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Shan Kadavil is a man of many talents. From being one of the founding members at Zynga (of Farmville fame) to now running an ecommerce company for fresh seafood and meat, he has worked for, and managed companies in varying domains.
He chanced upon the idea of building FreshToHome when Mathew Joseph - a large fish exporter who had his own ecommerce venture and admittedly Kadavil’s favorite when it came to buying seafood - faced some financial issues with his business. While Kadavil was initially only an angel investor in Joseph’s business, he soon decided to take it a step further when he realized the potential.
Founded in 2015, FreshToHome is a start-up that has a presence across the supply chain, right from directly procuring from the fishermen and farmers, to last-mile delivery for the end customer.
“The key differentiator between us and any other competitors is the level of backward integration that we have done, and we believe we are the largest today in this segment, doing over a million orders per month,” says Kadavil.
He believes the company has been able to combine quality, chemical-free produce with reasonable mass-market pricing, which has allowed them to scale faster than those serving a more niche segment of customers.
Considering the number of coasts and harbors in India, among the biggest problems to solve was the fragmentation that existed in the market, says Kadavil. “So what we did is we gave an app to the fishermen and allowed them to actually trade with them, which just used pictures; we have an US patent on this technology, it uses AI/ML in the backend.”
Using this platform, the company is able to cut out the middlemen and increase the income for the source fishermen. Apart from the sourcing, the company has built an entire infrastructure of trucks, cold chain, collection centers and employs more than 2,000 people currently.
For freshwater fish, the company has its own cooperative farming. It finances small farmers and fishermen, providing them technology as well as the feed. Where this has helped immensely is that this network doesn’t get affected by supply chain variances, says Kadavil. “Similarly, we have also set up poultry supply chains, we have our own birds; we work with farmers, give them day-old chicks and then we do a buyback.”
However, according to him, the biggest challenge for them and other such players in the space is consumer behavior. “If you look at it from a hygiene perspective, wet markets are really poor, and in spite of that, Indian consumers equate that with quality. Essentially, the consumer education of moving people from offline to online is really our biggest challenge,” he says.
FreshToHome is combating that by providing the numerous certifications that its products have to the public. There are quality checks done at multiple levels, right from when the produce is being procured to the processing centers.
Profitable in locations where the business is mature, which includes Bengaluru, Chennai, Kerala and Delhi, the company has major expansion plans in place. It plans to become operational in other major cities like Kolkata and Hyderabad in the next 12 months as well as launch new product lines such as sausages and burgers.