The ongoing pandemic is teaching us many lessons. And the most important one has been about taking care of ourselves and our health. It has brought the popular maxim, ‘Health is Wealth’ to life.
People are now concerned about their immunity, eating better, exercising regularly more than ever before. Based on these new criteria, consumers are also making different choices - they are more conscious about their food, want to opt for healthier options, choose more sustainable products and the likes.
For most of us, this is the wake up call we needed.
Echoing this changing need is Gourmet Garden
with their offering of a wide variety of fresh produce that are organically grown and are pesticide free.
Gourmet Garden is also one of our clients at FlexiBees, having hired 4 part-time and remote-working professionals who provided them with many benefits including cost effectiveness and piloting for new roles.
So we recently caught up with Arjun Balaji, Co-founder of Gourmet Garden to understand their business and to know what worked well for them and why they choose to hire flexible talent. What ensued was an interesting conversation about farming techniques, quality of produce and the future of growing food efficiently.
Some excerpts from our conversation:
How did it all start? Tell us your story.
We all get a wakeup call at some point. I think for me, it was when I saw some medical reports that were not in my favour. I went on a journey to get my health in order. That is how I started learning about food and its importance to our overall well-being.
Before this, I was a management consultant, advising tech unicorns and MNCs on growth and business building. Seeing them at close quarters allowed me to appreciate their ambition, their ability to rally small teams for big impact, and their pursuit of innovation to solve existing problems. It got me closer to innovation and startup opportunities.
My personal health journey and my pursuit for the next big disruption space crossed roads, and I got into exploring opportunities in food and sustainable agriculture. There were a lot of unsolved problems in that space. In 2016, there were only a handful startups that were even attempting anything in this space.
Food is the single largest consumption sliver and demand was surging. However, supply was undifferentiated and under stress due to land, water, labour shortages. Further, consumers were not happy with what they were being offered, especially in fresh perishable categories. While the buying destination had moved from the footpath, to the supermarket, to online shopping for better convenience, the actual quality of the produce had not changed for decades. And there were traceability and safety concerns around food ingredients.
This was largely due to open field farming, use of chemicals and low quality seeds, which further got worse due to challenges in the supply chain. Limited cold chain and unlimited middlemen meant produce which was already days old was degrading fast and losing nutrition and freshness.
So I saw an opportunity here: an evolved approach to farming with end-to-end solutions - from the farm to the end consumer - managing it all.
What were the initial days like? How did Gourmet Garden take shape?
I initially spent time understanding opportunities and challenges more deeply as I didn't have any background in this field. This was a blessing in disguise as it helped me challenge the status quo and question a lot of the accepted norms and techniques of farming.
Around this time, I was introduced to Vishal through a common friend. Vishal had just come back from stints abroad, and was experimenting with different sustainable zero-contamination farming techniques on his own farmland. When we met, he had just cracked a highly efficient model of soil-less cultivation that was also yielding really high quality produce.
What was supposed to be a learning conversation turned into a decision to partner and launch Gourmet Garden! Vishal and I have complementary skills and strengths so it was a rather easy decision to partner for this journey. We started looking at everything from the lens of zero-base innovation. And we soon realised this was a problem worth solving.
In the initial months, our wives played major roles in helping ramp-up this play. We had invested our own money to seed the business to see early traction.
But eventually, we managed to create a system of soil-less farming and win a patent for our model, still India’s only patent in this space!
When did you start seeing success? What was the turning point?
Early on, we had realised that the only way to grow sustainably was to build a brand that stood for something. And to not just explore retail partners but also go directly to the end consumer, manage our own supply chain so we could have full control over quality and experience.
I think the turning point was when we started hearing very positive proactive feedback. We weren't even reaching out to customers to ask them about their experience as fresh produce is often just a transactional purchase. But people were calling us or mailing us about their experience, and the positive feedback was really encouraging. We knew we were doing something right!
What is your differentiator?
We stand by two promises we make to our customers:
Quality - Distinctly fresh and nutritious produce and essentials
Safety - Zero-residue safe produce
We achieve this through our innovations in soil-less farming using high quality seeds, extensions in organic farming, and our lean 1-day and 2-touch supply chain - all of which allow for real freshness to reach consumers.
How has the pandemic affected your business?
The pandemic has pushed people to become conscious about their food choices and this resulted in a 100% increase in customers and orders. Our supply and operations waS challenged, as the lockdown imposed restrictions on movement, and several team members were down with the virus, and we had limited access to all our farms. But we managed to come out of it with all our colleagues safe. Still, I would consider ourselves blessed in comparison to several others who went through even tougher times.
What are your future plans?
We want to be the favoured one-stop destination brand for all things fresh and food. Fruits and vegetables will be our core offering, around which we will also offer other essentials and fresh items including new introductions in bakes and breads, sauces and dips, and other convenience offerings such as cut vegetables and DIY medley cooking ranges.
On the operations front, we will be launching several modernisation efforts including the country’s first end-to-end cold chain for fresh produce in the B2C context, deploying technology for consistent operations.
We are also launching an app and a website refresh for easy ordering experience, and planning some consumer education initiatives.
What made you opt for remote talent and FlexiBees and how has been your experience?
Any start-up in the brewing stages has two challenges.
1. You don't know which role you need people for. It becomes apparent only when the role starts and you have more visibility.
2. Affordability - A start-up is always cash conscious.
Therefore finding the right talent becomes a challenge. FlexiBees became very relevant for us. There were a few roles that we weren’t sure of, whether we would want it as a continuous role and if we needed the person on staff or not.
Plus we could not afford the quality of professionals at the rates FlexiBees was providing. And most of these roles are 4-6 hours kind of thing - we didn't need full time employees for these roles.
So we found our sweet spot with FlexiBees.
We could hire experienced professionals to experiment new roles with, run some pilots and then make informed choices of hiring full-time. And we could hire talent to work in bursts and only a part of the day and pay accordingly.
FlexiBees truly gave us access to high quality talent at meaningful costs!
I think this is a great solution for the gig ecosystem and the start-up ecosystem.
What are the two things that changed after you hired talent from FlexiBees?
We wouldn't have done some of the things we have done now with the consultants we have onboarded.
For example, we wanted to do an outreach program and an education program for our customers. We couldn't afford that kind of effort with our internal resources and would've parked that idea. It would have been a missed opportunity.
But by hiring talented professionals from FlexiBees, we could roll out some of these programs and cash in on them.
We are clearly seeing some early impact and are fully keen to amplify it.
If you are looking for organically grown fresh produce that promises maximum nutrition, then do check out Gourmet Garden
for your next purchase.
And if you want to read similar stories of how flexible talent has helped other businesses, click here