How Ninjacart is Implementing Technology to Benefit Farmers, Retailers, and End-Users in a Unified Manner

Ninjacart strives to provide as much innovation and solution as possible to ensure that end-users and farmers have a consistent and secure supply of fresh fruits and vegetables.
How Ninjacart is Implementing Technology to Benefit Farmers, Retailers, and End-Users in a Unified Manner
Thirukumaran Nagarajan

In 2015, Ninjacart was launched as a B2C model to help retailers and small businesses take their inventory online. The goal was to transport fresh produce from stores to consumers directly in under 60 minutes. While following this model in Bengaluru for six months, the brand saw that the network provided very little incentive and value to farmers, resulting in a fragmented framework riddled with inefficiencies and inconsistencies. It knew that technology would be able to, if not eliminate, at the very least streamline certain channels, so it started thinking about solutions. 

“We pivoted our business model to B2B and took on ourselves to offer a solution to this complicated food supply chain by replacing middlemen with the help of technological innovations. With the help of automated functions, Ninjacart managed to overcome the following challenges with strong yet unique solutions -
●    It was a challenge for us to persuade farmers and retailers to adopt the new supply chain system
●    Given the perishable nature of vegetables and fruits, farmers would frequently sell their produce at a loss. As a result, we required a solution that would provide high value to farmers while also ensuring the best possible output for the end consumers
●    Limited connectivity, inadequate storage infrastructure, and mismatched supply-demand led to post-harvest losses, which needed to be controlled with the provision of proper tools and equipment for harvesting and training/educating farmers in the correct manner  
●    Easing the burden on retailers by addressing their own set of issues, which range from time-consuming procurement processes to poor quality management and competitive pricing
●    Introducing more sophisticated management and new technologies to improve the efficiency in the supply chain,” states Thirukumaran Nagarajan, CEO & Co-Founder, Ninjacart.

In an interaction with IndianRetailer, Thirukumaran Nagarajan further spills the beans on the business model of the brand, tech innovations, future plans, and a lot more.

Here are the excerpts:-

Throw some light on the business model of Ninjacart.

It took us a year to get to a point where we can say that the Ninjacart business model is self-sufficient, tech-enabled, and cost-effective. It can be concluded as follows:- 

Demand-led Harvest: The first step in its operational journey involves acquiring and understanding the ‘Farmer Harvest Calendar’ as it provides an overview of the availability of fruits and vegetables in each season, simultaneously helping gauge the demand and supply better. Once this is done, farmers are given a week’s notice, explaining what and how much is expected from their end. The message sent to them is disseminated after a thorough evaluation of the market demand, which is analyzed with the help of ML and data analytics tools. 

Tagging and Storing: After the produce is procured, it is sent to the collection centers (CC) where they are checked for quality, and approved goods are stored in crates. Post weighing and tagging (for easy end-to-end tracking and identification) the goods, a message is sent to the farmers about the price of their crops and the amount is credited to their respective bank accounts the next day. 

App-monitored Loading and Unloading: The crates are then moved to fulfillment centers (FF), where they are loaded and unloaded with the use of special trolleys that have reduced the turnaround time. This entire process is monitored by an app.  The products are loaded onto vehicles at the distribution centers (DC) for delivery, which starts at 2.00 am daily. 

RFID Tag: On arrival, the vehicle RFID tag is scanned to ensure that the right vehicle has reached and the security tag number is verified to validate no tampering has happened. Items are unloaded from the vehicle using the custom ramp designed for facilities without docks. Each dolly is scanned using RFID guns to ensure none is missed for unloading. Once all the items are unloaded, the empty crates from the previous day are loaded and sent back to the Fulfilment Centres (FC).

Dispatch: Once the last-mile vehicles arrive at the MDC at 5 AM, routes are assigned to drivers, and dispatch starts. Last-mile routes are assigned based on the first-come-first-serve basis and past performance. Meanwhile, Items are segregated route-wise. Weight and quality checks are carried out in the presence of the driver to ensure transparency. Once items are handed over, the driver loads the items and moves for delivery. The dispatch happens in multiple slots to optimize space and use the same vehicle for multiple trips.

GPS for Route Optimisation: The vehicles are installed with GPS and other route optimization software for quick delivery. Once the goods have reached the destination, they are re-checked by the customers and empty crates are returned for carrying the fresh orders. 

How the gap has been filled by Ninjacart in terms of the Food Supply Chain?

It's one thing to evaluate the entire network and identify the gaps; it's another to be able to implement our solution.

●    Farmers were supported and assisted with better pricing and market forecasting to ensure steady demand. Ninjacart was able to acquire farmers and retailers trust to transition their traditional methods to a modernized supply chain, providing transparency, credibility, and safety for all parties involved

●    By establishing a tech-first supply chain, we were able to assist retailers and small businesses in obtaining fresh produce from farmers in less than 12 hours. It is the supply chain's most critical point which Ninjacart was able to overcome in the process.

●    Sourcing safe and quality food that is affordable and accessible to end consumers. Cutting-edge technology has assisted us in making the Ninjacart food supply chain cost-effective.  Interference from middlemen in the supply chain often disrupts the flow, resulting in a price rise. We structured a framework that enabled us to use Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to replace the middlemen

Throw some light on the beneficiaries that Ninjacart has given to retailers and some extent the end consumers.

The beneficiaries can be briefly described as follows:

For farmers
●    Farmers saw a 20 percent boost in revenue after eliminating intermediaries and gaining direct market linkage access. They have a transparent relationship with their customers due to the one-stop-shop 
●    Payment is made within 24 hours of receiving fresh produce
●    We have also developed a responsive, real-time logistics network to manage inventory, reduce processing time, along with improving efficiency and forecasting models. All these endeavors have led to less food waste and shortages

For retailers
●    Best prices in the market, ensuring higher margins for the business and retail outlets. Also, giving direct access to periodic deals and discounts on the app
●    Retailers enjoy the convenience of having their order delivered at their doorstep or opting for self-pickup from a nearby Ninjacart outlet
●    One-stop-shop for all your supply needs, avoiding the hassle of dealing with multiple middlemen
●    Sourced from farms across the country, Ninjacart offers a wide range of vegetables and fruits that are hygienically handled in crates

For consumers
●    100 percent traceability to farm- Improving food safety
●    Hygienically handled produced delivered to the consumers without affecting the nutritional value

How are you marrying technology with the brand?

Technology is what defines Ninjacart, and we have implemented technology in such a way that it benefits farmers, retailers, and end-users in a unified manner.

    Facial Recognition: The software quickly captures the entire face, then fragments it into small pieces and converts it in the form of data streams. To mark attendance, 90% accuracy is required each time. This data is used to track the productivity of employees from start to finish and at various points in the supply chain. It is even required to solve many common problems that arise, ensuring orders are delivered timely and without hiccups.

●    Constraint-oriented Modelling: Constraints include distance, vehicle, cost, capacity, and time. After defining these constraints, we use a metaheuristic optimization technique (Guided Local Search) to maximize objective function and reduce supply cost.

●    Tomorrow-ready ERP: Tomorrow-ready ERP improves efficiency, reduces operational costs, and serves as a single source of information, allowing for agility and rapid decision transformation. It ensures that no paper is used in the supply chain and manages day-to-day business activities such as accounting, procurement, project management, risk management, compliance, and supply chain operations through a single unified software.

●    Vehicle Route Planning: This is key in driving the Ninjacart supply chain to move tonnes of fresh produce from farms to retailers in less than 12 hours. The algorithm registers retail customer order details from the previous day. It utilizes information such as customer location, tonnage, crate count, and delivery time window to determine the optimal delivery route.

In the same manner, the algorithm utilizes vehicle information such as vehicle type, start location, maximum crate capacity, the maximum number of points, the time window in which it’s available, and the average speed of the vehicle to assign the delivery route the next day for door-to-door store deliveries. After considering customer specifications and vehicle information, the algorithm further optimizes the vehicle route towards the customers’ locations. The route is determined to maximize vehicle efficiency in terms of usage, occupancy, and positioning of the orders to be delivered. 

●    Traceability Infrastructure: Since consumers place a high value on their health and well-being, it is more important than ever to add value through creativity and achieve common goals. However, it is important to note that traceability infrastructure does not only guarantee 100% trackability, but it also serves the purpose of safe food. Our ability to adapt residue-free farming practices has increased as a result of the widespread implementation of this infrastructure. Residue-free vegetables are grown with optimal farm inputs to meet the expected global food safety standards.  Techniques such as drip irrigation have enabled farmers to reduce water wastage and deterioration in soil quality due to water clogging.

●    RFID Scanning: One of the many challenges in the Agri-supply chain is the lack of transparency in the legacy systems. Ninjacart uses RFID chips on crates to bring transparency to the supply chain by tracking the movement of vegetables and fruits as they pass through various processes and facilities. Further, route optimization reduces carbon footprint while traveling through 15 states and 50 cities.

What are the innovations that you have introduced?

Ninjacart strives to provide as much innovation and solution as possible to ensure that end-users and farmers have a consistent and secure supply of fresh fruits and vegetables. 

●    The traditional supply chain lacks transparency, which is one of the many issues we addressed by tracking the movement of vegetables and fruits across the food supply chain. Ninjacart uses RFID chips on crates for end-to-end tracking of SKUs, which also allows for crate planning
●    Due to the lack of knowledge of the market conditions, the farmer used to harvest and transport the item to the mandi and then figure out the market demand, resulting in significant losses. Ninjacart has come up with a solution to this problem in the form of the Farmer Harvest Calendar- Farmers get insights into the demand and supply of produce 
●    We have developed specific apps for farmers that assist them not only in forecasting demand but also in determining price indent- Both purchasing and selling prices are fixed using an average of national prices
●    Created a user-friendly app for retailers, small businesses, restaurants, and mom and pop shops to help them navigate fresh produce, pricing, and inventory management online
●    We aim to provide 'Safe Food for a Billion People,' and during the lockdown, we noticed an increase in the number of consumers looking for safe food, prompting us to launch 'FoodPrint.' A traceability system that not only ensures 100 percent traceability but also promises safe food until the last mile of delivery

Share with us the future plans of the brand.

Ninjacart is now working towards a larger goal of "Building a tech-enabled, digital agri-ecosystem" that will provide superior service, transparency, and fair compensation to all partners. In addition, the company has grown its reach from 11 cities to 50 cities and 150-200 villages. 

To further our goals, we recently signed an MoU with the Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmer Welfare. We will create and host the Agri Marketplace Platform (AMP) as a pioneering agritech platform, which will bring together all players in the post-harvest market linkage. POC testing will take place in Chhindwara (Madhya Pradesh), Anand (Gujarat), and Indore (Madhya Pradesh) (Madhya Pradesh). Based on the results of these pilot projects, farmers will be able to make informed decisions about what crop to grow, what seed variety to use, and what best practices to employ to maximize production.

We are also working to educate farmers about residue-free farming methods. We teamed up with Kilofarms last year to produce the first batch of residue-free tomatoes. Following the success of the first batch of residue-free tomatoes, we expect to be able to cultivate eight more residue-free crops this year, including muskmelon, watermelon, chilies, potatoes, ridge gourd, and ladies finger.
 

Thirukumaran Nagarajan
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