Mission: Safe food

Mission: Safe food
The UAE is FreshToHome's fastest growing market in the Middle East - in just three months' time since the soft launch, the e-commerce site today gets about 1,000 orders a day.

India's largest fresh fish and meat e-commerce store FreshToHome is soon going to take on the UAE market formally. CEO Shahnawaz Kadavil shares his journey, which began out of his own commitment to eat fresh.

Published: Tue 15 Oct 2019, 10:39 AM

Last updated: Tue 15 Oct 2019, 12:47 PM

The UAE is taking a lot of effort in creating a definitive eco-system to ensure security, availability and sustainability of the food chain in the country. And supporting this vision is CEO Shahnawaz Kadavil with his FreshToHome concept. The store has already soft-launched in the UAE and will be formally taking shape November onwards.
From virtual farms to real ones, ex-Zynga country manager and the creator of Farmville Shan (as he is fondly called) is the co-founder of the world's largest fresh fish and meat online store with his partner Mathew Joseph.
The beginning
Serial entrepreneur Shan is an avid 'seafoodie'. Part of his reason to start this venture was because his favourite fresh fish outlet SeaToHome in the Indian city of Bengaluru was shutting down due to financial troubles. He tried to source fish from the local market but they lacked freshness and taste.
This discovery also revealed that much of the fish and meat was laced with preservatives. This prompted him and Joseph (also the owner of SeaToHome) to start an online fish and meat store to fix the supply and demand issue as well as provide accessibility to consumers' chemical-free food. 
In just four years since its launch in India, FreshToHome today is the largest online fish and meat e-commerce store. In India, the online store serves about a million customers, and 20,000 orders per day - that's actually higher than Amazon and Flipkart in India, from an e-grocery standpoint. 
Seeing the success and a large Indian expat population in the UAE, Shan saw the opportunity that the GCC country brings to the fresh food business. According to him, the UAE is FreshToHome's fastest growing market - in just three months' time since the soft launch, the e-commerce site today gets about 1,000 orders a day. 
Sea of bigwigs
With a funding of up to $31 million in Series A and Series B rounds, FreshToHome boasts of some of the biggest international and local investors including CE Ventures, the corporate venture capital arm of UAE-based diversified global business, Crescent Enterprises. Other investors include PayPal founder Peter Thiel, Zynga founder Mark Pincus, SoftBank chairman Pete Briger, Mashraq CEO Abdul Azeez Al-Ghurair and Facebook CFO David Wehner, among other significant ones. 
Food safety and accountability are some of the big reasons why the UAE-based CE Ventures decided to invest in FreshToHome as food security lies in the heart of most of the UAE government initiatives. And soon, back-end integration of farming will also be a huge part of the UAE operations.
These investments aid FreshToHome to microfinance fish farmers and livestock producers, thus making it a truly farm-to-fork provider. The company also helps farmers set up businesses to help FreshToHome on its mission to provide fresh food. It's a cooperative cycle. In India last year, FreshToHome was awarded the 'Champions of Change Programme' Award in 2018 by Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi. 
The underlying idea of FreshToHome was to create a sustainable food chain, right from inception. FreshToHome is the largest online seller of fresh fish and meat without the use of any chemicals - be it ammonia, formalin, sodium benzoate or any such preservatives to enhance the lifetime of the food. All the products are tested in some of the world's largest labs for quality. 
The entire farm-to-fork supply chain is extremely complex, especially if you want to do it right. At FreshToHome, technology plays a huge role in meeting the farm to fork, zero per cent additives, 100 per cent natural supply of products. Using a tech-based solution called the 'Commodities Exchange Platform' (patent-pending app), fishermen from various coasts can bid their produce with FreshToHome on their mobile phones.
This unique technology gives the opportunity to buy products from fishermen for a fair price and that benefit is passed on to consumers, leading to eventual growth. Additionally, the IoT-based technology aids cold chain preservation along with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning for predicting patterns of growth and demand. 
All through the supply chain, the food is temperature-controlled. This ensures that food wastage is limited (less than 1.5 per cent versus 15 per cent in the industry). The cloud-controlled IoT devices, whether in the trucks or boxes, ensure the temperature is maintained between 0-40C.
Arun Krishnan, FreshToHome COO-UAE, also states that the aim is to provide good food at the right prices and more importantly the right time to our customers.
The UAE an ideal market
According to Shan, the frequency of purchase of non-vegetarian food is higher in the UAE. So, the demography suits FreshToHome's business operations. In 2014, the fish trade between the Middle East and India stood at $2 billion. That makes it a very viable market for the e-commerce company. And as the primary producer of fresh fish and meat, the same high quality can be provided to the consumers in the UAE. 
Most of the local fish for FreshToHome is obtained from the seven coasts across the UAE. For the species not available in the UAE, FreshToHome has a huge network in India which ensures that fresh fish reaches the UAE within 12 hours of the catch and delivered at the consumer's doorstep in 24 hours keeping the hygiene and freshness intact since they use air transport for shipping from India. 
Today, the site sources from about 1,500 fishermen and livestock farmers. With a sophisticated algorithm that can analyse predictable data, it takes FreshToHome about six months to a year to learn the habits of the geography and map the ideal availability.
Then the price flexibility is done using that technology with the supply and demand behaviour. This is where machine-learning and AI plays a huge role. The AI-based engine can actually figure out the best area for sourcing the product for the UAE market.
FreshToHome has a facility in Umm Al Quwain, and another upcoming in Dubai, and the company is doing its best to keep up with the incoming volume of produce. FreshToHome also wants to replicate its India aquaponics farming methods in the UAE for better yields and value to the farmers and consumers.
Trust and brand recall
Fresh food is always a top notch priority for every consumer. And because FreshToHome is all about that, word spread quickly - first in India and now in the UAE. It's a huge part of their outreach programme. The recall factor in the mind of the consumers and prospective consumers is a combination of both offline, which includes print, and online media and digital channels such as Instagram and Facebook. And for a cosmopolitan crowd such as the UAE, digital plays a huge role in that brand valuation.
Maintaining high standards
According to a 2015 Deloitte survey, emerging trends like food safety, social impact and health are today a significant part of a consumer's purchase preference. However, traditional drivers like price, taste and convenience are here to stay. FreshToHome closes this gap with its technology and farming techniques. 
Advocating fresh food for all, Shan reiterates that with FreshToHome, it is possible to track the source of the produce right down to the boat the fish was on. This allows traceability and ownership. As the company provides farm-to-fork solutions, it has an upper hand over every other e-commerce seller in the UAE.
While most hypermarkets and other e-sellers usually rely on different exporters, FreshToHome exports directly to one of the largest hypermarkets in the UAE. Shan says that's something not any e-commerce company does, which translates to consumers' benefit. 
Soon, FreshToHome will move to selling organic and goodness products in India, including dairy, oil, spice, grains and fruits and vegetables.

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