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Published on: June 28, 2021, 9:20 a.m.
Superplum and its faith in fruits
  • Superplum is the only modern farm to store fresh produce supply chain in India and the only one that has 100 per cent refrigerated transport from farms to cities

By Suman Tarafdar

As experts look into the challenges of the next two-to-three decades, along with environmental issues, and quite linked to it in many ways, they find the challenge of feeding the planet’s rising population. The UN predicts about 10 billion living humans by 2050. No wonder then that funding in agri-sciences is unprecedented. 

Superplum, a start-up, which has just raised a fresh round of funding, which has crossed $6.8 million since its launch in February last year, is building the country’s most sophisticated supply chain for fruits. A niche, it is a segment where India is marked by a general absence of branded products. There have been previous ventures – ITC announced Farmland in 2017, while the Tatas were early off the rails with Rallis-Star Bazaar Grapes in 2014.

Keventer Agro with its branded bananas also was a pioneer. Second Nature launched in 2019 in Pune and Nashik. INI Farms has Kimaye, and claims to be ‘one of the three top exporters by volume’. Fruit Box & Co targets the high-end customer with fruit hampers. Most Indians, even the target segments, would not recognise these names. Indians at best are aware of ‘Washington’ apples or Zespri kiwi fruit. 

“I have travelled all over the world and have seen fresh fruit displays in stores,” says Shobhit Gupta, founder & CEO, Superplum, explaining his motivation. “It always struck me on visits to India that the condition of fresh produce on retail shelves was not of the same standard. Most Indian retailers also seemed to have a lot of imported fruits, which is odd considering India’s vast agricultural riches. The question is how one can get fresh, juicy fruit from 3,000 miles away on the east coast of the US while, in India, we struggle to keep fruits in good condition at much smaller distances.” 

Gupta points out that despite India being the second largest fruit-grower, it is a net importer of fruits. He points to the country’s antiquated, complex supply chains and lack of modern farm infrastructure in the country for retailers importing fruits. 

Gupta claims Superplum is the only modern farm to store fresh produce supply chain in India and the only one that has 100 per cent refrigerated transport from farms to cities. “We have designed and custom-built cold chain technology and integrated it with our software systems. This enables us to sidestep India’s severe shortage of reefers and the country’s poor agriculture supply chains with our support staff of agriculture experts, logistics team and software engineers all working together on this.”

Agri-tech 

Gupta cites the example of Superplum’s trademarked Fresherator containers, which are designed to convert any truck into a state-of-the-art reefer vehicle. “This enables us to move beyond India’s 90 per cent shortage of refrigerated vehicles and do so at low cost. When we say we have reimagined the agricultural supply chain, we mean it.” Additionally, a comprehensive technology platform, FreshManager, ensures quality and traceability of every fruit right to the farm.

Superplum’s contention is that the supply chain is fully traceable and all its products are tested for pesticides. “Consumers can trace each fruit back to the farms and even view pesticide test reports,” says Gupta. “Hence, they are assured of the high quality of the fruits and even packaging that keeps the fruits fresh.”

The company is bridging the gap between the farms and consumers by digitising the fresh fruit industry, explains Gupta. “Every aspect is captured, digitised and analysed. Over time, this will help us increase efficiency and standardise quality across our product offerings.”

Unlike most companies in India, which have tie-ups with either farmers or with traders through which supplies are received, Superplum has its own teams at the farms handling procurement and all associated processes. “Our supply chain then entails complete management from the farm & procurement centre level right to in-store delivery,” stresses Gupta. “This involves significant investments at the farm level on key infrastructure like sorting systems, cleaning systems and cooling units.”

On how fruit growers are selected, Gupta says they have chosen to go to areas where the quality of fruit production is already high. “Fruit farmers in India are actually quite progressive and the initial adjustment for the brand may not be significant and much of the gap can be addressed through better handling and better infrastructure at the farm cluster level.” Modular farm infrastructure, including a fast setup cold room for remote rural farms, also comes to the aid of the growers. 

 Mangoes and more 

Currently, Superplum, which operates mainly on a B2B model, has more than 230 farms across 15 states, while its distribution operations are in Delhi/NCR and Bengaluru. “In terms of distribution, we have more than 320 customers in NCR and Bengaluru,” says Gupta. “We aim to expand this distribution network rapidly to over 1,000 by the end of the year.”

A quick look on its site reveals it has seasonal fruits such as mangoes, litchi, cherries, plums and pomegranates on sale in Bengaluru, while Delhi additionally has ‘imported kiwis’, Valencia oranges and New Zealand apples. 

Pricing indicates Superplum is targeting a premium segment of customers. In Delhi, pomegranates are priced at Rs198 for half a kg, while four Premium Dussheri mangoes are priced at Rs175. “Our price points are quite affordable and well below imported fruit prices,” points out Gupta. “So, our target customer is practically any fruit consumer.”

The Indian fruit market is $100 billion roughly, growing at about 8 per cent annually. “Branded fruits are a miniscule category as bulk of the business happens through the mandi system,” points out Gupta. “Inherently, there is no system for traceability and consistency unless you look at imported or organic fruits which are very expensive. If you look at high value and organic fruit markets, these are growing much faster at about 20-25 per cent per year.”

As Covid has complicated its rollout, revenue targets are fluid, says Gupta. “As our business model is largely B2B, a lot depends on how the county recovers and how last mile industry network cope with the transitions happening. Longer term, given the scale of the industry our addressable market is upwards of $20 billion.”

The fruits are available mainly through modern retail and neighbourhood fruit stores as well as most large format retail chains including Spar, Metro, Reliance Retail, Starbazaar, Future Consumer etc. “Online is less than 10 per cent but as channels like Amazon and other online delivery partners open up, this will grow fast,” thinks Gupta. 

Covid has hit hard. “Modern retail activity has been severely curtailed, and we have had to rework our sales and approach a bit. While people have started recognising the brand faster as online interest has increased, traditional channels have slowed down. We have grown 2x over the last six months so underlying demand is strong for quality produce. We just need to be creative on how to tap it.” 

According to the company, the fresh capital is being used to build out farm infrastructure, augment the management team and expand the company distribution capabilities. It will be interesting to see if Superplum can convert a significant number of Indians to taking up branded fruits.

Who’s interested in fruits 

Superplum has a total funding of $6.8 million. Its investors include a long list of Silicon Valley’s prominent entities. 

They are:

• Dan Rose, Chairman Coatue Ventures 

• Mark Siegel, Menlo Ventures 

• Binny Bansal, Co-Founder at Flipkart 

• Kabir Misra, RPS ventures and SoftBank

• Ron Snyder, COO, Flextronics, and CEO, CROCS

• Steve Jurvetson, Co-Founder, Future Ventures

• Curtis Macnguyen, Founder, Ivory Capital

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