The Covid-19 pandemic has crippled supply chains across India. Large online retailers and grocers such as Amazon, Flipkart, and Bigbasket are visibly struggling to service their customers in the midst of a 21-day lockdown announced by the Indian government on 24 March. But even as these big names stumble their way back to relative normalcy, one lesser-known name soldiered stoically through it—Ninjacart.
The Bengaluru-based agritech startup has been a notable exception to the chaos, with business running as close to normal as one could hope for during India’s countrywide lockdown. The company enables farmers to sell fruits and vegetables to retailers such as grocery stores and supermarkets. True to its name, Ninjacart seems to have been nimble enough to keep its network humming even as the country came to a standstill.
Its daily transaction volumes—usually around 1,000 tonnes of fresh produce—have only dipped to 900 tonnes despite the present circumstances, according to Ninjacart co-founder and CEO Thirukumaran Nagarajan.
The fresh produce category, which the company plays in, comprises around a quarter of India’s nearly $400 billion worth of annual food consumption. This food economy is important strategically as it links urban India with rural Bharat— connecting 150 million farmers with over a billion consumers. But even today, this chain has many complex layers, with multiple intermediaries appropriating the lion’s share of the market.
Founded in 2015, Ninjacart’s mission has been to “de-layer this supply chain”. Though the intent and mission are simple enough, the solution is extremely complex—marrying technology with logistics chops to source and deliver over 1,000 tonnes of fresh fruits and vegetables from 20,000 farmers to 60,000 retailers, all within 12 hours.
Ninjacart figured out a way to solve this supply chain hurdle, a massive challenge at the best of times. This even saw India’s largest conglomerate, Reliance Industries, sniffing around for a potential acquisition in early 2019. Ninjacart turned the Mukesh Ambani-led behemoth down.
Now, it has gone one better—combining foresight with action to adapt its well-oiled machine for the pandemic-induced new normal. Doing so was no mean feat.
B2B, not B2C
Unlike online grocers such as Bigbasket and Grofers, which sell produce directly to end consumers, Ninjacart operates in the business-to-business (B2B) part of the food supply spectrum. So while its logistical challenges are similar to its business-to-consumer (B2C) peers, Ninjacart’s imperatives are not the same.
By virtue of being India’s largest fresh produce supply chain platform, Ninjacart’s scale is comparable to peers like Bigbasket. But rather than service millions of consumers across hundreds of pin codes, the company has a far smaller customer footprint of around 60,000 retailers, most of whom are in big cities like Bengaluru (which accounts for 40% of overall volume for Ninjacart).
While B2C grocery delivery is a low-volume, (relatively) high-margin game, the B2B market is a high-volume, low-margin proposition.