CHENNAI: Before Walt Disney birthed Mickey Mouse, he made Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. But in a dispute with his business partner at Universal, Disney lost the rights to Oswald. The loss of his first character inspired the creation of what was to be one of the most endearing cartoon characters of animation history.
That’s not all; Mickey was born in 1928, just when The Great Depression was getting started. Perhaps God and probably Disney, too, knew that America needed to smile now more than ever before. Why am I narrating this story? Because our current socio-economic climate seems to offer plenty of reasons to buckle our belts and stay conservative.
But Disney’s account tells us that an economic downturn can create an appetite for opportunities and innovation, if you will. This is the kind of business agility that 27-year-old Prashanth Vasan discovered during the lockdown last year when the food supply-chain industry in the country witnessed a slump.
“The vegetable and fruit market is very unorganised in India. New restaurants don’t know who to reach out to for supplies; they are clueless about the rate of supplies they are ordering. Many vendors don’t supply to small businesses, who then end up going to supermarkets (and pay up a lot more),” says the CEO, who worked in McCann World group before his entrepreneurial debut.
A few brainstorming sessions during the lockdown offered Prashanth and his potential partner Jay Trading – owned by his family friends, one of the many fruit and vegetable suppliers in Koyambedu market, who have been supplying to big companies, industries and colleges for 60 years time to ideate, incubate and set up Madras Mandi.
Supporting #vocalforlocal, the app is a platform where any restaurant or small business in Chennai can procure fruits and vegetables fresh from the farm.
“Most grocery apps offer only 30-40 options, but you can find 185 varieties in our app from exotic to local produce. This is possible because our partner has been in the market for several decades. We are trying to integrate the traditional buying method with technology,” shares Prashanth.
Most restaurants, he says, cannot hire a purchase manager, making inventory management a tedious task. It was apparent that the app must streamline the market of purchase management and change the ordering system, thereby enabling restaurants to purchase the entire requirement without having to seek multiple offline vendors.
Besides, business owners can create a virtual purchase manager, have all the expenses managed, receive daily statements, and do away with the hassle of handbills. From March 2020, Prashanth and his team invested in time and research before testing the app in October and rolling out the launch in February 2021.
Using the opportunity presented by the pandemic, they set up a 20,000 sq ft warehouse in Vanagaram. The app’s endto- end process begins in Karnataka’s Malur at the Farmer Collection Centre (FCC) where the procurement of vegetables and fruits happens till 4 pm.
The products are transported to the warehouse the same evening. Grading begins the following morning at 2.30 and deliveries are sent out between 8-11 am. In the last six months, Madras Mandi has clocked in 2,000 registrations including 250 restaurants. But adapting to changing modes of operating a business requires unshackling of myths, it seems.
For instance, most businesses believe that having a monthly quotation fetches the best market price, he says. This is where Madras Mandi attempts to educate and reassure its clients that buying based on daily prices can help them save more.
“We pushed our app saying, tomorrow’s market price will be revealed one day prior. If onions cost Rs 20/kg today and tomorrow the price goes up to Rs 25, we won’t charge the new price. This also works for the benefit of the restaurant owner who can compare the daily price and calculate the average per month for an item, as it will be lesser than the usual monthly quotation,” he advises.
But weaning businesses off their conventional ways is not easy, he realised. “What works is the transparency we offer. You could be an owner based in the US, but you’ll have a heads-up of all the daily purchases through our app,” he notes, adding that his customers are now seeing merit in using the app.
While his partner’s longterm presence in the market eased the pressure to commence business, sustenance and vendor competition have been the twin challenges. However, what has so far worked in his favour is the 24×7 customer support and ease of communication, which reflected in their robust sales during January, February and March.
But with the food and hospitality industry going through a lull once again, in the current lockdown, sales have dipped. Prashanth, however, believes that possibilities are limitless. That he opened up orders for the B2C segment, a week back, proves his guiding philosophy.
With most start-ups battening down their hatches to weather this endless storm, Madras Mandi’s disruptive approach in a crisis reminds us that risk and reward are not too distant in their companionship.
Brands on board
While initially, establishments were hesitant, gradually, brands like Little Italy, Eden, Kakada, Cascade, Savya Rasa etc. shed the traditional purchasing habits and found value in using the app.