Agri Business

How a Mumbai-based firm changed the method of exporting bananas, pomegranates

Subramani Ra Mancombu Chennai | Updated on September 23, 2021

The fruits are exported in boxes with QR codes

Purnima Khandelwal, CEO, INI Farms Pvt. Ltd.

INI Farm exports 40,000 of fruits to over 35 nations working with 5,000 growers

Sometime in 2009, the Khandelwals — Purnima and Pankaj — took the initiative to start their own venture that would link farms to retail outlets.

Both saw a massive opportunity with mobile technology catching up in a sector that was “fragmented and broken”. They decided to pick up agricultural products that consumers wanted and work with farmers to value-add.

 

“We decided to take up fruits since they are hardy. We decided to value-add them which resulted in additional costs. We knew that if the trade was ready to accept them, consumers would also accept them. So, we looked at export-led growth,” Purnima, told BusinessLine.

Thus, INI Farms was started in Mumbai with Pankaj as Chairman and Purnima as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) in 2009.

Zeroing-in on 2 fruits

Fruits are seasonal in India but the Khandelwals looked at ones that are available throughout the year. Thus, they zeroed-in on bananas and pomegranates. “Indian pomegranates are different from other countries. The only problem is pesticide residue management,” the INI Farms CEO said.

“Again, when we started, India, the largest banana producer, was zero in the export of the fruit. In fact, our bananas could not be taken from farms to urban retail centres. And we had the Middle-East and South East Asia that are large consumers of bananas,” she said.

The Khandelwals decided to walk the extra mile with the farmers to ensure bananas were grown the same way as in other exporting countries. “When transported, bananas often developed black spots which affected their shelf life. We worked with farmers to improve the shelf life of bananas,” Purnima said.

Managing supply chain

“We defined our intervention with farmers and decided to manage the supply chain to maintain the sanctity of the fruit. We created our own infrastructure at par with world standards,” the INI Farms CEO said.

INI Farms undertook massive “on-field” efforts and made growers sensitive to the needs. “Bananas need to be handled like a baby. We changed the handling practices and brought technology from the Philippines. We disseminated the technology in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh that set-off fruit care activities,” Purnima said.

INI Farms, its CEO said, actually takes the packing houses to farms. “The fruit has to be taken from the farm to packing houses but we reworked that. All packaging operations happen on the field and then the action shifts to a centralised cold room where the fruits are stored,” she said.

Tackling pesticide residue

In the case of pomegranates, the agri-tech firm worked with farmers on managing pesticide residues and educated them. “We helped them sell their fruits in the market. In fact, we buy all that grows on the plot at the farm gate. Farmers need not worry about different sizes of fruits on their farms,” she said.

The company sells in different markets and hence when it buys all the fruits on the farm, it sorts, grades and packages based on these markets.

“Farmers produce European Union grade pomegranates that fetch 40 per cent additional income. In the case of bananas, they get an additional 30-35 per cent returns by selling in markets such as Dubai,” Purnima said.

Results of hard work

The hard work put in by the Khandelwals has resulted in INI Farms, which got funding from marquee investors such as Ronnie Screwvala (UTV), Aavishkaar, and Aspada, working with over 5,000 farmers across eight States. The firm exports 40,000 tonnes of fruits to over 35 countries besides serving the domestic market.

Some of the key markets of INI Farms are the Middle East, Europe, South East Asia, North America, Australia and New Zealand involving over 700 domestic modern-trade partners. Today, its Kimaye (divine in Sanskrit) brand is one of the trusted ones for bananas and pomegranates across the world.

Getting into the export market wasn’t easy. “The international trade had a commission model, something like the arthiyas here who dominated the trade. We had to change the model to work with the retailers directly,” Purnima said.

New foray

INI Farms entered the grapes business last year, while it has also entered the fresh-cut fruits business. “We have also begun introducing convenience on the go packets. We are offering coconut chunks and shreds in the EU and the Middle East,” she said.

Recently, INI Farms entered the “direct to consumers” market in Mumbai by selling an assortment of Indian and imported fruits. “We will be expanding this to Delhi in October. The fruits are sold online and delivered directly to consumers,” she added.

Published on September 23, 2021

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