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Meet Seema Dholi, the founder of Farm2Kitchen, a website that aims to make organic products in India widely available.
Interview by Anne John
Launched in 2011, Farm2Kitchen is the brainchild of Seema Dholi, a Gurgaon based woman entrepreneur in India. Its tagline says, “Building healthy India. One kitchen at a time”, and that’s what Farm2Kitchen aims to do – offering Indian women the opportunity to shop for a wide variety of quality organic products, from the comfort of their homes.
Do tell us a little about yourself and about Farm2Kitchen.
Seema Dholi: I was born and brought up in a small town in UP. I graduated in fashion and then moved to Delhi to complete my post graduation in merchandising. I started working in the fashion industry and worked in the same for almost 7- 8 years.
The idea of Farm2Kitchen was born back in 2008 – when I was expecting a child. Being part of a nuclear family and living in a city like Gurgaon, made me wonder about better options for healthy and nutritious food for myself during my pregnancy.
Farm2Kitchen started delivering farm produce in Gurgaon city during February 2011. From a few customers who opted to shop for farm produce online to larger communities registered with us today, we have come a long way.
What was the driving factor to start Farm2Kitchen?
Seema Dholi: The inadequate retail presence of organic food, the unavailability of certified organic products and an incomplete range offered to Indians. I wanted to change this!
Grocery shopping has always been popular in common households in India. However, working women in India today lead busy lives and have limited time and energy to shop. With Farm2Kitchen, families can save time and effort spent at supermarkets.
In the initial year, we were only offering fresh farm produce to residents of Gurgaon. I was enjoying it but found it limiting; I wanted to reach out to more families. That’s when I thought of expanding Farm2Kitchen to other cities across India.
How has the response been? What were the initial obstacles that you faced?
Seema Dholi: We started off with a small warehouse and a small office to serve certain areas of Gurgaon city.
I still remember the day we officially opened the online portal. I was aware that people might hesitate to buy farm produce online but wanted to take up this challenge and see how people respond to it.
The first few weeks were a dampener. We had no registrations and very few people were visiting our website. But whoever opted for our services were very satisfied and our customers became our brand ambassadors. We started receiving a good response due to word of mouth.
Another challenge was procuring quality produce from the local farmers. I used to visit the local markets almost daily to understand the way they work and to get the best for our customers. Delivery of fresh produce was another challenge as there was pilferage involved, which needed to be taken care of to sustain the business.
As an online business in India are there any particular challenges that you face?
Seema Dholi: Yes! The biggest challenge in this country is logistics. It’s tough and unrealistic at times. For online businesses to sustain, I believe the kind of service they offer plays an important part. After all, in an online business, nobody sees the people who are working behind the scenes. So the only way you can build trust is to always give the best service possible to your consumers. They deserve it and it’s your duty to offer the best for your patrons. This is the only way to be in the game and stay there for long.
Online grocery shopping is not only about technology and making sales, but it is also about transforming the economy, within and across geographic borders, as well as changing old markets and creating new ones.
Why is organic so expensive? Are there ways to make it more accessible to ordinary people rather than for a small, select set of people?
Seema Dholi: First and foremost, organic food supply is limited when compared to the demand. Some other important factors are:
– Production costs for organic foods are typically higher because of greater labour inputs per unit of output and because greater diversity of enterprises means economies of scale cannot be achieved.
– Post-harvest handling of relatively small quantities of organic foods results in higher costs because of the mandatory segregation of organic and conventional produce, especially for processing and transportation.
– Marketing and the distribution chain for organic products is relatively inefficient and costs are higher because of relatively small volumes.
India’s farmers are still mostly practicing organic methods, passed down for millennia. Organic fertilizers and natural pest control methods are the only tools available to most of these farmers, who have always lacked the financial resources to explore chemical solutions.
As demand grows, more farmers will start following organic practices which in turn will increase supply resulting in decreasing prices.
Do you foresee a lot more competition in the coming years?
Seema Dholi: People in India today are interested in improving their lifestyles through healthier food options. Yes! Awareness about organic food is growing rapidly these days and this is surely going to attract more players in this segment.
E-commerce is also booming and with the ease that it offers consumers, it’s going to stay here in the long run.
What are your future plans for Farm2Kitchen?
Seema Dholi: We are doing well in online business and our brand has been built on the trust of several Indian families from all over the country. Soon we would be launching Farm2Kitchen Organic Stores all over India. These outlets will offer certified organic foods and farm produce – which follow food safety standards.
*Photo credit: Seema Dholi.
Anne John loves to play with words and calls herself a reader, writer, explorer & dreamer.
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