The market comes home

Fruits and vegetables? Check.

By Showli Chakraborty
  • Published 28.06.15


Fruits and vegetables? Check.

Fish and meat? Check.

Rice, dal, spices, cooking oil? Check.

Incense sticks for puja room? Check.

Shaving foam for the husband? Check.

Shower gel for the wife? Check.

Chocolate cereals for the kid? Check.

Diapers for the baby? Check.

Chewies for the puppy? Check.

When college friends Pankaj Sharma and Rahul Rai set up an online grocery store two years ago, they were unprepared for the response. The two techies spent all morning driving around the city buying supplies for delivery of their first order at a Salt Lake home.

For IT couple Samit and Nikita Bhatia, buying supplies - be it muesli for breakfast, cold cuts for packed lunch or pasta for dinner - online has meant more family time and movie dates on weekends.

Nearly a decade after grocery shopping moved from local bazaars to the supermarket, Calcuttans have gone a step ahead, buying everything from diapers to dry fruits and potatoes to pest repellents at the tap of a button. And catering to them are a bunch of young entrepreneurs. The promise: no driving through heavy traffic, no expense of fuel, no parking hassles, no waiting in queue for billing and no lugging back heavy packages.

The first step

Atanu Ghosh (46) and S. Roy (28) of Salt n Soap were among the first to board the bus in April 2013. With a loyal customer base of more than 10,000, the portal has seen a steady growth over the past two years and continues to record a 20 per cent rise in order volume and value every month.

"We wanted to offer a personalised shopping experience and value for money. For instance, we have a shopping assistant for every customer. We deliver within six hours of placing the order and also have an express delivery system where the goods are delivered within three hours of placing an order," Roy said. So, if a customer wants the fish cut in a particular size or realises that he/she missed an item after completing the order, a call to the shopping assistant is all that's needed to solve the problem.

Residents of Salt Lake and Rajarhat were among the early customers. "Initially, most of our orders came from working couples in the IT hub. But now we get orders from all over the city and even the suburbs," said Ghosh of Salt n Soap. "In fact, a large chunk of our customers comprises homemakers." Forty per cent of orders placed on the portal come from the suburbs, while 70 per cent of its customers are women.

Lifeline for the elderly

The customer base of the online groceries is not restricted to the city. "We have customers who have elderly parents living alone in Calcutta or couples in other towns of Bengal whose sons or daughters are studying in the city. We often deliver items at students' hostels," said Ghosh, an IIM passout.

Brunti Mukherjee, 32, is a senior scientist at Reliance Industries in Mumbai. Every week, she consults her mother over phone and has groceries delivered to her parents' home in Barrackpore. "My parents are quite aged. They can barely step out of their home. I order groceries for them and pay online from Mumbai. The stuff is delivered within a day. This has been a boon for people like me who have aged parents living away," said Brunti, who has been shopping on Just Kirana, another online grocery company, since two years.

But the road has not been smooth for Dhiraj Pande, Neha Bajpayee and Aniket Bajpayee, all in their 20s and the brains behind the Burrabazar-based Just Kirana, which caters to Calcutta and Howrah.

"My father and grandfather have been running a kirane ki dukaan (traditional grocery shop) all their life in Burrabazar. But I decided to take it online," said Pande. "When I started off around a year and a half ago, we were this traditional online store where we would deliver goods ourselves. But I realised that was something a lot of other people were also doing. So I came up with the idea of tying up with neighbourhood stores. That has increased our revenue drastically. For instance, earlier we received orders worth around Rs 6,000 a day. Now, it's at least Rs 20,000 a day."

Wide reach

Pande has tied up with more than 50 local groceries all over Calcutta. Once an order is placed, the Just Kirana team gets in touch with the nearest registered grocer for delivery and earns a commission on every order.

Pankaj Sharma and Rahul Rai, both 28, believe in being hands on. The duo set up Online Grocery Bazaar in 2013 and went to deliver their first order themselves. "The day was May 1, a state holiday. We were to deliver a bulk order and when the list came in, we realised that we didn't have some of the things that the customer wanted. For most part of the morning, we were driving around the city, buying stuff. We managed to deliver everything by evening. But when we sat down to calculate, we realised that to deliver an order of Rs 3,000, we had ended up spending Rs 3,300," laughed Sharma.

The duo have come a long way since. With a flurry of orders coming their way, they have hired a garage space near Lake Town, which serves as their storehouse-cum-office. "We update our stocks with every order that comes in. Now we have a wider variety," he said. The portal now gets orders worth Rs 7,000-10,000 every day and bestselling products include lentils, rice and sugar.

Sharma, a computer engineer who worked with TCS for five years, often found it difficult to make time for buying essentials. "I was living with friends and found going to the grocer very irritating. After working hard all week, I wanted to relax on weekends, rather than spend my time buying supplies," he said. That's how the idea for Online Grocery Bazaar was born and soon Sharma had college buddy Rai on board. It took a little more than a year to set up business.

C for convenience

The Bhatias of Beleghata are regular customers of Online Grocery Bazaar. "We are a working couple and both our offices are in Sector V. We work for 12 hours, at times even longer, from Monday to Friday. Earlier, weekends would be spent buying groceries but now we can sit at home and order and enjoy some leisure time. Just last weekend, my wife and I watched Tanu Weds Manu Returns at the theatre," smiled Samit, 33.

Shopping online for grocery can be a lifesaver, as Raja Chanda, 32, found out on his birthday. "Some friends called me up in the morning and announced they were coming home for lunch. My mother was quite annoyed at the short notice and was complaining. That's when I logged on to and ordered whatever she needed. Everything was delivered within a couple of hours. What a relief it was!" recalled the young businessman.

Most online grocery portals arrange for deliveries at a time convenient to the customer.

For homemaker Mayuri Sinha, 34, shopping for grocery online is like going on a pleasure trip. "We shifted to Calcutta from Kharagpur in March. Ever since, I have been shopping for groceries on the Net. In Kharagpur, I would have to go out once a week in the sweltering heat or pouring rain, negotiate traffic snarls, spend more than an hour going through products, wait at the billing counter and then lug the purchases back home. It was a cumbersome process that took up a lot of time and energy. Now, I just make a call or order on the website. I get great discounts, can browse through a variety of products and get quality products delivered - all from the comfort of my home," said the Garden Reach resident, who learnt about Salt n Soap from friends and neighbours.

Stocks unlimited

While most portals stock up on everything from shampoo to spices and broomstick to bacon, Homegennie offers only food items. "We make sure our food items are clean and pure. All our pulses are hand-cleaned and sorted, so that customer does not need to invest time in sorting them again," said Saurov Sanghi, one of the owners.

Salt n Soap, Just Kirana and Online Grocery Bazaar have on offer baby products, bath products, cleaning agents, pulses and cereals, spices, readymade food products, jams, sauces and pickles, beverages, milk and milk products, fruits and vegetables, fresh and frozen fish and meat, personal care and hygiene products, pet care items and much more.

The road ahead

Such is the popularity of online groceries that other e-commerce sites, too, are introducing a section for food and related products too. 365oranges, a shopping portal that specialises in delivering sweets, cakes and cooked food from restaurants, jumped into the bandwagon last month on public demand.

"We had been flooded with requests from our customers asking for a grocery section on the website. We've just started it and are planning to expand. Soon we'll introduce a variety of products," said Joy Chatterjee, CEO. On sale at present are fresh fruits and vegetables, rice and pulses. Fish and meat are yet to be introduced.

Another city-based shopping portal, Banglalive, has been selling a variety of fresh fish from chitol and chingri to pabda and parshe, besides, fruits and meat in its fresh food section.

Bigger players, too, are in the fray. Amazon India finds great potential in the Indian online grocery shopping market, which it feels is still at a "nascent stage", particularly for emerging segments such as gourmet, organic food and specialty products.

The Gourmet & Specialty Foods store on, launched in October, offers a wide variety of treats from confectionaries, condiments, ready mixes to cereals, seasonings and baking supplies for the foodie adventurer.

"We are excited to provide customers across India easy and convenient access to the widest selection of rare culinary ingredients and specialty food products, which may not be easily available in their nearby grocery stores. Amazon's gourmet store brings together over 175 Indian and imported brands. The store also offers a selection of exotic and unusual ingredients used in international cuisines such as Thai, Italian, Mexican and specialty foods such as organic grains, sugar-free, lactose-free and gluten-free products," an Amazon spokesperson said, adding that the response has been encouraging.

Amazon India's latest innovation, KiranaNow, allows customers to shop for their everyday needs from their local stores on their mobile phone and get them delivered pronto.

The pilot project was launched in Bangalore in March through five kirana stores. These stores now listed as sellers on the Amazon platform have uploaded a catalogue of everyday essentials such as staples, spices, snacks, toiletries, baby products, detergent and more. There are plans to move to other metros as well.

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