The world may show you lives that inspire you to take a different route. But when you grow up in an environment with problems, it becomes the intrinsic interest that you try to overcome those challenges when you grow up, and the time calls for you to decide your career.
Here is an engineering graduate who saw the potential of growth in the arena of fresh farm products, an idea ignited from his family background. The start-up that he founded, Farmers Fresh Zone, now caters to hundreds of farmers, connecting them to the potential market, using scientific and planned structure to predict the market response, and helping them plan their harvest, paying heed to these predictions—in conversation with Pradeep P S, the founder of this innovative venture, providing a fair playing ground for all invested in agriculture by creating a better marketplace.
Give a brief info about Farmers Fresh Zone?
Farmers Fresh Zone creates a shortened and transparent agro supply chain. Working with farmers to predict yields, profit, and market demand through algorithms, Farmers Fresh Zone ensures a better marketplace and price for farmers. Through tests, Farmers Fresh Zone provides a market of safe, locally sourced organic food. Most of the farmers under FarmersFZ are now organic, and all are following Good Agriculture Practises (G.A.P)
Tell us about yourself, your previous jobs/ventures?
I am an engineering graduate with an IT background, and I come from a farmer’s family where I used to help my father in his day-to-day activities. I have started this venture to support my family in selling our fruits and vegetables.
Where is your startup based? Why do you think that is the best place for you?
Farmers Fresh Zone is based out of Kochi. Kochi being diverse and vibrant with widespread modern amenities and the cultural diaspora makes it an excellent place to initiate business. The people of Cochin are very much inclined towards new initiatives and startups that are still striving to carve a niche in the startup ecosystem. We are now operational in 4 districts of Kerala – Ernakulam, Thiruvananthapuram, Kottayam, and Thrissur. We plan to scale up to 16 smart cities and two metro cities in the next three years.
What were the challenges you faced in setting up Farmers Fresh Zone? Has it gotten easier over the years?
Since I belong to a farming family, there was strong opposition from the family since they had many bitter experiences and were concerned about my career. It was challenging to get people on board since they were not confident in this mission. Also, initially, it was challenging to convince and get funds, even though e-commerce was a good deal, concentrating only on on-farm produce was a greatest challenge and risk.
Also, when you cut out the middleman and approach the farmers directly, there is a huge communication gap that can only be bridged with genuine efforts.
Over time, our genuine efforts were recognized, and the community has extended their whole-hearted support to us; they are comfortable working for us. Onboarding people is no more a challenge now. Professionals from IT firms like Infosys are ready to join us.
How has the pandemic affected your business?
Since we deal with the daily essentials, we have been less affected by the pandemic. However, since this is a supply chain from local farmers to local customers, pandemic restrictions have affected the sourcing and supply of the produce. Lockdown restrictions have disrupted harvests and brought warehouse operations to a virtual standstill. On the contrary, customers have started inclining towards a healthy lifestyle, which has helped our business grow.
Farmers faced challenges in selling their products, and since the supply chain has come to a standstill, customers also faced problems in getting fresh produce. We were able to procure more produce from farmers with a competitive margin, thereby ensuring that our farmers have better living standards. Also, we delivered the same quality product without compromising our customers as we were doing before. This has been made possible because of our farm level strength and our concept in the supply chain.
Tell us about your subscription boxes; how are they to be better than the already available option?
With an “On the Go” mentality, buying daily essentials is like a “task” to the urban citizen. So we have introduced the idea of a subscription box, wherein customers can get their handpicked fresh veggies and fruits at their doorstep at regular intervals whenever they want. Spending ideally 10 minutes, you can go shopping for the whole family for an entire month. Choices can be customized to minimize waste of products you may not use, and your haul is delivered at the interface you opt for. Because you can customize your box at no fee, this is ideal for folks who want to budget and prepare their plans in advance. Hence, our subscription box makes it convent and safe at the same time. Moreover, the boxes are now recycled, making the concept eco-friendly and sustainable.
How do farmers benefit from associating with Farmers Fresh Zone?
The excellent “Middleman” concept is non-existent; the farmers are benefited from a better income. We enable farmers to have better living standards by helping them to get more value for their produce. We also address their pain points and guide them to determine their cropping pattern,maximize their profits, and stabilize their income. We have addressed the wastage issue through demand forecasting and product planning. We use technology that forecasts demand so that the farmers can farm according to the demand. It can help in planned diversity farming and doesn’t create excess production and loss to the farmers. Better price for their yield is always a dream for farmers. We help farmers get a better price for the product irrespective of the fluctuations in the market price. The price is fixed based on calculations that help them get a profit and considering the production cost.
Who are your competitions and how are you better than them?
Since we are a Startup, there are many big players in the market.
Our Customer Service, Quality, and transparency make us stand different from others. Our farmers follow Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) techniques for their produce. Our products and land of farmers are regularly tested for pesticide residues and free of chemicals. We give our customers full visibility of these test results with complete farm-level traceability implemented using our strong technology backbone. Our quality wing follows detailed inspection protocols prepared by our experts, ensuring that every sample we collect follows the guidelines and sampling plans prescribed.
Have you raised funding? If yes, then we would like to know the details. If no, then please tell us if you’re looking to expand?
Angel investment came in 2018 from the Indian angel network and Malabar angels and native angels – 2.5Cr. In 2020 we had a bridge round of 2.78Cr from existing investors.
Tell us about your team?
We have many promising professionals in our team who are very enthusiastic, dedicated, and hard-working.
- Akhil Das, Head of Operations and Sourcing (Ex-Big Basket, Reliance Fresh),
- Ummer Farook, Head of HR (Ex-Big Basket),
- Hani Hashim, Head of Products (Ex-Malabar Angel Network),
- Tismon Varghese (Head of Technology, 12 years of experience),
- Jom Jose, Virtual CFO
- Jozef Jagan – Head of Marketing
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