Happy Farmers! Happy Consumers
Ninjacart is Bengaluru based and India’s largest B2B fresh produce supply chain company. We had an interaction with ThirukumaranNagarajan, Co-founder and CEO of Ninjacart. He talks about the rough and tumble of an entrepreneur’s journey and finally switching to B2B from B2C business model.
How did you start Ninjacart? How did the venture commence?
Ninjacart was initially started by six co-founders, including SharathLoganathan, VasudevanChinnathambi, Kartheeswaran KK, AshutoshVikram, and Sachin Jose. It all started in 2014 when I met VasudevanChinnathambi, Kartheeswaran KK and I were at Taxi4Sure. We worked together and developed a brother-like relationship. Later, I met AshutoshVikram and Sachin Jose through CommonFloor, and Sharath has always been part of my entrepreneurial journey as we were classmates from IIM Kozhikode. Before landing on the idea of Ninjacart, I and Sharath had executed various projects which we were unable to expand due to sustainability and scalability issues.
We all got together in 2015 and transformed Shout App, a location-based app (the company I was working on with Sharath at the time), into an e-commerce site. Within Bengaluru, we started operating as a hyperlocal model to serve the end-consumer and helping retailers to take their inventory online. We aimed to deliver fresh produce to direct consumers within 60 minutes of their order. As soon as we began operating, we were inundated with customer concerns about unsafe produce being shipped. We went back to the supermarkets and business outlets to figure out what was going on. We discovered that the supply side of the food supply chain had no structure and was fragmented as farmers relied on middlemen to sell their produce. Retailers, on the other hand, had to compromise with the quality of fresh produce. As a result of the increasing demand for a more streamlined and immediate delivery experience, we decided to move from B2B to B2C.
We are currently operating in all major 11 cities across India with a turnaround time of 12 hours. The positive response from both consumers and farmers, and the overall impact have fuelled our determination to change the way India consumes food.
What is the vision of your organisation and what do you wish to achieve from this venture?
The vision is to feed safe food to ‘billions of people in India’, keeping quality and efficiency as a foremost priority. To achieve this, we have implemented a traceability infrastructure in the food supply chain that allows us to monitor fresh produce at all levels as it passes through different facilities. The pandemic has made things more urgent in terms of understanding the importance of technology in the agriculture sector. We are heavily investing in cutting-edge technologies that will make the procurement process easier for farmers by allowing them to monitor their land and crops via apps. We aim to learn and grow together as everyone is trying to solve the fragmented food supply chain in India. Kilofarms, an agritechstartup, has joined forces with us. We worked together to create the first batch of residue-free tomatoes, and we plan to add 18 more residue-free fruits and vegetables by the end of the year. We have developed tech-enabled methods such as drip irrigation to assist farmers in achieving the highest grade of fresh produce through residue-free methods and leveraging each other’s technological capabilities.
We believe in educating farmers and equipping them to deal with new technological concepts such as sensors, data analytics, apps, and a variety of other resources that can help them achieve better results. As we move forward, we hope to introduce more farmers to the Ninjacart family and collaborate with companies that value growth and sustainability. The platform’s focus remains on leveraging strengths and expertise to develop new product categories and consumer segments while also addressing complex supply chain issues.
Ninjacart bridges the gap between the farmers and the sellers. What is the impact that you see in the lives of farmers and sellers with your intervention?
Embracing transparency, traceability and sustainability, Ninjacart sources fresh vegetables and fruits from farm to stores. Ninjacart was established to ensure the well being of farmers by helping them derive high value for their farm produce while providing the best possible yield for the end-consumer.
Over the last six years, Ninjacart has made an impact in the lives of both farmers and retailers. Working closely with our farmer partners, Ninjacart maintained a consistent supply of high-quality produce that meet consumer demand. We helped farmers access data-driven crop recommendations and guided them with reliable pre-harvest pricing information as well as demand trends. It allowed farmers to concentrate on farming and learn new cultivating processes. We have seen a 20% rise in the net realised income of our farmers. Most importantly, Ninjacart saves time and effort of the farmer that is otherwise spent in dealing with the numerous middlemen. We empower them to deal with middlemen in the supply chain who do not adequately pay the farmers for their efforts in turn undervaluing the produce.
Retailers, on the other hand, enjoy the hygienic delivery of fresh, good quality produce at their doorstep without bothering about morning visits to the market. Retailers can purchase a wide range of quality graded vegetables and fruits for their businesses at the best deals allowing them to boost their profit margin. Periodical deals and discounts are other advantages for retailers associated with Ninjacart. They can replenish their inventory regularly to reduce inventory holdings and quicken processing time.
At every step, Ninjacart has maximised value for all stakeholders.
- 20% more revenue, fair price
- One-stop-sale for all produce
- Quick payments through online banking facilities
- Transparent weighing
- Consistent demand via market forecasting
- Doorstep delivery
- Competitive pricing, better than the market
- High quality graded produce
- Convenient and time-saving
- Hygienically handled produce – one-touch method
- 100% traceable to farms – Improves food safety
- Good quality produce
- Lesser food wastage. (Traditional mandis waste up to 35% of food)
Could you elaborate on the technologies used to make the supply chain seamless?
Over the years, we at Ninjacart have invested in technology to simplify its processes and improve its logistics to deliver hygienically-handled produce from farmers to retailers and businesses across major cities in less than 12 hours. Every action and process is controlled and governed by technology. Ninjacart has boosted its efficiencies with Data Science, sophisticated algorithms and App-based platforms to make the supply chain more efficient and accessible. It has drastically reduced the amount of time taken for the farm produce to transfer from farm to stores.
Ninjacart supply chain algorithm preserves all the retail order information for future reference. It helps in examining the best delivery route based on customer location, tonnage, crate counts, time of delivery and so on. This algorithm perfectly employs the vehicle route towards the customer location after taking into account all the variables such as vehicle type, start place, maximum crate size, average vehicle speed to allocate the delivery route and so on. By mapping 1000+ routes for vehicles, our algorithms simplify logistics preparation and optimization. Furthermore, We have taken a constraint-based modeling approach. Constraints are based on distance, vehicle, cost, capacity and time. After defining these constraints, we use a metaheuristic optimization technique (Guided Local Search) to maximize our objective function and reduce our supply cost. Furthermore, we ensure transparency in the entire food value chain through RFID (Radio Frequency Identification), it enables us to track fresh produce as it undergoes various facilities.
Our tech-enabled supply chain allows us to work closely with farmers, providing them with data-driven crop recommendations. Through the ‘farmer harvest calendar’, we inform about the availability of fruits and vegetables in each season. It also examines consumer purchasing history and order frequency to assess the types of items that must be procured. It helps gain insight into the demand and supply of produce
To decide what goes into a farm to grow particular farm produce, we follow best practices and use analysis techniques, which can be summarised as follows:
- Facial Recognition: The software quickly captures the entire face, which is then fragmented into small pieces and converted into data streams. To mark attendance, 90% accuracy is required each time. This data can then be used to track the productivity of employees from start to finish and at various points in the supply chain, as well as to solve common problems that arise, ensuring orders are delivered timely and without hiccups.
- Constraint-oriented modeling: Constraints are based on distance, vehicle, cost, capacity and time. After defining these constraints, we use a metaheuristic optimization technique (Guided Local Search), to maximize objective function and reduce supply cost
- Future-ready ERP: Mobile-ready ERP removes paper usage in the supply chain
- Demand Forecasting: Leverages deep machine learning to improve accuracy in forecasting by 97% and reduce the overall wastage to 4% [traditional supply chains have wastage up to 25%]
- Farmer apps:Ninjacart also has specific apps for the farmers wherein we help them not only in demand forecasting but also with harvest planning and determining the price indent
- Connected Logistics: Speed and price can make or break any supply chain. Ninjacart’s indigenous route optimization and utilization keeps the load factor at 92% and puts fresher vegetables on the plate (they move the produce from farm to store within 12 hours) at a cost almost 1/3rd of the traditional supply chain.
- Vehicle Route Planning is vital in driving the Ninjacart Supply Chain
- Social security: Cashless and instant
What kind of challenges do you face right from sourcing to delivery of perishable goods and the solutions you have found along the way?
Owing to the massive size of the supply chain, quality control, and managing the large workforce is a big hurdle. There are multiple concerns that affect the food supply chain. Some of the challenges and their solutions are stated below-Post-harvest losses were caused by a lack of communication, inadequate storage space, and a supply-demand mismatch, which had to be managed by providing appropriate harvesting tools and equipment. We had to train/educate the farmers at the same time. In addition, innovative management and new technologies are being used to assist retailers in overcoming obstacles such as lengthy procurement processes, inadequate quality management, and aggressive pricing.
In a nutshell, with the help of automated functions, Ninjacart managed to overcome the following challenges with strong yet unique solutions.
- In the beginning, we set out to overcome two big challenges: convincing retailers and grocery store owners to go online, and convincing farmers to trust us, a tech startup, over the conventional middleman they had known for years.
- Introduced more advanced management and emerging technologies to enhance supply chain management, resulting in low cost, moderate and super fast.
- Ninjacart managed to eliminate the struggle faced by the farmers due to middlemen. Farm products were undervalued, and farmers were not compensated fairly for their efforts.
- We moved forward with building a traceability infrastructure that allowed everyone to track every step of the supply chain. We launched ‘FoodPrint’, which helps us to learn everything about the food we consume. Everything could be tracked with the help of this initiative. Right from identification of the farmer to the helpers at the collection center, the retailer and the delivery process. .
On World Food Safety Day you launched an initiative ‘FoodPrint’. Can you tell our readers more about it and its implication?
With customers focusing on their wellbeing, it was time to add value through creativity and achieve common goals around the agricultural value chain. We have worked hard to bring food traceability to this sector since our inception, and with the ‘FoodPrint’ initiative, we were finally able to assist consumers in tracking fresh produce back to its origin. It not only ensures 100% traceability but also serves the purpose of ensuring food safety till last-mile delivery. It starts from identifying the farmer to the date and time of harvest, the transporting truck, the processing warehouse, the warehouse helper, the retailer, to finally revealing how it was delivered to your doorstep. This endeavor focuses on driving home transparency. It allows us to hold everyone accountable for how fresh produce is handled, stored , and transported.
With the assistance of technology like RFID tags, a product is mapped right from the time a farmer brings the produce to the collection centres and then the same foodprint ID is kept intact till it reaches the consumer. All this is possible by entering the order number that one receives on the Realtime Footprint Viewer.
Your learnings as an entrepreneur and message to other agribusiness start-ups?
During such unprecedented hours, my advice would be to look at every challenge as an opportunity and driving one’s efforts towards it. Even though the pandemic has created chaos, it has also offered a chance for entrepreneurs and startups to see the big picture. The pandemic pushed Ninjacart closer to achieving its vision of providing “Safe food for a billion people”. Our approach to safer food for billion people is to provide zero residue food than pure organic food — because it is practical, scalable and affordable.
Talking specifically about my entrepreneurial journey then I must say that it was a rollercoaster ride. Some ideas initially looked promising but eventually failed. Failure never bothered me. It encouraged me to do something innovative and contribute to resolving some of the grave challenges. I was constantly contemplating multiple ideas and never gave up on pursuing them. I have worked with around six startups, and the most well-known brand was Taxiforsure before Ninjacart. The other startups I tried my hands on are Shout and Eduraft. As an entrepreneur, it is essential to stay consistent and focused on your idea. See that it is addressing the pain point of your customers or users. Additionally, keep listening to your customers as they communicate a lot. Also, one has to be faster in decision making as not making a decision is also a decision. Lastly, It is crucial to stay calm and composed throughout the journey.