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    Covid-19 boosts local demand for premium fruits, vegetables

    Synopsis

    Indian consumers are willing to pay a premium to get hygienic and nutritional daily essentials, prompting exporters of horticulture produce to draw strategies for the domestic market.

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    Pune: Growers and processors of premium fruits and vegetables are increasingly focusing on the domestic market and tying up with delivery chains like Swiggy, as home demand for top-end perishables has increased while exports have reduced.

    Indian consumers are willing to pay a premium to get hygienic and nutritional daily essentials, prompting exporters of horticulture produce to draw strategies for the domestic market.

    Pankaj Khandelwal, the chairman of INI Farms for which exports of high-quality fruits accounts for 85% of the business, said local sales were growing at a quick pace for him.

    "In the short term, the share of the domestic market in our business will increase to 50% in the first quarter, while it may settle at around 25% by the end of the year,” Khandelwal said. “Since Covid, our domestic business has been growing at 20% on weekly basis. Food safety and hygiene have become very important for consumers today."

    His company has tied up with Swiggy to deliver fresh fruits in Delhi and will soon launch in Mumbai and Bengaluru. It is also in discussion with Zomato and Dunzo.

    "A year ago, we had decided to increase our focus on the domestic market as consumers are found to appreciate the good agricultural practices and are ready to pay a premium for it. However, Covid accelerated the process dramatically. We have moved very fast forging partnerships for the last-mile delivery of quality food," he said.

    Many exporters are now launching new ventures, like Kay Bee Export, a Mumbai-based export house specialising in fruits and vegetables. His company lost two-thirds of its mango export business to Europe due to the Covid-19 lockdown. This exports-focussed company has now launched a website, mangofirst.com, for gifting mangoes.

    CEO Kaushal Khakhar said: "It was always on our mind to enter into the domestic market. But, Covid has forced us to do it now to bring the risk down. Presently, we are distributing only in Mumbai and after the courier services begin, we will distribute mangoes across the country and even across the world."

    Khakhar is considering supplying high-standard fruits and vegetables that are grown by the company in close collaboration with farmers in the domestic market by September.

    Amit Gidwani, the owner of GT Fruitech and the president of the Fresh Fruit Importers Association said: "Impact of the lockdown on immensely expensive fruits like cherries and blue berries that are consumed in hotels and during functions and which come only by air has been huge. The domestic market was always into our plans as a long-term scenario. Now, we will look toward domestic market as everyone is feeling the need to diversify."

    Gidwani said in the short term, his company would also look at importing medium-range products as the purchasing capacity of consumers may get compromised due to the recession.
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