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INTERVIEW

“We had to change our growth plan; stick to existing model of online retail”
Monday, 13 July, 2020, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Digi’s Fresh is an online platform for doorstep delivery of organic food and grocery, wherein the team works with a network of grassroots farmers forming one single platform for all organic, exotic, farm fresh, imported, premium products. All their products come straight from the farms which are delivered to your doorstep.

Along with the superior quality of products they also use chemical-free sanitisation methods which make all their produce ready to use and consume. “The company also facilitates unique and biodegradable, eco-friendly packaging along with personalised delivery fleet system which enables customers to have a great experience shopping at Digi’s Fresh,” said Digvijay Singh Kushwaha, CEO & founder, Digi’s Fresh, in an interaction with Ranjana Sharma. He gave a detailed response about their innovative products and how Covid-19 pandemic has put their business plans out of gear. Excerpts:

How do you define your company? Explain the outline in brief?
We are an online based organic grocery store. We provide organic and farm fresh produce straight from the farms at your doorstep. We deal in a wide range of products ranging from organic vegetables, exotic farm fresh free range meats, organic, exotic and freshly imported fruits, farm fresh eggs, seafood and exotic leaf teas. We work with a network of grassroot farmers forming one single platform for all organic, exotic, farm fresh, imported, premium products.

We get all our products straight from the farms delivered to your doorstep.
Along with the superior quality of products we also use chemical-free sanitisation methods which make all our produce ready to use/ consume.
This clubbed with our unique and biodegradable, eco-friendly packaging and our personalised delivery fleet make for an A-grade customer experience.

Further, we, as a brand, believe in sustainable growth and efficient waste management lead to a complete successful system. Our carry bags are made of jute and all our packaging is either food grade plastic which is a necessity for our vacuum packs or biodegradable packaging. As for our waste management, we have tie ups with multiple food shelters throughout Delhi where we donate all our excess nonvegetarian items left after processing. Moreover, we have tie-ups with cow shelters where we donate all our excess vegetables and fruits left after processing and packaging (no expired or spoilt items are sent to these places).

What are the different and innovative products offered by you?
We are the only company that deals in organic vegetables, farm fresh free range exotic meats; organic, exotic and imported fruits; farm fresh eggs, exotic seafood items and exotic leaf teas all directly from the farms. Apart from having a unique and vast product range we use chemical-free techniques of sanitisation for all our produce, the technology for which has been imported from Germany. All our processing and delivery team is also inhouse which in all allows us to provide a more transparent, reliable and a more premium service to our customers, full accountability.

How are they different from that of competition?
We have different competitors in two lines of products– one is for meats and one is for fruits and vegetables. If we talk about our meat section, and the meat industry, in general, India as of today does not have an official body to certify meat as organic. The closest we get to it is farm fresh, antibiotic-free, residue-free meat which in place of a certification is supported by lab test reports.

The conventional meat we get in the market is packed with antibiotics, growth hormones etc. which help the companies get the produce ready in a shorter time frame. These artificial agents that are added in the conventional processes react in the human body in different ways. These are especially harmful for children and can lead to formation of deformities. We deal in exotic, farm fresh, free range meat. Organically raised animals are not given antibiotics, growth hormones, or fed animal by products.

Feeding livestock animal by products increases the risk of mad cow disease and the use of antibiotics can create antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. Organically raised animals are given more space to move around and access to the outdoors, which help to keep them healthy.

Organic meat are richer in certain nutrients, results of a 2016 European study show that levels of certain nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids, were up to 50 per cent higher in organic meat and milk than in conventionally raised versions. Organic food is GMO-free. Genetically Modified Organisms or genetically engineered foods are plants whose DNA has been altered in ways that cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding, most commonly in order to be resistant to pesticides or produce an insecticide.

If we talk about the fruits and vegetables section, throughout their lifespan, conventional products come in contact with multiple artificial agents during different stages of processing. This involves pesticides, artificial sweetening, polish to keep the shiny, growth promoters to increase the size at a faster rate. These added artificial agents react in the human body on different stages.

There is a major difference in the amount of antioxidants present in organic food and conventional food. Depending on the product organic products have 20% to 65% more antioxidants when compared to conventional products. Moreover, organic foods are ensured to be fresher than conventional foods. Since there are no synthetic materials added to increase its shelf life, organic products available in the market are farm fresh.

How your company has been affected by Covid-19?
The last two months have been especially challenging for our industry and business has been affected in multiple ways.

One - In a regular market we function all over Delhi NCR i.e. Delhi, Gurugram and Noida, however due to the state lockdown in our neighbouring states ( Haryana and UP) we were unable to cross borders on either side and hence were unable to provide services to our customers for a period of 50 days. With no other option available in the market customers had to fulfil their need with simpler items and compromise on product quality. This resulted in a whole market downgrading to lower product quality and shift from home delivery to physical purchase from multiple grocery stores. This is an isolated unusual situation which would not have taken place in a regular market.

Two- We have more than a few products that are freshly imported like our avocados, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, rose apple to name a few. These are among our higher selling items in the fruit category. When the pandemic hit the world market it hampered the import of such goods in our economy in a major way. On top of that after being imported these goods have to cross multiple domestic borders via roadways and due to the state lockdowns there was a gap in the supply chain which ended up in a large number of spoilt lots in the market therein decreasing the supply of a product in high demand. This messed with the pricing of these products and even bulk buyers were unable to get reasonable rates.

Three- Crash of the hospitality industry.Closing down of hotels and restaurants all over caused major decline in the demand of products from the meat industry. This caused a surge of surplus supply of these products in the market with very little demand. This caused the prices to topple down to the lowest that the industry has seen in over a decade. This caused farmers to go bankrupt and the ones that sustained went through heavy losses since they had to either dispose their stock at no value or had to majorly under value their stock value and sell the produce at next to nothing. This unexpected crash caused an irrecoverable crash in the market.

Four- The meat market was disrupted due to baseless rumours in the market that suggested that Covid can be transmitted through meat and people who consume meat are more susceptible to the disease. These rumours though baseless had a major impact on the retail sector because of the herd mentality of the uninformed Indian consumers.

What about plans such as expansion, diversification, collaboration and so on?
Pre-Covid-19, we were in the process of getting our first round of funding. At the time we had planned to venture out into offline retail and open 2 offline stores in 2 different, one by the end of 2020 and one by mid 2021. However, since nothing went as planned for the whole economy because of the pandemic, we had to change our growth plan and stick to our existing model of online retail.

In terms of expansion we have just started deliveries in Greater Noida and we plan on setting up shop (online) in Chandigarh by the end of this year. We see a great potential in that market and that is one of the markets that has responded really well to our surveys.

In terms of diversification, we recently introduced our own line of leaf teas. Moreover, we are looking to gain more depth in our exotic seafood section and introduce new products by the end of June 2020.

With the shifting trend with “Vocal for local” we plan on adding a whole new range of locally produced fruits. We’ started the process for our company by introducing alphonso mango as a new product on our list.  

What are the precautions taken by the company to tackle Covid-19 threat, while delivering the products?
Our delivery executives wear protective masks and gloves at all times. We practice contactless delivery. Temperature of the processing in-charge, packaging in-charge and delivery executive is mentioned on the bill with each order. As stated earlier we try to run a transparent and traceable business so that the customer feels comfortable in consuming our products knowing where it is coming from and how it has reached the customer. Most of the deliveries in today’s time are online, however the small amount that does take place through COD, our executives have been instructed to collect the cash directly in a carry bag without directly touching the cash or coming in contact with the customer. Our delivery executives follow strict social distancing inside as well as outside our facility. While delivering the products they are instructed to keep the package in front of the door and take a few steps back so that the customer is able to review the products and maintain social distancing.
If we talk about our facility, the regulations followed there pre-Covid-19 included sanitisation at the time of entry, protective gear and clothing provided inhouse; gloves, mask and sanitary cap to be worn at all times, regular health checks of employees, no outsider entry etc.

With the pandemic in full flow as per government regulations we also started recording temperatures of all employees 3 times a day.
 
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