WayCool Foods and Products, was founded in 2015, by Sanjay Dasari and Karthik Jayaraman. The Chennai headquartered agri-tech startup is among India’s fastest growing food development and distribution platform leveraging innovative technology to scale-up and operate a complex supply chain. The company operates a full stack, broadline product range across multiple channels and categories like fresh produce, staples and dairy serving over 8,000 clients in the general trade, modern trade, and food services space.
With over 1,000 employees, WayCool Foods has presence in Chennai, Coimbatore, Bangalore, Salem, Hyderabad, and operates in nearly 20 locations. “We transport approximately 250 tonnes of fruits and vegetables per day, across over 8,000 clients, sourcing from a network of 35,000 farmers in more than 50 regions in India, including staples like rice, pulses, wheat flour, and dairy products,” says Karthik Jayaraman, CEO & Co-founder, WayCool.
Since inception, the company has grown through organic and inorganic means, acquiring or investing in four companies, including Aalgro Foods, Farm Taaza, Ottanchathiram Fruits and Vegetables, and Benani Foods. Jayaraman informs that WayCool has raised three rounds of institutional funding to date – round one was for an amount of US$ 2.7 million from Aspada in April 2017 followed by round two in January 2019 for an amount of US$ 19.3 million led by LGT Impact Ventures, Caspian Impact Investment and Northern Arc Capital Ltd. The second round was a mix of debt and equity. With angel funding of US$ 1 million, total funding so far is around US$ 23 million. Round three for an amount of U$32 million in a combination of equity and debt led by Lightbox and saw participation of FMO, the Dutch entrepreneurial development bank, LGT Lightstone Aspada, and InnoVen Capital.
Help to farmers
Speaking about how the agri-tech startup is helping farmers, Jayaraman says, “We are bringing technology and expertise to an industry as core to our everyday lives as food, we are bridging the gap between the farmer and consumer and bringing the world a little closer together.” He adds that technology has been used to build a transparent and efficient supply chain. On top of the transaction processing platform, WayCool has built a portfolio of apps, which are all being rolled into a platform called RAPID, which includes:
a. Farmer facing applications – MySoil, Farm Management systems, MyPrice, MyTransactions
b. Supply chain applications – Forecasting and planning, warehouse management system, digital quality platform and logistics optimisation platform
c. Customer facing applications – Order capture, tracking and supply performance measurement
“These applications ensure that information flow is streamlined in both directions and provide the base data for advanced analytics that will help streamline the process further,” remarks Jayaraman.
Acknowledging that during the lockdown, logistics and material handling have been the biggest challenges for effective operations of the food supply chain, Jayaraman says, “Moving trucks in and out of red zones / containment areas was the key challenge, but manpower shortage was also a concern with many moving to their hometown. Luckily, our operations are already fairly automated, with efficient conveyor belts handling most of the produce and limited requirement for physical labour. We also have a no contact goods receipt at our warehouses, that allows us to cross check quality and weight without exposing our teams to the external agents. As a silver lining, lower manpower has led to more effective social distancing, and a full utilisation of our warehouse automation.”
In addition, their procurement of fruits and vegetables, and other essential goods, was not much disrupted as they sourced primarily directly from farmers. “We have consciously avoided large city markets to protect teams from potential exposure to Covid-19. We continue to put people first and ensure safety of teams, and this has led to shortages at times,” affirms Jayaraman.
Speaking about safety measures, he further highlights, “As a rule, we ensure safety of produce at three levels – at source, while handling at DC and during last mile delivery. At source, vehicle disinfection is done, and produce is loaded only in sanitised vehicles. At our Collection and Distribution Centres, adequate measures are in place to avoid any infection. Hygiene SOPs are strictly followed and audited regularly. Finally, during delivery, our outbound vehicles are sanitised thoroughly before and after every delivery, our delivery executives wear PPEs and maintain social distancing during delivery. We have also partnered with Zomato and Swiggy for safe last mile delivery and for our own delivery to apartment complexes, along with individual safety measures, we do contactless delivery and payments.”
Jayaraman believes that in the face of unprecedented difficulty, the local authorities have done a great job in organising themselves and the essential services companies in their areas. “Though our company shut down for a day until all passes were available and permissions were granted, we were in full operation the very next day, supplying essentials to NGOs, elderly living alone, and others in need,” he points out.
Making a difference
Acknowledging that WayCool is committed to solving India’s food supply chain problems while making a substantially positive difference to farmers and consumers, Jayaraman states, “We will continue to squeeze out efficiencies and reduce information asymmetry in the supply chain – we believe that there is much work to be done on this. We are clear that if we continually become better, we will continually become bigger.”
“We are also quite clear that while we scale rapidly across Southern, Central and Western India, we will work with stakeholder who are aligned with us in thinking– be they clients, suppliers, employees or partners. The market is large enough to find enough like-minded stakeholders and build a very large business. To support our expansion, we will raise funds as necessary. However, this will be done after carefully calibrating the stage of the business to the funding needs,” says Jayaraman, adding that there are specific markets outside India that can be served well from here. The company will explore these once its current operations reach maturity.
In terms of technology, WayCool has deployed solutions across the value chain, from seed to sale. “We provide procurement solutions targeting the farmer aiding better crop management, soil health management, benchmarking produce price with live market prices, improving farmer income. On the operations side, we have auto inwarding and allocation for a quick and hassle-free movement of fresh produce into the DC and out for clients. An all-in-one B2B customer solution makes it easier for our GT partners to place an order and keep track of each of the orders. Our logistics management software optimises route planning basis daily sales orders,” he explains.
According to Jayaraman, they have been continuously working to re-establish the supply chain links between farmers and end-users. “With a strong base of more than 40,000 farmers, we have been taking adequate safety precautions against the pandemic for several weeks prior to the lockdown and were reasonably well prepared when the lockdown was announced. We continue to honour our purchase commitments to farmers with uninterrupted sourcing from our Outgrow farmers and are also sourcing from farmers who have directly reached us,” he says.
The startup has helped farmers with essentials kit containing a pair of gloves, face masks, soap, vegetables and staples. “We also educated all our farmer partners on vehicle sanitisation and safety measures to be followed, and are working with multiple organisations to direct further relief funds or material to those in need,” mentions Jayaraman.
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