Bengaluru-based online fresh fish and meat retailer FreshToHome has seen an uptick in business since March 2020, as people are veering more towards online shopping. Mathew Joseph, the company’s CoFounder and COO talks to indoasiancommodities.com about the company’s growth so far and its future expansion plans.
How has the year 2020 been for your Fresh to Home?
Unlike many businesses, which have been adversely impacted by the Corona virus pandemic and the consequent nationwide lockdown, many e-commerce businesses have benefitted as people without access to shops and markets are ordering online. FreshToHome saw an 80 per cent spike in the international business, that is, the UAE market and 30 per cent in the Indian market.
Of course, there were logistical hiccups when the lockdown was announced. Though our products came under essential commodities, there were immediate challenges like workforce limitations, closure of large harbours. Also cargo and flights were blocked. All this meant not all fish and meat orders could be processed. But like any other challenge we worked around it. We adopted safety measures for the workforce and no contact delivery for the customers.
What made you get on to an online marketplace for highly perishable fish products initially?
I come from the Alleppey district, Kerala, and like a true Malayali I love my fish. I started my career as an accountant with a seafood export company, one of the 100 such companies there. But I soon got into operations and that gave me an opportunity to get acquainted with the entire coastline, from Kolkata to Gujarat.
In 2000, I decided to start my own fresh fish export company in Kochi having bagged an export order from Dubai. I did very well and got many international orders from Australia, Taipei, Saudi and Singapore. However, in 2010 -2011 business went through a rough patch following the global recession.
One day my wife asked me why I didn’t explore the local Indian market for the sale of fish instead of focusing only on international markets. That question was a game changer for me.
It started me on the journey to establish an e-commerce venture called SeaToHome.com. It was the first such venture in India at that time. We sourced fresh fish from the Kerala coast, avoiding the big boats which were out at sea for one to two weeks, instead buying directly from the local fishermen an then putting them in ice-filled thermocol boxes and dispatching them on commercial flights directly to the customers.
How did you transition from there to FreshToHome?
I am not a tech person. My fish retail portal was getting tremendous response, but I was unable to service the customers as the website crashed every time a few hundred people logged on to it. I had to shut down the business temporarily in 2014. I asked a software company in Kochi to tackle the issue and started looking for funds to finance the expansion.
Meantime, the closure of my portal made Shan Kadavil, at that time India country manager of Zynga, a US based social game developer, unhappy. He was our regular customer and now he was deprived of his fresh fish. He called me up and that was the beginning of our long term association.
He and a team of professionals brought the technical solution required to scale up the operation and FreshToHome was established in 2015, co-founded by Shan, who is the CEO, and me.
How has the collaboration worked out?
Shan’s technical knowhow applied to a traditional business has helped us attain global scale. Today we are operational in 20 cities, including Mumbai, Pune, Delhi-NCR, Trivandrum, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Kozhikode among others. We are also present in a big way in UAE.
We have today widened our product basket by adding meat and poultry products. We operate by associating with 1500-plus fishermen and other livestock and poultry farmers, to bring fresh, chemical-free fish and meat to our consumers. We have eliminated the middlemen, thereby benefiting the farmers.
How do you tackle competition from players like Licious?
The Indian fish industry is US $50 billion and the meat industry is US $31 billion and growing. It is a huge market and can accommodate new players. The market is also highly unorganised so larger the number of players it works better for the ecosystem.
Also, as the as the first company in the world to bring raw fish online, newcomers can learn from us.
What, according to you, is the way forward for Fresh to Home?
For us quality is everything. We have a no-compromise policy towards any sort of chemicals in our products.
Our procured fish or meat is tested at multiple levels by leading laboratories till the products reach the processing centres. Moreover, our team ensures that the cold chain maintains optimum temperature of 0-4 degree celsius and does not break until the product reaches the customer.
We have developed an app that allows fishermen to trade directly with the company. This app-based bidding process for fish trade is the first in the world. On a daily basis, we take part in bidding from around 125 fishing harbours.
Apart from the sourcing, the company has also built an entire infrastructure of trucks, cold chain and collection centres.
We process over a million orders a month. Currently, our revenue is over Rs 450 crore and we are looking to up it to Rs 1,500 crore by 2025. We employ about 1800 people in India and 300 in the UAE. We have 100 hubs across India and Dubai. We were planning to set up operations in Saudi Arabia, but it has been delayed due to the pandemic.
There are major expansion plans within India and abroad. We are looking to broaden our product portfolio to include Idly, Dosa batter, fruits and vegetables. We are also looking to scale up our operations to other cities in India.
We are also looking to expand our cooperative farming for freshwater fish and have set up poultry supply chains.