Bengaluru-based Ninjacart started its operations in 2015 as a B2C, direct-to-consumer model delivering fresh produce directly to the consumers from retailers. After operating in Bengaluru for approximately six months, it came across myriad grievances from mom-and-pop stores about the inability to obtain fresh produce on time. Thirukumaran Nagarajan, chief executive officer and co-founder of Ninjacart, recalls, "It was a difficult decision for us to pivot Ninjacart's business model from B2C to B2B. However, the inefficiencies in the food supply chain propelled us to take this drastic step. Being a part of this industry for more than five years, we can proudly say that Ninjacart has replaced intermediaries with Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), data science, and app-based platforms. Thus, making the supply chain more efficient, transparent, and cost-effective."
Over the years, Ninjacart has expanded its reach from 11 cities to 50 cities and 150- 200 villages, sourcing fresh produce from farmers and directly supplying it to retailers in less than 12 hours.
Connecting agriculture to technology
Agriculture, like all other industries, has been proliferated by technological advancements. Cultivators in India are now embracing technology to maximize their potential in any farming activity they choose to engage in. At Ninjacart, diagnostic analytics techniques organize weekly sales and procurement forecasts at the SKU level by combining growth goals with historical demand data and market conditions. Predictive analytics is another analytics technique that tells what is likely to happen, and it detects possible hazards in the supply chain, detecting optimal patterns and correcting faults.
Nagarajan claims that Ninjacart delivers fresh produce in less than 12 hours across 50 cities without sacrificing quality and freshness. Speaking of Ninjacart's tech-enabled supply-chain model, he adds, "We have adopted special trolleys to load and unload the crates, resulting in a faster turnaround than conventional lift-and-place logistic solutions. The entire procedure is monitored by an app, which assists us in placing crates in a specific order, simultaneously ensuring faster delivery. RFID is used in every step of the Ninjacart supply chain, including internal control. It allows us to track fresh produce going through various facilities. Through the recent innovation of FoodPrint, we track fresh produce at all levels of the supply chain, from being delivered to the Collection Centre (CC) by farmers to the end consumers or businesses."
He further explains, "The sourcing and distribution of produce from farm to fork are controlled through data. The supply chain cycle at Ninjacart starts two days before the delivery date with a step called 'Forecasting'. It is a very crucial step for Ninjacart's growth and profitability as its over-prediction leads to unsold losses, and under-prediction leads to demand loss and dissatisfied customers. The last five years of comprehensive data on supply, price, and demand, coupled with deep AI algorithms, generate a forecasting model with 95% accuracy."
Supply chain model at Ninjacart
Demand-led harvest - The first step in its operational journey involves acquiring and understanding the 'Farmer Harvest Calendar'. It provides an overview of the availability of fruits and vegetables in each season, simultaneously helping gauge the demand and supply better. Once this is done, farmers are given a week's notice, explaining what and how much is expected from their end. The message sent to them is disseminated after a thorough evaluation of the market demand, which is analyzed with the help of ML and data analytics tools.
Tagging and storing - After the produce is procured, it is sent to the collection centers (CC), which are checked for quality, and approved goods are stored in crates. Post weighing and tagging (for easy end-to-end tracking and identification) the goods, a message is sent to the farmers about the price of their crops, and the amount is credited to their respective bank accounts the next day.
App-monitored loading & unloading - The crates are then moved to fulfillment centers (FF), loaded, and unloaded using special trolleys that have reduced the turnaround time. This entire process is monitored by an app. The products are loaded onto vehicles at the distribution centers (DC) for delivery, starting at 2.00 AM daily.
RFID Tag - On arrival, the vehicle RFID tag is scanned to ensure that the right vehicle has reached and the security tag number is verified to validate no tampering has happened. Items are unloaded from the vehicle using the custom ramp designed for facilities without docks. Each dolly is scanned using RFID guns to ensure none is missed for unloading. Once the items are unloaded, the empty crates from the previous day are loaded and sent back to the Fulfillment Centers (FC).
Dispatch - Once the last-mile vehicles arrive at the MDC at 5 AM, routes are assigned to drivers, and dispatch starts. Last-mile routes are assigned based on the first-come-first-serve basis and past performance. Meanwhile, items are segregated route-wise. Weight and quality checks are carried out in the presence of the driver to ensure transparency. Once items are handed over, the driver loads the items and moves for delivery. The dispatch happens in multiple slots to optimize space and use the same vehicle for multiple trips.
GPS for route optimization - The vehicles are installed with GPS and other route optimization software for quick delivery. Once the goods have reached the destination, they are re-checked by the customers, and empty crates are returned for carrying the fresh orders.
Reverse supply - In case of any returns, the driver collects the goods from the customers, and these items are sold to nearby restaurants. At the end of each such cycle, feedback is collected from the buyers based on product quality, quantity, and driver behavior. Once the driver receives the payment, the app updates him about the following delivery location.
Price stability for farmers
Ninjacart distinguishes itself from other agritech firms in India by advising and aiding farmers in locating the best marketplace for selling their goods, simultaneously ensuring that they are sold at a fair price. The company aids farmers in better price realization, quality assurance, control across operational areas, payment guarantee for all the stakeholders, better market linkage.
With the help of integrated logistics, farmers of Ninjacart can purchase and sell in a transparent manner via the company's supply chain infrastructure. This has helped improve their living standards, enabling them to make more profits. Nagarajan proudly shares, "Farmers saw a 20% boost in revenue after eliminating intermediaries and gaining direct market linkage access. Payment is made within 24 hours of receiving fresh produce. We have also developed a responsive, real-time logistics network to manage inventory, reduce processing time, and improve efficiency and forecasting models. All these endeavors have led to less food waste and shortages."
Agriculture ministry signs MOU to promote digital agriculture
Ninjacart recently inked an MoU with the Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmer Welfare to broaden its ambition. Nagarajan explains, "As a pioneering agritech platform, we will create and host the Agri Marketplace Platform (AMP), which will allow all players in the post-harvest market linkage to come together. Proof of Concept (POC) testing will take place in Chhindwara (Madhya Pradesh), Anand (Gujarat), and Indore (Madhya Pradesh). Farmers will be able to make informed decisions about what crop to produce, what variety of seed to use, and what best practices to employ to maximize production based on the results of these pilot projects."
Ninjacart is educating farmers on producing high-quality residue-free farming practices. Last year, they had joined forces with Kilofarms and produced the first batch of residue-free tomatoes. Following the first batch of residue-free tomatoes production, they are optimistic about cultivating eight more crops that will be residue-free, including muskmelon, watermelon, chilies, potatoes, ridge gourd, lady finger by this year.
"We are shifting our focus from creating a 'Farmer to Retailer Ecosystem' to a much bigger goal of creating India's largest digital Agri ecosystem that provides exceptional service, transparency, and supports equal income," he concludes.