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FreshToHome has grown 4x since 2019: CEO Shan Kadavil

The online meat & sea-food company is now foraying into delivery of fruits, vegetables & dairy.

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Shan Kadavil’s bio on a networking platform reads ‘Farmer, Fisherman & Entrepreneur’.  In his own words, his journey to co-founding FreshToHome stemmed simply from a desire to find safe, hygienic fish to consume. That desire turned into passion, which in turn set him off on a mission to source seafood which is free of chemicals & antibiotic residue. To do so, Kadavil and team had to disrupt the traditional ways in which sourcing and distribution of seafood & meat happens in India and re-invent the food supply chain from scratch, by disengaging with the middle men and providing value to the farmers and fishermen.

Thus, was born FreshToHome- an AI-based online marketplace that directly connects consumers with the fishermen and farmers. Today the platform has transformed into arguably the world’s largest vertically integrated e-commerce company in the fish and meat space, delivering to nearly two million customers in ten cities in India and all of UAE. The brand is now making forays into other fresh food categories such as fruits, vegetables and dairy.

An entrepreneur who jump-started many technology companies and start-ups in India and the US, Kadavil has been named twice in the Exhibit magazine’s "100 Top Tech Indians" list, and won the Economic Times “Most Promising Entrepreneur of 2019” award, among others. Founder, chairman of tech startup, Dbaux Technologies, Kadavil holds a number of patents in the areas of Big Data & Cloud Computing.

Kadavil is also credited with having built the first and largest Studio outside the US for Zynga- a leader in social gaming and maker of popular games such as Farmville, CityVille & Mafia Wars- in his previous role as the country manager & India founder of the company.

As he himself jokingly once said, Kadavil literally went from making virtual tomatoes and potatoes on Farmville to actually farming fresh vegetables, poultry and fishes from fishermen.

IndianTelevision’s Anupama Sajeet caught up with the multi-functional leader for a freewheeling conversation on being one of the early movers in the online seafood & meat delivery space in India, the challenges it entailed and on the road ahead for the e-tailer…

Edited excerpts:

On the brand’s claim of ‘zero chemicals & antibiotic-residue free’ on its fish & meat products

The key to success in the fish and meat category is quality products and the fastest time from source to end consumer. A typical fish supply chain in India has over three middlemen which takes at least three to four days to reach the end-user. FreshToHome’s AI & IoT-tech-enabled platform ensures that the sellers are able to source without middlemen and the product reaches the end consumer within 24 to 36 hours.

Additionally, the platform guarantees that an around-the-clock cold chain keeps the products within a range of zero to four degrees. The prompt delivery to the customer’s doorstep is possible through our state-of-the-art facilities and hubs in all regions and our convoy of vehicles that deliver around 23,000 tons of fish and meat per year.

Apart from this, we have numerous checks during the process, including for standard chemicals, antibiotics, and preservatives. FreshToHome has reputed third-party lab certification that we provide on our website and app, which our customers are free to download. With this, we are able to validate that the products our customers are purchasing have been tested for over 120 antibiotics and other chemicals.

On the marketing strategy behind the recent TVC campaign & revamped logo

With our first campaign titled “Apne aap se, ya app se” we reference the wet market and nudge consumers to move online and buy from the FreshToHome app for a better experience. The film aims to highlight the predicament faced by ‘non-app’ users. There are three films created, which show the comparison with the wet market in a split screen treatment, depicting our three product categories- chicken, fish & meat- with super-quick delivery, cleaned, cut, and ready-to-cook. Most importantly, it shows how the consumer can save time and effort spent in the conventional ways of buying and thereafter cleaning, cooking it. We have also revamped our brand imagery (logo, look and feel) to be more youthful and fresh, bringing to life its core of fresh, chemical free food.

On the brand’s media mix for advertising

Being a digitally native brand, our media will be primarily digital. Post pandemic, coinciding with our campaign launch, our media mix has included TV, OTT, outdoor and print in a big way, as we want to deliver a larger thematic message by creating awareness of the benefits of shifting to buying meat and seafood online.

On ‘the pandemic effect’ and the difference in numbers- pre & post Covid

The growth of the platform has been rapid during the pandemic- the number of orders and registered users have gone up. While, in the first wave we witnessed a growth of 1.5 times, we have registered a growth of 2.5 times now.

During the first wave, we were less prepared and there were a lot of issues in settling down operationally. We spent a lot of energy figuring out how to amplify human capital. The lack of resources was a problem but we have now hired 40 per cent extra manpower. In the last three to four months, we have employed 3000-4000 people. This rapid growth has happened on our platform directly or indirectly. And that kind of growth prepared us for the second wave. Earlier where we had one factory in each city, we now have two to three factories. We have grown four times from 2019 to the present. Currently, we are getting 2.2 to 2.3 million orders per month.

On the shift in consumer behaviour towards online & company’s plan post-pandemic

Online space is going to become much more competitive and saturated with every passing day. Companies like us will not be able to ignore the importance of this medium if they want to stand out among the competition and provide value to their consumers. Businesses with agility and creativity should work together to ensure the collective survival of this ecosystem.

The industry has continued to reach out to micro-influencers for awareness about safety and hygiene among their potential consumers. It is imperative to adopt marketing strategies directed towards building a direct bond with their customers by focusing on digital methods.

Talking particularly about FreshToHome and FTH Daily, COVID-19 transformed the fish and meat purchasing behaviour of consumers dramatically. Due to safety concerns, consumers made the habit-forming shift to e-commerce and we saw online demand for our products going up manifolds last year, thanks to the safety guarantee of “100 per cent Fresh and zero per cent chemicals”.

On features, that sets FreshToHome apart from other established e-tailers

The key differentiator of FreshToHome is our direct sourcing approach. For a competitor, who buys from vendors in the city, this is a hard task to do. Our ‘Farm to Fork’ feature and our AI-backed US patent called “Virtual Commodities exchange” is primarily what helps us stand apart. So, we get the info on consumer demand and then we match this with supply information from farmers. With the help of this, the time delay between taking the product and reaching the consumer is reduced.

Secondly, there are no chances of wastage. The wastage in the supply chain of fish is about 15 per cent. The time cut-off in the supply chain, which is a minimum of 0 to 24 hours, makes us extremely competitive. Then there’s our sourcing strength. Most players may go to five to six harbours, but we go to nearly 500 fishermen and 125 harbours. This has the advantage of being marginalized in cost and not overpriced.

Also, we use external labs to get certifications like ‘Free of ammonia’ and ‘No preservatives and antibiotic residue’. We are an honest brand and we are vocal about it.

On ensuring quality, while expanding the products portfolio beyond meat

When Mathew Joseph (co-founder) and I met, he had a company called ‘SeaToHome’. The reason behind starting ‘FreshToHome’ was to expand our categories to everything “fresh”- that was the vision. Since then, we realised that fish itself has been a complex challenge of hygiene but we are slowly and steadily building against that. It took us four years before we got our commodity on the exchange platform correctly. Then, to build the cold chain and supply chain- the whole process took us five to six years to develop.

Now that the infrastructure has been developed, we are expanding our categories to fruits, vegetables and dairy. We have already expanded our daily delivery service- FTH Daily in 2019, which specialises in delivering milk, groceries, fruits, vegetables, and daily essentials, in Bangalore, Hyderabad, and Pune.

On challenges faced while expanding regionally

The challenge has always been to change an inherent consumer behaviour to shift their purchase of meat and seafood through our app, instead of going out and buying it themselves. This is a gradual shift where we are continuing to educate consumers about the benefits of buying meat and seafood from FreshToHome.

On plans for international expansion

We are already one of the largest players in the UAE and now plan to expand to all GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries, specifically in Saudi Arabia, Oman and Qatar.

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