.

We also provide convenience to restaurants and retailers by allowing them to inspect the quality and freshness of vegetables and fruits without having to go to the market. Our just-in-time logistics system prioritises speed and reliability in all processes. The infrastructure we developed has decreased the time it takes for produce to go from farm to store, allowing farmers to generate more revenue and build a better economic life.

As a supply chain company, what roles do technology and data play in your end-to-end delivery solutions?

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