MandiExpress co-founders put their stakes on a fruity groceries market.
MandiExpress co-founders put their stakes on a fruity groceries market.

Summers are here and the mango season is in full swing but that at times means local vendors ripping you off — either with price or quality. God forbid if you aren’t good at haggling. Wouldn’t it be much easier to just buy online and get those cartons delivered at your house instead?

At least that’s what MandiExpress wants you to do.

A startup based out of Karachi, MandiExpress is an online fruit and vegetable seller that claims to offer high-quality products for prices relatively lower than those available in the supermarkets.

It works like any other online seller. You just go to the app/website, surf through the products available, place the order, and get it delivered on your doorstep and pay cash – including Rs100 delivery charges.

They have a just-in-time inventory system which means all orders received by midnight are aggregated, and a team is despatched to the mandi to procure everything, items are then transported to their city office for packaging from where orders are finally transported to the customers.

Each day, goods are priced differently depending on the demand and supply dynamics as well as the quality available in mandi, basically like any other market.

While the name might suggest they only sell fruits and vegetables but that is far from the truth.

Currently, the startup has as many as 15 categories, ranging from pet care to meat and poultry.

And at the moment, they are only operating in Karachi but they plan to expand to Lahore and Islamabad very soon.

The roots of the startup go back to Hawaii where CEO Jehanzeb Chaudhri had spent a few months through Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms.

“There I basically learned about permaculture and was familiarised with the methods of organic farming. After coming back to Pakistan, I founded a home services startup along with farming in my backyard and when that kicked off, I pivoted towards MandiExpress,” he recalls.

The venture then got incubated at The Nest IO in the second batch and Danyaal Balkhi joined as the Chief Operating Officer.

A cursory look of the portal, however, shows that their products are generally more expensive than an average thellawala in the city, at least on this side of Karachi’s Bosphorus Bridge.

How can the startup compete with local vendors who have a clear price advantage and presence at virtually every corner of the street?

“I don’t really consider them a competition due to the obvious differences in our respective qualities, plus often, we act as their suppliers as well,” the CEO says.

“Most of our buyers in DHA are actually recurring but that’s not the case in localities like Gulshan. There, the customers tend to switch back to the thellawala due to prices. In order to cater to a wider audience, we have value and grade-B qualities available as well,” Jehanzeb says, adding “however, up until now there hasn’t been a significant price differential between the premium and other qualities so we are trying to work out a pricing model which better captures different segments.”

The startup raised an undisclosed amount in seed round from Disrupt Ventures and is currently in talks for Series A to further scale operations.

Currently, much of the goods displayed on MandiExpress are unbranded but Jehanzeb is trying to change that. “Only a few of our listings at the moment have farm names but eventually we’d like to let even small farms brand their products and sell them through us,” he says.

Even though they have a strong presence in B2C, the startup is not limited to the consumer market.

“We operate on all fronts; the B2B segment where we supply to quite a few local restaurants; then we have direct dealings with mashakhors (wholesalers and day traders buying in bulk); plus we directly sell to local vendors as well,” Chaudhri says.

However, unlike other tech startups where good developers are usually the only expensive resource to be hired, Mandi­Express operates in a very capital intensive business: perishable products, in-house logistics with their fleet of customised rickshaws and pickups along with some 60+ member team.

How do they make money to pull all this off?

“We charge a certain margin on each sale and have reinvested earnings to scale organically, in addition to the seed money we raised,” says Chaudhri.

Moving on to the digital arena, the startup isn’t entirely immune from competition either.

Online retailers such as SubziPhal or even HumMart have tried to grab a share, with the latter having presumably good financial backing. But Jehanzeb is here to bet his stakes. Whether the industry is ripe to eat its fruits can only be answered with time.

The writer is member of staff:
Twitter: @MutaherKhan

Published in Dawn, July 7th, 2019