The desire to eat fresh and healthy is driving a whole new farm-to-doorstep vegetable and fruit delivery service in Bengaluru
You couldn’t have missed these small delivery vans with vegetable drawings on them plying around your area, advertising fresh vegetables. From heirloom tomatoes grown in Talakad to pumpkin grown in Chickballapur, they offer a whole rainbow of vegetables, greens, fruits, herbs, and more.
Varshini D., a homemaker in Bengaluru was in the habit of buying her vegetables ‘fresh’ everyday from her nearby supermarket. But she was dissatisfied with the quality of the veggies she got; it wasn’t fresh either. Most of the greens would be wilted. Being in an apartment in Jayanagar, her access to the traditional cart vendor too wasn’t there. “Obsessed with feeding my kids safe and fresh foods, I started scouring online and was amazed to find so many delivery services, where they tell you where the veggies come from, when it was harvested, with door delivery …I was thrilled.”
People like her are aplenty in Bengaluru and the demand has driven many farm-to-doorstep ventures in recent years, eliminating middlemen, reducing time taken to reach the consumer, and cutting costs.
Ranganath K.R., a system administrator and network security engineer switched to farming and launched Farm Direct Express in 2015, after going through much learning and experimenting. Inspired by greenhouse growing in New Zealand where he was studying for his post-grad, he later started learning various aspects of hi-tech farming. After trying out soilless cultivation (hydroponics, aeroponics), he started by growing coloured bell peppers. “The problem started once we started getting a good yield at the farm. The wholesale prices for coloured bell pepper was hovering between Rs. 25 to 33, whereas the retail prices were always above Rs. 100 -- that was like three times the price! I was compromising giving it to the middlemen.”
That’s when he decided he will sell directly to customers. He got together with neighbouring farmers who were growing other vegetables and started sourcing it directly from them and selling to the customer at lower prices compared to local retailers. He now has farms in Chickaballpur and Kanakpura. Vegetables harvested in the morning are bought to customers by evening. They also operate a little differently – “We don’t make home deliveries. We sign up apartment complexes and gated communities and as per their requirement send vehicles to the premises two to three times a week. We will soon be starting street vending.” About 150 to 200 customers buy their vegetables and fruits every day, in HSR Layout, BTM Layout, JP Nagar 4th Phase. No gunny or plastic bags are involved. Vegetables are cleaned, graded and crated into FDA approved food grade crates at the source, he stresses, and transported in refrigerated reefer trucks, unlike open carts more prone to dust and dirt. Electronic weighing scales and printed bills are other plusses, he adds. Customers can buy anything from 10 grams to 10 kilograms.
Sakura Fresh, an e-commerce arm of First Agro headquartered in Japan, delivers “zero pesticide” non-GMO vegetables – “anything ranging from badnekai to purple beans and kale,” says its MD, Naveen M.V. Twice a week, they door deliver over 147 varieties of veggies and greens (including exotic salad vegetables and Japanese gourmet stuff) to over 1,500 registered customers in Bengaluru who order online. “We are India’s first commercial grower organisation with zero pesticide produce complying to FAO/WHO’s Codex Alimentarius, the highest food safety standards, for domestic markets in India,” says Naveen.
Their farms are in Talakadu (on the way to Mysuru). While a majority of their produce is available in other stores, and bought up by five-star restaurants as part of their “Chef’s garden” plan, this is a small but growing wing of their business. “Most of our customers are Page-3 people who use our fresh and exotic produce when they host parties, or for their families because they are health conscious. Also those who are hooked to these Masterchef TV series and want to cook using exotic ingredients. Another kind of customer is the patient – maybe suffering from cancer, PCOD, and have been asked by their doctors to eat pesticide-free food. The large expat population in the city of Japanese, Koreans and British national also buy from us,” says Naveen. “The problem in India is that we still don’t understand food safety. Do we really know what’s on our plate? Where it came from? We are not traders; we are growers, so we have a traceability.” They have a distributor network to reach the produce. The minimum order is Rs. 150, with a Rs. 50 delivery charge. Customers pay only by cash on delivery, and they deliver in most parts of the city except in a few pockets, says Naveen.
Madhusudhan S, who calls himself chief farmer at back2basics, started farming on 1,200 square feet of land and today has five organic farms on the outskirts of the city, including one in Thali in Tamil Nadu. An IIM-B graduate who launched Airtel’s operations in south India, he collapsed one day in office. While in therapy, he was suggested to take up gardening. He started learning and even went to GKVK to train but says his best teachers have been YouTube, Google and Wikiepdia.
Over the last five years, his farm has slowly grown and scaled up to export organic vegetables to Singapore and Germany, but three months ago, when his Wharton School educated daughter Bhairavi joined him in the business, they decided to supply directly to customers. They are already doing 300 deliveries a week spread over six days. There is no delivery charge; the first minimum order is Rs. 250 and thereafter Rs. 500. “The problem with most organic produce currently in the market is that you go simply by trust. We have proof; we invite all our customers to come experience for themselves our farm, not more than 20 minutes from Whitefield,” says Madhusudhan. Initially he believed that no one except the rich in Whitefield would buy such produce. “But my maximum customer base comes from J.P.Nagar, Bannerghatta Road and surrounding areas. A large portion of buyers are young mothers worried about the quality of food they feed their children.” Their harvest starts at 1.30 a.m. and Whatsaspp updates are sent to customers (who place orders online). Deliveries are made early morning the same day, bringing to the doorstep vegetables and fruits ordered 48 hours ago.
Some of the farm-to-door delivery services:
What you can buy
*Heirloom/ exotic varieties of vegetables