InI Farms is a horticulture company that works with around 3,000 farmers and controlling and directing the operations in bananas and pomegranates across the entire value chain. In an exclusive interview, Purnima Khandelwal, CEO, InI Farms, shares the vision behind setting up the company and India’s huge potential in the fresh cut business
What was the purpose behind setting up InI Farms?
Around 2005, we were working on consulting assignments on agriculture. It was extremely unorganised and under-developed sector with large number of intermediaries and little focus on food safety. The infrastructure (road, electricity, logistics) was improving at a dramatic pace. Despite low productivity, India is the second largest producer of fruits and vegetables with supply chain wastages estimated at 40 per cent. We strongly felt that there was a desperate need to organise the sector leading to improvement in productivity and quality. Thus the idea of InI Farms came into being with the twin objectives of helping improve farmer incomes by 30-50 per cent and ensuring that the consumers get safe fruits (no pesticide residue, no microbial infections) to eat.
How does the model work? How many contract farmers are involved in the farming process?
The business model focussed on organising the entire supply chain from farm to retail. We pick up specific products (pomegranate, banana, coconut), solve problems at each stage and connect the farmers directly with retailers. This includes farm level interventions (technical guidance, certifications), contract farming, managing the supply chain (packhouses, logistics, ripening chambers), producing value added products (fresh cuts) and supplying fresh products across the globe directly to retailers. We work with over 3,000 farmers and export to around 35 countries. Today, we are amongst the largest players in fresh fruits controlling and directing the operations in bananas and pomegranates across the entire value chain.
What about cold chain logistics?
At InI, we have invested in an integrated post-harvest infrastructure setup and have established packing facilities close to farms to reduce the wastage and turnaround time. We have been able to control the fruit loss by adoption of a 24 hour cut-to-cool technique wherein the produce is harvested and is cooled within 24 hours, increasing the shelf life of the produce.
Cold chain logistics is an essential part of our business as we are in the supply of perishable fruits. All our cold storage warehouses are located near the packing facility, post which they are transported to the distribution centres with the help of temperature monitored reefer trucks. We have also developed efficient cold storage and temperature control systems that are a vital component in fresh supply chains, therefore, maintaining an unbroken cold chain from farm to store.
Why pomegranates and bananas?
Pomegranates and bananas are round-the-year fruits and have a huge demand in the international as well as domestic market. We wanted to work with fruits and within fruits, both these fruits have more than 30 days of shelf life, which makes them the ideal fruits to deal with.
India is the largest producer of bananas in the world with 28 per cent share of the world produce. And yet, India does not rank in the top 10 exporters of the fruit globally, with only less than one per cent of Indian bananas currently exported. This represents just 0.3 per cent of all internationally traded bananas. This vast production base coupled with logistical advantages to Middle East and South East Asia offers India tremendous opportunities for global export. We are among the largest exporters of bananas and pomegranates in the country. India is the only country which produces pomegranates around the year, which gives us a huge advantage in the international market.
Which countries do you export to? How will Covid-19 impact this?
We currently export to 35 countries including Europe, Middle East, Canada, US, New Zealand, and South East Asia.
Fruits continue to witness a strong demand in the market as they are essential commodities. The demand for our products continue to be robust in international markets, and our orders are consistently strong across domestic markets as well.
Having said that, we faced disruptions due to logistic complexities of borders being closed between countries, additional screening requirements of containers and vessels and flight cancellations. Even in domestic markets, logistics disruptions have caused uncertainties in operations. We expect the various government bodies to resolve these supply chain issues at the earliest.
Which hotel chains do you supply to? What has been their feedback?
We supply to ITC, Marriott and Trident. The supplies were on a decline over the past few weeks as their occupancy levels were seeing a dip.
Future plans for the company?
We will be adding new products to our portfolio and scale up our bananas, pomegranates and fresh-cut business. Currently, our domestic distribution is limited to four major cities in the country, which we plan to ramp up to 10 cities in the coming years. We are also looking to add berries to our product portfolio.