Saturday, June 15, 2024
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A new jedi comes swinging out to rewire India’s fish and meat market

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Sometimes in the late 2017, 3 IIM-Lucknow batch mates and friends decided to close the book on their careers and take an entrepreneurial, plunging into the fish and meat industry. “When we realized that the entrepreneurial itch is what all of us were looking to scratch, we looked around to see where to dip our toes into and make the next move,” says Karthik Regunathan, CEO & Co-Founder, ChopServe, an omnichannel retail platform that operates a chain of modern retail outlets and an online marketplace serving fresh fish, seafood, mutton and poultry products.

There were plenty entrepreneurial choices before them but they chose to turn the dial on the meat retailing business. Laying out the rationale and logic behind their business choice, Karthik explains, “With our experience and by dint of our international travels to many countries across the world, we saw that the fish and meat category in India was the least disrupted and also the most fragmented. Although other categories like fruits and vegetables, grocery, dairy, apparel and everything else had improved and offered a far better shopping experience, meat as a category was a laggard, stuck in an antiquated tradition with large pockets of bygone era-signs still seen hanging around.”

They looked at various models and were able to draw on the emerging market trends from European countries.

Catching Their Business Oyster

Until five years ago, when ChopServe first entered the market, meat lovers trudged to greasy, corner butcher shops or endured the bedlam of local fish markets. While these grubby places offered an affordable price point, hygiene stuck out like a sore thumb and the product quality was often tacky and under suspicion. Another option for the consumer was to visit a supermarket with a meat and seafood section. But finding one in your vicinity mostly proved to be a futile and time-sucking endeavor and also there was limited availability and product selection.

Also, buying from online meat retailing platforms meant reconciling to the fact that the catch or meat was processed and packed at some distant distribution center, which meant that customers were largely deprived of the perks of freshness and product customization.

Convinced that the otherwise rancid market scenario was gasping for fresh air, ChopServe under its legal name –DaysCatch Retail Technologies Private Limited – pulled in its oars to launch operations from Bengaluru with an avowed mission to rewire the nation’s purchasing habits for meat products.

The journey’s early twists and turns

The ChopServe business journey began with fish and seafood supply to a B2B customer base comprising supermarkets and online meat retailers. However, despite familiarizing themselves with the complexities of the business and paying close attention to the details, ChopServe’s supplies faced numerous rejections.

As handling the rejections became problematic, Karthik and his team realized it was time to strategise anew. Like agile start-up leaders who move swiftly and embrace change, the three business collaborators began re-assessing the market conditions and worked toward creating the necessary space to make their budding business thrive.

“We explored alternative models that could work out for us, and came to the realization that we needed to directly reach out to the end-customers in order to build a viable business model,” reflects Karthik.

Negotiating a Business ‘U’ Turn

However, implementing the new consumer-facing strategy came with its own unique set of challenges. “Something very unique to India is that the market consists of almost 100% fresh fish and meat consumption. While other countries have a mix of frozen options, in India it’s completely fresh. When we looked at this market, we realized that people primarily buy raw meat and fish to cook at home. Additionally, every home has its own culinary tradition and ways of preparing the dishes. In such a diverse culinary landscape, customization becomes a crucial factor,” notes Karthik.

He further adds “The challenges revolved around delivering high-quality fresh produce in a personalized and easily accessible manner for the customer to come, see, and buy. Customers want to witness the freshness, abundance, and variety first hand. This meant that we needed to bring customization as close as possible to the customers. Therefore, we decided to adopt an omni-channel approach right from day one, allowing us to showcase our entire range of products across channels.”

After extensive research on the ground realities of the market, the three founders realized that omni-channel strategy was the key to establishing a lasting retail channel in the category.  After extensive debates and discussions, they realized that they needed a brick-and-mortar store supported by robust technology for online ordering and delivery.

Winning Model for a Modern Retail Outlet

ChopServe’s first store, spanning 1050 sq. ft., opened in May 2018 in Bengaluru’s start-up hub of  Koramangala. The Koramangala store started off strong, adhering to the prescribed norms of an innovative and forward thinking fish and meat retail business. Equipped with the right technology, the store implemented robust systems and reliable processes for managing the supply chain, inventory, sourcing fresh and high-quality products, facilitating easy ordering and purchasing, and establishing efficient billing and payment methods.

Once the store was operational, its omni-channel capabilities helped establish its modern retail identity and reach a wide customer base. The store featured a live processing section for fish and meat, allowing customers to have their requirements customized on the spot while ensuring product quality.

With its selection of fresh, marinated, and grilled fish, meat, and seafood in various cuts and choices, all provided in an impeccable hygienic environment, the store began attracting a large number of consumers seeking alternatives to the standard offerings available at butcher shops and supermarkets.

The success of the Koramangala store propelled ChopServe into the meat retailing game and marked a turning point for the brand, signaling its readiness for greater achievements. Presently, ChopServe operates approximately 94 stores across major cities in southern India, including over 20 stores in Dubai.

The brand has 70+ stores in Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Cochin, Trivandrum, Madurai, Kollam, Coimbatore, and Goa are propelling the company’s growth trajectory. Additionally, ChopServe has partnered with major supermarkets in various southern cities and exports its products to several countries in the Middle East and other overseas markets.

As a company on its way to making kinetic commercial growth, money lies at the heart of the business and ChopServe is taking a measured and healthy approach to managing its cash flow. Right from day one, the company has been super wired on maintaining positive cash flows, expanding slowly in the first three years, not willing to burn through cash. By keeping a focused edge on profitability, it has been able to conserve cash to power its current pace of growth.

The Way Forward

The company’s success has opened doors for further opportunities, both domestically and internationally. While maintaining a focus on south India, ChopServe is also looking to expand into other regions of the country, such as eastern, western, and northern India.

Additionally, it is exploring opportunities in the Middle East, with its entry into Dubai serving as a test run for the broader Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) market. ChopServe’s expansion plans require significant capital investment, prompting the company to seek funding and engage with investors. Details regarding further fundraising efforts are currently not disclosed due to the silent period being observed by the company.

Moving forward, ChopServe will stay committed to its core principles, aiming to build a profitable business that benefits employees, customers, and investors.  The company is focused on improving the baseline of the meat-buying shopping experience for consumers and is on the right trajectory for future growth.

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