What’s the best way to make your mark? Revolutionize an industry, as these young digitally savvy entrepreneurs did, writes ZAHRAH IMTIAZ.
Having completed their degrees in IT, Abhishek Negi and his three friends Uttam Kumar, Aditya Singh, and Pankaj Pandey were looking for the ‘next big thing’, when they realized that the one challenge they would like to take a crack at was having access to good quality, clean eggs.
Mr Negi told Asian Agribiz that with 98% of eggs consumed in the country coming in unpackaged form, traceability was always an issue.
“No one was sure of the quality of the egg, it could come from anywhere, grown in any manner,” he said.
He observed that while 65% of eggs was consumed in the north, 70% of production is in the south. This meant that the eggs on average would be 10-15 days old when they reach consumers in the north.
“We know that the nutritional value of the egg diminishes from the fifth day onwards, especially when cold chain is not maintained. And that is how most of the eggs in India are moved around,” he explained.
For the IT graduates, this was a huge problem and they turned to what they knew best to solve the issue – technology.
Fortunately for them, 4G connectivity became widespread even in the remote areas in 2016. The sector that benefited the most? Agritech.
“This allowed us to deploy technology at the ground level,” said Mr Negi, who, along with his friends, went into layer farming in 2018 with their own brand of packaged eggs called Eggoz.
Having started their own farm in Bihar with 12,000 birds, the team soon expanded to integrated farming using Internet of Things (IoT).
Agritech in layer farming
Eggoz works with farmers to supply the company with eggs. For farmers working with the company, initial startup costs are minimal. With modern designs for layer cages, Mr Negi said they have been able to reduce the minimum cost of new installments from the usual USD 100,000-121,000 to just USD 5,000-10,000, depending on the farm capacity.
“And farmers can start earning by three months until the birds mature,” he added.
Apart from the usual package which comes with a contract grower model, the Eggoz team introduced IoT sensors in cages and connected farmers to a mobile app that will monitor daily farming practices.
The IoT sensors capture basic information within cages such as ammonia, humidity, and temperature levels, while the farmers will have to input other figures such as mortality, feed intake, etc daily. These devices were designed in-house by the team, making them cost effective.
“Our devices are 96% cheaper than those in the market and deliver the same results,” Mr Negi claimed.
If the devices or mobile app detects any deviations from the standard, the farmers are immediately alerted. Using on-farm data collected with other environmental data, the app provides predictive insights and personalized trends, so farmers are better prepared for changes.
“It’s important that they are aware of the internal environment inside the cage. In the north, where temperatures swing between extremes, close monitoring is important,” said Mr Negi.
Initially, it was hard to get farmers to regularly update their details but as they realized the value, they started using the app more. It helped that they were already using social media apps themselves, so using one for work was not much of a technological leap.
Getting the farmers onboard allowed Eggoz to standardize its operations and have a regular supply of eggs coming in.
Once the eggs are ready, the farmers notify Eggoz, which picks the eggs up. Within five to six hours, the eggs reach their central processing centers where they are cleaned, tested, and packaged for delivery. The whole process from egg laying to retail shelf takes up to 36 hours, said Mr Negi, ensuring eggs are always fresh.
As all contract growers and the supply chain are connected to a central system accessed by Eggoz, the company ensures full traceability for their product.
The company, which supplies farmers with its own feed formulations, also uses its own type of herbal additives to improve the birds’ immunity, said Mr Negi.
Market and branding
Having started with the basic packaged variety, Eggoz ventured into the enriched egg category. Mr Negi believes that this is a growing niche market, as middle and upper-income consumers pay more attention to health. It also helps differentiate the brand in the packaged egg market, which makes up only 2-3% of the country’s total.
Launched under the brand Nutra Plus, Eggoz’s enriched eggs come in several varieties: Omega 3, amino acid enriched, B12, and vitamin D enriched. The last two, Mr Negi said, were especially important as many Indians suffer from these nutrient deficiencies.
“What we say is eat two Nutra Plus eggs a day and you can meet your daily vitamin requirements,” he stated.
By appealing to the health conscious, Eggoz believes it has been able to attract new customers who would otherwise not have bought packaged eggs. They are prepared to pay 40-50% more, for the additional health benefits.
At present the company operates in the major urban areas of Delhi-NCR, Bihar, Haryana, and Madhya Pradesh but is getting recognised even in non-urban areas, said Mr Negi.
Eggoz currently sells 100,000 eggs/day with 12 different farmer types growing close to 300,000 birds.
Overall, Mr Negi hopes that the company can create a national brand for eggs, changing it from a mere commodity.
“For this, there needs to be a lot of awareness about the quality of the eggs people eat. Consumers need to know how important rearing practices, traceability, and food safety are. Then they will look for the right brand of eggs,” he said.
The team plans to expand the brand nationwide and recruit more farmers in every state into their system as they move. It is imperative that there is only a 300km radius between the farm and processing centre to ensure freshness, said Mr Negi.
He believes that the company will eventually aim to become the ‘Amul (India’s most popular dairy brand) of eggs’, bringing fresh, safe eggs to the customer’s doorstep.