Sourcing of Fruit & Vegetables – Let’s put first things first


Decades back, when I was taking strategic sourcing decisions for large corporate, I was often told by top managers that what’s the big deal about purchasing fruit and vegetables, even kids can do it. Housewives do it day in day out. I used to get offended by such caustic, casual and derogatory remarks, but I always kept my cool but did contemplate on the subject later on.

Is f+v procurement job so easy and inconsequential? Time passed by, I got a lot wiser and experienced to understand and tackle the complexities encountered during wholesale procurement of fruit and vegetables. Believe me – Sourcing job is indeed far more tough and trickier than buying anything else. Yes, mark my word, ANYTHING! Why? I’ll elaborate on some other day.

The World has moved far since I donned my first sourcing hat. But the f+v trade, particularly in India and other developing economies, except for some bright spots here and there, has hardly changed. Hearing a live verification conversation between one of our bright Customer Service Executive and a prospective registered supplier of Mangoes from Telangana for our online portal, was all it took me pen down these musings on the subject. There was a DIY manual bursting out of my head on the whole subject but let’s put out the first things first.

Sourcing fruit and vegetables in wholesale for your business is always a challenge and an opportunity. It’s a challenge, of course, because a steady and reliable source of products that conforms to quantity, quality, packing, delivery and price demanded by your buyers is what makes your business tick and sing along. It is your opportunity as well, because you’ll like to find yourself surrounded every day with produce that you and your buyers care about and can sell proudly and profitably.

There is no doubt that sourcing require a great deal of time and effort, but finding the right products to build your business can bring you great satisfaction and reward. Nothing builds your own business quite like the efforts you’ll put into place for the purpose of stocking your and your buyers’ shelves. Whether you find the products you need to sell or resell in your neighborhood market or discover them on the other side of the globe, the stuff you choose will become central to your life. You’ll ultimately immerse yourself in those products and gain expertise in their various aspects, right from production to marketing.

During my times, sourcing f+vs, particularly from remote locations was extremely difficult. My favorite advice to young recruits initiated into the wonderful world of sourcing of f+vs was – Local market (Mandi) is the fountainhead of all information to get you on board of sourcing train. So visit markets during the trading time. However, what I found that even with all the information available on sourcing locations, seasonality and even supplier’s names on rare occasions, getting the products to our warehouse and retail outlets was still difficult. If I’m to point out a single reason for this difficulty, it was the lack of trust between the new prospective suppliers and the companies we represented.

Today, thanks to the Internet in general and more specifically to websites like, your sourcing opportunities have never been more abundant or varied. Once sourcing from far away production clusters was viewed as the province of only biggest and most experienced enterprises like NDDB, Mother Dairy, ITC, Reliance Retail or Aditya Birla Retail etc, now your supplies from remove suppliers is possible, no matter how small business or inexperienced you may feel. Now anyone with a bare Internet connectivity can search the remote suppliers in production belts, get in touch with them and request for quotes and subsequently arrange supplies.

Is it that easy as it sounds? A big NO. But the fact that it is possible and so many businessmen (read suppliers and buyers) have already done it over internet successfully should give anyone enough confidence to go forward.

Internet is so full of promise, so inviting, that by just reading above lines and googling Vegfru, one may be tempted to jump in. We understand and appreciate that. Who will not like to add a dash of growth and profitability in his or her business? But just as a child has to first learn ABC before starting to read a book, you will have to take some small yet very important steps to establish yourself before you embark upon your sourcing journey.

Please appreciate, you are no Tata, Birla, Ambani and Late Dr. Kurian or the organisations they represent or represented. You and are a small or medium business. Any supplier you approach has a right to ask you to prove that you are a legitimate business and valid prospective customer. After all, you are strangers to each other. Don’t be surprised that while you are doing a background check on your potential suppliers, your buyers are also doing the same checking on you. In nutshell, you must be prepared to present yourself as a bonafide business.

Traditional markets, instead of relying on trust building behaviors relied on instruments like advances or part payments which in f+v trade remained counterproductive because of the nature of products and trade. Simply put – it was and still is both expensive and time consuming. By the time cash advances are exchanged between parties, the nature of the product and the market behavior (prices specifically) changes because products have very short life cycles and markets have liquidity constraints because of the perishable nature of products. So what were the consequences – Limited number of buyers and suppliers who had gained initial trust with advances or were related to reach other, remained wedded to each other for generations. New relationships were very rare. Stagnation is the only word I can think of to describe this situation. THIS IS THE NAKED FACT.

What simple steps and behaviors demonstrate and build trust.

The first thing first here is to do some paperwork to ensure that your business is properly registered and authorized to do business within your jurisdiction. Suitable incorporation of your business be as partnership firm, a limited company, LLP or whatever may suits your needs, getting PAN, TIN, Aadhar, Service Tax no, your own website, even your credit rating scores etc are simple and cheap tools that would let you cross the first bridge.

We are going a step further. For a simple fee we are helping small businesses get a third party verification so that they can provide our trust seal to their prospective business partners. It is simply like providing your credit score when you shopping for a loan.

Watch out this space for more on sourcing f+vs.

Fresh – Dump or Out of stock!

Fresh produce retail is a fascinating subject.

Last evening at a wet market, I witnessed an elderly woman repeatedly fingering mangoes to decide whether to buy or not. May be she wanted to know how long the fruit shall stay good or are the mangoes ripe enough to be consumed immediately or she’ll have to wait; if yes, how long she and her family will have to wait.

While these questions are legitimate, the fresh produce retailer may not have the right answers. And this difficulty in finding the right answers is what makes fresh produce retail a fascinating subject.

The concept of ‘Fresh’ itself is enchanting. By the way – what is considered ‘Fresh’ in retail? Does a common theme or thread binds ‘Fresh’?

To a front end retailer, ‘Fresh’ is a product category whose value decrease due to quality loss which result in price reductions (impacts revenue), or even result in products being thrown or blown away (Dump & Shrink), a challenge he daily faces while trying to balance overstocks and stock-outs by attempting correct indenting as far as possible.

Retailer also knows that if product waste in a retail outlet is too low, this could signify a risk of empty shelves or his inability to offer fresh products to his customers (little sales due to stocking of stale and dying products). He also knows in heart of hearts that presence of Fresh” is a major customer footfall driver for his store – day in and day out.

While retailer’s ‘Fresh’ is a struggle balancing Inventory – Profits – Footfalls – Shrink – Revenue – FIFO – FEFO – LIFO, buyers ‘Fresh’ is a constant conflict (quite often compromise) between purchasing indented quantities of products with ever changing quality at the lowest prices.

From logistics perspective, ‘Fresh’ is ‘Perishability’, to be delivered fastest to store shelves in right environment. Product has to be quickly out of their custody (inventory) without loss and value.

‘Fresh’ connotes “Quality” to customers with all its finer nuances, contexts and equations. Period!

In such a scenario, can we help that old women find right answers, while making the work of the fresh produce purchaser, logistics operator and retailer lesser complex?

My bets are once again placed on technology led zero defect fresh produce production and shelf life modeling techniques. That is the only economical way to achieve uniform and precise products in the first place. “Quality is Free” here. Vegetopia, some will say.

Fresh produce traders in India have a saying, “all fingers are not equal” when pushing non standardized products to customers.

For situation like either innovative (but costly) machines like ripeness, color and weight specific sorter graders or plain vanilla sorting / grading by human hands comes to rescue.

Here Quality, sorry ‘Fresh’ comes at a Cost, quite often a considerable cost.

The choice is ours!