Info-tech

How Salad Days used simple tech to help farmers

Mala Bhargava | Updated on April 14, 2020 Published on April 14, 2020

One fine day, not very long ago, the venerable stray cows of Nauranpur (Gurugram) found themselves munching their way through an unexpected treat. Instead of the usual foraging fare, these bovines ate their fill of the finest ever strawberries. This may have been cause for mirth if it hadn't been for the fact that an entire rich harvest of the luscious fruit had to be dumped.

For Varun Madan, founder and CEO of Salad Days, the cows getting some strawberries was not to be begrudged. But what was heartbreaking was that most of the crop went to waste. The problem was, of course, the great Indian lockdown, which happened immediately.

Gurugram-based Salad Days started up in 2014, as a delivery-only company serving simple and real healthy food in Delhi-NCR. The idea was conceptualised because there was a clear dearth of genuine healthy food providers back then because historically salads were considered as mere sides to the mainstream Indian diet, and not as an eligible option for a hearty meal in itself. The start-up decided to embrace this cultural challenge as an opportunity, and address the big white space of serving real healthy, filling and tasty food in a quick format and at a reasonable price. Now, they serve across Gurugram, South Delhi and Noida.

Organic produce

 

Salad Days has been growing its own produce organically as far as possible. “I’ve always been in love with soil and growing things,” said Madan. “We started growing veggies and fruits the day we were sure of starting Salad Days, because I wanted to be absolutely sure of the ingredients we were to use.” Salad Days has farmed in Rajasthan and Haryana. They developed enough expertise to tell, from a mere look, how a vegetable or fruit was grown and even where in India it comes from.

“When we started growing strawberries,“ said Madan, “we found they were far superior to anything else available in the market.” Based on the overwhelming response from customers, they began to supply strawberries to hotels as well and listed them on their website three years ago. The advantage came from not growing commercial ‘short-cut’ style strawberries but their focus on quality rather than the massive yield.

When India girdled up and locked down to get out of the way of the coronavirus, all sorts of resources and logistics were disrupted temporarily, taking many a business under, or at least putting them in cold sleep. For Madan’s strawberry fields, it was a disaster. The fruit needed to be picked at a specific point of time and not allowed to over-ripen on the plant which would then be weakened, especially with the onset of warmer temperatures in NCR.

Ground level confusion

But local labour couldn’t come to harvest the sensitive fruit, and nor could any of the handling beyond the harvesting be carried out. “In the beginning of the lockdown, there was ground level confusion about how to deal with movements. Daily wagers local labour, mostly women, could not arrive due to the fear of checkpoints on the roads. We still tried and all permanent staff chipped in extra hours to collect the harvest, but we realised on day one that there was no way to bring the produce out to the base kitchen where we sort, sanitise and pack the fruit . And we actually grew much larger quantities than we did ever before.” Demand also went down to almost nothing as large-scale purchasers couldn’t use the produce in the lockdown situation. This led to having to dump the entire crop — with the cows in the vicinity getting a share.

Tech platform

 

With the value chain broken, many farmers from around the region were suffering and approached Madan for help. Experiencing the pain first hand, he quickly decided to try and help them using Salad Days' technology platform along with the online selling platforms of aggregators like Zomato and Swiggy.

When the restrictions were better streamlined after the initial few days, he spoke with the authorities and managed to arrange the movement passes, after which they were able to sell the farmers’ produce. Now, during the extended lockdown, this has started in earnest and fixed bags of vegetables and salad ingredients can be ordered at entirely reasonable costs. These are sanitised and beautifully packaged and delivered to customers in the Delhi-NCR.

“There’s no way the farmers could have known how to use the simplest of technologies to improve their situation and so we were happy to be able to do this for them” said Madan. “Even the vegetable mandis posed their own problems at this time.” With this, a new supply chain was started up, offering farmers in the region some livelihood.

Published on April 14, 2020

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