‘We are in a sense productising F&V. F&V should not be associated with this loose unbranded product on a pushcart or anywhere else,’ says co-founder and CEO Sharma, 57, who took voluntary retirement from the Indian Administrative Service earlier this year after 34 years of service. A student of history from Delhi University, Sharma brings 18 years of experience in agriculture, including as agriculture secretary of Madhya Pradesh and India representative of the International Fund for Agricultural Development. His last major stint was as managing director for five years of Small Farmers’ Agri-business Consortium (SFAC), which encourages farmers to set up producer companies with guidance and grants.
Sabziwala began commercial trials in June in Delhi’s sub-city of Dwarka. Currently it has 32 outlets there including two own stores, plus three in the south-west neighbourhood of Janakpuri. It intends to go up to 100 by year-end and 500 by next March, which should cover most of the city’s major neighbourhoods.
Initially kirana shops hesitated to stock vegetables as they considered it infra-dig, but now they are queuing up says Sharma, because it brings footfalls for other groceries. An advantage of being a franchisee of Sabziwala is vendors do not have to haggle in mandisat dawn. The stuff is delivered to their doorsteps based on indents received the previous day. The unsold stuff is picked up in the evening. That which passes the grade is freshly packaged, labelled and despatched the next day. The rest is sold to dhabasand low grade restaurants, which prize price over quality.
‘Sabzi ka experience bahut acchha hai,’ says Renu Gill, a home maker who set up retail vend a couple of months ago in Dwarka Sector 7, with brother-in-law Amit Pal Gill, a TV cameraman. ‘People like the concept of pre-packed,’ she says. Her daily turnover from fruits and vegetables averages Rs 6,000 of which she retains 15 percent. Saroj Dhall also of Dwarka Sector 7 says she used to buy Safal but has shifted to Sabziwala because of lower prices and better quality. Santosh Kumar, who has an outlet just outside Sabziwala’s distribution centre at Dulsirus village in Dwarka, says his daily turnover is between Rs 8,000 and Rs 10,000. He intends to get out of selling chai and samosas to focus fulltime on vegetables.
Currently, Sabziwala does about 17 tonnes a day, divided almost equally between retail and institutions. It has roped in nine canteens of automaker Maruti Suzuki India. This is a far cry from the 300 tonnes which Safal sells every day in the National Capital Region through 350 outlets. But Safal began 30 years ago in 1986.