Farming Colors even allows consumers to know the farmers who cultivated them, and offer a stay in their farm lands
Tonnes of adulterated vegetables and fruits are flowing into Kerala, a tiny consumer state in south India, every day. While there are check posts along the borders to check the quality of the produce being imported from neighbouring states, the situation remains the same.
Officials deployed at these checkpoints often connive with exporters/middle men to clear out the consignment without proper inspection and thus the contaminated food items reach the dining tables of consumers, posing huge health risks.
The situation is gradually changing, thanks to the relentless efforts of a few activists who have managed to create an awareness among people against the use of pesticide-filled food items. Some startups are also working towards this goal, one of them being Kochi-based Farming Colors.
“These days, there is a lot of hype around organic food, but the question is how trustworthy are the farms where the so-called organic food come from,” said Akash Mathew, a student entrepreneur and CEO of Farming Colors, an online shop for organic produce.
“Our parents were talking a lot about organic food but we did not take them seriously until we visited a few farmlands outside Kerala where vegetables are cultivated. To our horror, we found that these farmers use pesticides and chemicals in their farms and as a result, they have developed chronic diseases like cancer. Upon enquiry, we came to know these illiterate farmers are often exploited by middlemen,” Akash explained.
The startup was founded in 2011 by Akash, along with a few of his geek classmates at Rajagiri Engineering College, during their college days. However, the online shop only went live in February this year.
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“Some of our relatives had farm lands in their villages where they grew vegetables. We used these vegetables at homes. However, moving to cities changed things for worse. The food items we get in cities are contaminated and untrustworthy,” Akash added. “So, we decided to use our tech background and farming experiences to start an online shop for organic produce.”
They launched a web app and managed to raise seed investments by the time they graduated from college.
The venture was incubated at Kochi-based Startup Village.
How Farming Colors works?
Farming Colors partners with farmers and gives them a production plan according to its consumers’ consumption patterns. As soon as the harvest is done, the startup procures the yield at fair prices and bring it to Kerala. It then distributes the produce to consumers in accordance with their preferences.
This helps farmers avoid the middle men and they get a fair cost for their hard work. As for consumers, they get quality vegetables and fruits at fair prices.
When they started, they had only three organic farming partners. Now, it has 14 different certified cultivators located in different parts of south India.
“As soon as the procurement is done, we distribute it to our consumers within 24 hours. We have partners to handle first-mile and last-mile logistics. The packaging is done by ourselves so that the quality of the packaging is not compromised,” noted Akash.
Farming Colors follows a monthly subscription model. It works more like a newspaper subscription plan where consumers get the produce one or twice a week for a fee. The subscription plan starts at INR 1,300 (US$20) and can go up to 3,000 (US$45).
On top of it, customers can order organic fruits and other semi-perishables as and when they are available on its online store.
If a consumer wants to know and connect with the farmers who cultivated the food items they purchase, the startup has a mechanism to do it. “Our traceability technology helps consumers trace fruits and vegetables they eat back to the farms from where they are cultivated . This will enable consumers to know the farm and farmers. These farmers even offer farm stays for subscribers,” he said.
Farming Colors claims to be serving more than 300 consumers in Kochi as of today. The company’s retention rate is 92 per cent.
“We are trying to hit 1,000 monthly subscriptions over the next 12 months. After we hit 600 monthly subscribers, we will start our expansion to other cities in Kerala and south India.”
Bangalore-based BigBasket, which recently raised US$150 million in funding led by UAE’s Abraaj Group, has also started offering organic food items through its online shop. “For us, promoting organic food and supporting farmers is everything,” Akash said. “We are focussed on what we do and we are going to be best at it. Our priorities are on how to keep our existing customers happy and how we can reach out to new customers through their referrals.
Farming Colors has raised a total seed fund of 40 lakhs (US$6,000) so far through Bangalore-based LetsVenture, an online platform that connects startups to investors. “We will be looking to raise our next round in another one year when we start with our expansion strategies,” Akash concluded.
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