Sophiamma Joseph, a homemaker from Pushp Vihar in New Delhi, has found a new address when it comes to buying fresh meat and fish. Instead of visiting the nearby wet market, a cluttered space swarming with flies and filled with noise, overwhelming smell and puddles of melted ice mixed with blood, Joseph now places the order at FreshToHome—an e-commerce service that operates out of Bengaluru.
Welcome to a changing world where customers increasingly prefer buying their favourite fish, steak or fillet online. Sipra Nayak, a software engineer who lives in Faridabad, Haryana is another regular buyer from FreshToHome. “It offers me a wide array of choice at the click of a button. I select a product based on its description on the website from the comfort of my home, and it gets delivered in a neatly sealed pouch in time,” she says. “But more than that the e-shop assures me that the product is fresh and of good quality. Compared to conven tional wet markets where sellers use ice and chemicals like ammonia to preserve fish for weeks and feed antibiotics to fatten poultry birds, FreshToHome claims that its products are chemical-and antibiotic-free,” she adds.
Sanjiv Aggarwal, a retired defence officer from Delhi’s Kailash Colony, is a regular buyer from Licious—another Bengaluru-based online store. He says that e-shops charge more than the conventional wet market. For instance, Licious charges R197 for 500 grams of boneless chicken and R399 for 500 grams of lamb. These would cost R140 and R250 in the open market. But Aggarwal is satisfied. “The quality of meat Licious delivers is clearly better. It is fresh, non-fibrous and tender,” he says.
Nayak also does not mind shelling out extra for the products. “After all, I used to commute 20 km to reach the nearby fish market. Now I not only save on fuel but also time,” she adds. Small wonder, these e-shops which were launched as small start-ups, have expanded and grown exponentially in just a couple of years. Both FreshToHome and Licious were launched in 2015. Today, the brands have their presence in Hyderabad, Gurugram and Delhi, apart from Bengaluru. In just three years, the annual turnover of Licious has increased from Rs 3 crore to Rs 50 crore and the number of orders from 1,300 a day to 2,500. “Today, Licious has a cult following, with 90 per cent of the business coming from repeat customers,” says Abhay Hanjura, who left his job at Futurisk as senior vice-president to set up the company along with Vivek Gupta. The latter was then part of Helion Ventures’ finance team.
TenderCuts is another such start-up based in Chennai. Though launched in 2016, the e-shop has now seven outlets covering more than 60 locations across the city. “The annual turnover of the company is some Rs 15 crore,” says Nishanth Chandran, founder of TenderCuts. Before starting the venture, Chandran was the managing director of Darwin Technologies, a web development company.
Beating at the game of time
But how do these e-shops manage to deliver the highly perishable products in a farm-fresh condition and also ensure that the products are free of chemicals?
Pratik Maitra, marketing head of Licious, explains that most commercial fisher-folk use trawlers that spend over a week in deep seas, filling the vessels. “By the time the catch comes to the shore and is delivered to markets, the fish is about three weeks old. To make fish look fresh, fishermen often inject chemicals near its eye. To avoid all these, Licious has partnered with 15 small-scale fisheries and meat-producing farmers across the country,” he says. “Post procurement, products are airlifted to cities like Delhi where we have outlets. There the products remain stored in cold chains at 0-4oC till the time of delivery. One can see the products available for a city on a particular day while placing the order online,” Maitra adds.
TenderCuts also sources fish and meat from local communities. “This ensures that the product travels short distance and remains fresh,” says marketing manager Kavitha R. “We try to deliver within 120 minutes. To keep up with our motto of delivering fresh, we do not deliver in localities that are far away from our outlets. So, customers should first check whether the delivery is available in their locality or not before placing the order on our website,” she cautions. To ensure that the products do not get spoiled during transit, Licious uses IOT (internet of things) device to keep a tab on the temperature of the delivery box, while TenderCuts uses gel packs.
Stringent quality check
“To ensure quality of poultry and livestock meat, animal breeds are selected carefully and their feed is regulated,” says Maitra. “We perform at least 30 quality checks in the farm at the time of collection. The products are again tested at the meat processing factory to ensure that they are free of toxins. We also send the products to external labs for microbiological tests,” he adds. Licious, which boasts of strict quality control, has cancelled deals with fisherfolk of a coast after the catch was found tainted with toxins. The products are then cleaned properly in reverse osmosis water and vacuum packed.
“Apart from carrying out business, we educate livestock rearers on breeds, feed and land types for grazing animals,” says Maitra, who claims that his company has brought butchers and fisherfolk into the mainstream by providing them with stable income, bank accounts and insurance facilities.
To reassure consumers about the quality of their product, TenderCuts and Licious have obtained certificates from the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) which shows their “products are in line with all food regulations”. Taking a step ahead, TenderCuts has also obtained anti-biotic-free certification from Eurofins, a worldwide lab testing service.
At a time when chemical-laden meat and fish pose serious hazards with antimicrobial resistance being described by the World Health Organization as a major public health issue, one may welcome the step taken by these e-shops to deliver quality products. But only time will tell whether these e-shops will continue to stick to their claims.
(This story was published first in April 1-15 issue of Down To Earth)