Here’s an excerpt from an interview with Prabhu, an exemplary individual in the pursuit of promoting health and nutrition. Basavaprabhu Patil, Prabhu to his friends, and his partners are farmers and they recently opened Food Life, a retail outlet of organic products in Bangalore.
Q. What triggered the idea of establishing a retail outlet in Bangalore?
A. By profession I am a farmer. My family has been working in agriculture for a very long time and I chose to follow their footsteps and take it forward.
In the initial days, I was focused on growing grains and selling them to the middle agents, amid lack of knowledge about the market requirements and abruptly changing needs of middle agents. When I realized that this lack of guidance is affecting my growth and that the real problem is the gap between the farmer and the customer; I decided to venture out on my own. I teamed up with three of my friends and started reaching customers with my own brand.
Q. Tell us about your approach for securing funds to set up this retail?
A. I teamed up with my friends (with farming experience) and each member of the team contributed funds accordingly to start the venture. We also tied up with UAS (University of Agricultural Sciences) Raichur to seek machinery help and to understand the workflow for the first year.
Q. Who are your customers? What kind of feedback have you received so far from your customers?
A. We participated in exhibitions to sell our products, and retained our customers through regular follow-up calls. We took it a step further by distributing our products to supermarkets, general stores, and wholesalers. We also started a food outlet called Food Life in Bengaluru. We are also active on online platforms such as Amazon and Flipkart and use them to reach out to a wider customer base to sell our products.
Q. What is your unique selling point? In what way would you like to differ from other millet retailers?
A. There are a few well-known brands in the industry that process their food with machines and mix different types of food materials, whereas Food Life has a different approach altogether.
The Government of Karnataka has agricultural federations around the state. Each federation manages three districts with a group of farmers. The federations conduct agricultural training activities for farmers, provide them a platform to exhibit their products and also offers a product certificate to the buyer. Food Life participated in an exhibition and signed a contract with the farmers associated with Raichur, Koppal & Bellary Regional Co-op. Organic Farmers Associations Federation Ltd.
Even though we purchase products from both certified and non-certified farmers, right after harvesting we take the products to the mill and ensure that nutrition remains the same throughout the process. We always strive to keep the quality and consistency up to the mark which is our USP.
Q. What are the challenges you face while looking after both the production and the sales?
A. Since we are well-versed with agriculture practices, we don’t face many challenges during production but sales is something that has troubled us. Due to occupancy of well-known brands in the market, customers rarely entertain a new brand and retailers ask for credits instead of instant payment, so it is challenging to convince the retail chains to move products to the market.
Q. In your opinion, what are the additional skill sets required for any farmer to get into retail?
A. Famers should understand the area of interest in the field, be it farming, selling products, procurement quality processing and spend time in honing their skills in the other crucial areas. Utilizing their experience of the field, they can form a team and start their own venture.
Q. What kind of increase do you see in profits by taking your products directly to consumers?
A. We have a good profit margin throughout the course and are optimistic about the future in terms of profit and product reach to the customers. We’ve realized that relying on middle agents does not promise a similar result, direct reach does.
Q. Is there a need for change in the production depending on the demand? Do you go for an increase or decrease in production depending on the sales?
A. The machinery support in the agricultural university has had a limited capacity of production – 300 kg millet per day and 200 kg for dal (split chickpeas) mill. But we started getting huge orders (up to 400 kg millet per day) so we upgraded our machinery to match the requirement and now can produce 2 tons of food products per hour.
Since we have started our new outlet in Bengaluru and have a distributor in Hyderabad (selling up to 5 tons of millets per month), we definitely did go for an increase in production and we are not limited to millets alone. We are also increasing food products options such as dal, rava, aata (split chickpeas, semolina, and wheat dough).
Q. What are your future plans for the venture?
A. We are eager to provide a platform for farmers to earn on the products they are selling.
We are also planning on starting our own food park in an area of 8 acres and setup the infrastructure to produce the products required for our outlet. We will conduct a thorough research on what farmers are cultivating in the surrounding 200 km and tie-up with them for the production of food products.
We have evolved over the years in farming connectivity, infrastructure setup and production and we will continue working on these areas to enhance productivity.
- Having our own consumer products helped us understand customer requirements, and based on that we are introducing new products to the market
- Association with UAS Raichur gave us the right understanding and tools to set up our business
- Farmers can create their own brands and cut out the middle agents. We succeeded by doing this as a small team of colleagues and due to our association with the farmers from Raichur, Koppal & Bellary Regional Co-op. Organic Farmers Associations Federation Ltd.