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My Story: Women And The Meat Business

18/09/2015 8:27 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Veronique DURRUTY via Getty Images
INDIA - CIRCA 1900: Market in Pondychery, India. (Photo by Veronique DURRUTY/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

"Women are not allowed inside the chicken market. A year ago a woman was killed there and after that the entry of women was banned. You can go to the fish market - women are allowed there," said a random stranger to me as I was walking towards the infamous chicken mandi of Delhi for the first time. He was expecting me to be grateful that I was allowed in at least one of the two places. Lakhs of chickens are slaughtered everyday in the most unhygienic conditions in Ghazipur, which is the biggest chicken market of India. The stench of the place makes you want to run away. Fish jump out of the containers on your feet, people with blood-spattered clothes wander about, staring at the only woman there. It is deeply unsettling.

After visiting numerous local butcher shops, Deepanshu (the other co-founder of ZappFresh) and I identified the need to change the fresh meat industry by raising the bar of quality and standardising the standard of fresh produce. My visit to Ghazipur only strengthened the need to change this highly unorganised multi-billion dollar industry.

"The meat-buying experience for the average Indian customer is filled with discomfort -- unhygienic environments and a repulsive stench are common -- and I felt compelled to address this problem."

The meat-buying experience for the average Indian customer is filled with discomfort -- unhygienic environments and a repulsive stench are common -- and I felt compelled to address this problem. During our visits, we observed that majority of customers in these butcher shops are men although most meals in Indian households are cooked by women. Bridging this gap and empowering the person cooking the meats formed the bedrock for ZappFresh. That the majority of our customers are women attests to the fact that we are headed in the right direction.

A Bachelor in Engineering from Netaji Subhas Institute of Technology, I have always been driven towards creating something of my own. I started my high-end ethnic apparel line back in 2012, and the range received a good response and repeat purchases. A year down the line, I was diagnosed with a bone tumour in my leg and underwent two surgeries for its removal. I had to shut down my business while recuperating from the surgeries. This experience made me only stronger and taught me persistence.

Bouncing back from the hiatus, when I decided to take a plunge into the meat business I received very cold reactions and resistance from family and peers. A few weeks ago, an uncle asked my mother about my business, to which she replied "Kya batayein ji, batane layak hi nahi hai (What can I say, it's not worth talking about)" with a faint smile on her face, even though secretly she is proud of what her daughter is doing. Running a meat business apparently doesn't meet the standards of society, especially if you are well educated and on top of that if you are a woman. It's a big resounding NO if you foresee yourself getting married in a respectable family.

The meat industry in India is a highly male-dominated system. Setting up the supply side from scratch was not easy, and finding the right farms and shaping the blueprint for operations took a good while. I once called up a vendor and on hearing a woman's voice he immediately handed over the phone to his brother. Only after repeated reassurance from his brother did he speak to me and agreed to supply. Now three months down the line he is a good friend and swaps amusing anecdotes with me.

From sampling to ensuring consistent quality of the products to creating customer delight, I have worn different hats and actively involved myself at every step. Deepanshu and I even learnt how to cut and clean meats. Work has been so engrossing that for the past few months I've been able to see my family only once a week.

"[The] majority of customers in butcher shops are men although most meals in Indian households are cooked by women. Bridging this gap and empowering the person cooking the meats formed the bedrock for ZappFresh."

The meat market in India is a highly unorganised and monopolistic setup and my advice to fellow entrepreneurs in the sector is to harness technology and lay emphasis on the freshest stock. The sector is going through a sea change and growing consumption has led to so many meat shops mushrooming in the country. With high disposable incomes and a greater inclination non-vegetarianism, the new-age Indian consumer is happy to go the extra mile for quality produce. Customer acquisition is not the only target - customer retention is the real game-changer since one unpleasant experience can create serious upsets for you when you deal with a perishable commodity.

ZappFresh's 100% month-on-month growth in the span of three months and our 1500 customers, most of which are women, is a testimony to the growing meat market. The kind of trust and appreciation our customers have bestowed upon us not only makes us happy but also gives confidence in the promising future of the sector. With a revamped website, upcoming new product range and seed investment, we plan to aggressively expand to cover all of Delhi and the NCR in the next quarter.

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