When the Covid-19 pandemic reached Indian shores, it set off a timer at the country’s grocery stores—a countdown to the expiry of the products on their shelves. With a nationwide lockdown keeping customers away, stores were in danger of seeing inventory turn to waste. 

Even when the lockdown lifted, the clock kept ticking. Footfalls simply aren’t what they used to be as India’s Covid-19 case count approaches the two million mark. And with fewer customers thronging stores, perishables are living up to their name.

For health food startup Drums Food International Pvt Ltd, the company best-known for its greek yoghurt brand Epigamia, it has been a massive blow. “Preservative-free”, a feature that drew customers to their array of mostly dairy-based products, has now become a weakness. Its greek yoghurt, for instance, only has a shelf life of two weeks.

Selling through stores—which accounted for over 75% of Epigamia’s sales, according to a current executive at Drums—was no longer a viable option. Worse, cities such as Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru where Epigamia has most penetration are some of the worst Covid-affected areas in the country. 

An outsized impact

Modern trade—10% of the total retail market in India—declined 4.6% in value in these three months too, disproportionately affecting niche, high-end products like Epigamia which rely heavily on discoverability

So, in the midst of the pandemic, Drums decided to change tracks. It shifted focus from modern retail stores—its main channel of business—and went straight to its customers. 

It took four days to launch a web store. Another month in pilot mode. Then, in May, it launched its online operations in earnest. From greek yoghurts to smoothies, spreads, and plain ol’ dahi, Drums was off to the e-commerce races.

For Drums, founded in 2008 by Rohan Mirchandani, the new website is both a channel to reach out to customers unable to access its products and also build a digital presence. “The website is for our core, loyal customers, for now, who look for our products in the stores. This is about 20% of our customer base, so the website is strategic,” says Siddharth Menon, chief marketing officer at Drums.

This move also allows it to save on the margins and commissions—around 20-40%—paid to retail stores and e-commerce platforms, Deepak Shahdadpuri, managing director at DSG Consumer Partners, says in an interaction with The Ken in July. The Singapore-based venture capital (VC) firm is an investor in Epigamia, Mumbai-based cold-pressed juice brand Raw Pressery, and sauce brand Veeba.

By no means is Drums the first niche fast-moving consumer goods products (FMCG) brand to take an online direct-to-consumer approach.

AUTHOR

Prasannata Patwa

Based in Mumbai, Prasannata writes about content start-ups, consumer products, and OTT platforms. When not chasing trends she likes to travel, and binge on documentaries. She previously worked at Mint and is an ACJ Bloomberg Business Journalism graduate.

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