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Chennai, 19/Apr/2001
Netting fruits and vegetables

* GUESS WHAT you can fish for, now with the Internet. Fish probably would be an inappropriate word to talk about those whose diet is largely herbivorous. Yes, we are talking about the interests of veggie lovers here. And, of course, about `Fruit-Kicks' (those who get the kicks out of digging into fruits) like Digen Verma.

What's more, this news would prove to be more juicy for those who hate the markets and would rather just let somebody else reap the fruits of hardwork for them, blaming it on laziness, busy schedules, messy market-places, time or distance.

Well, now they are selling vegetables, fruits and flowers across the `Windows' of the net, and delivering it at your respective doors, absolutely free of cost.

The guys who are going to prove the Hindi adage ``Mehnath ka phal hamesha meetha hota hai'' (translated means `fruits of hardwork are always sweet') WRONG. Thanks to the Internet and pookaaikani.com, fruits would now be sweeter, with the work element (trips to ``cheap'' vegetable markets) literally missing. All it takes is logging on as a user with your telephone number, choose from the menu of fruits, vegetables and flowers, at the usual market rates and then sit back and have them delivered home the very next day.

What makes the deal even more delicious and healthy is that the site buys your requirement only the morning after you have placed your order (they need to be placed before 7 p.m. everyday if you want them the next day).

The guys who have put up the site get working as early as three in the morning, start the procurement process for all orders received the previous night, sort out the fruits and the vegetables on the basis of the orders received, and then clean them before packing them into ventilated plastic packets.

In a few hours after that, the same is delivered at your doorstep by the Pookaaikani van at rates sometime that are cheaper than what it would cost you at the supermarket nearby.

All it takes to avail the service is placing an order for a minimum of Rs. 100. There are about 700 registered users in the city with an average of about 40 orders in a day.

``About 20 per cent of the orders most of the time are fake. I have got orders for fruits and vegetables worth eight and half lakhs,'' laughs Swaminathan, one of the founders of the site.

Swaminathan was into the glow-signs business before he got into selling fruits and vegetables on the net, his partner Kalpana who takes care of delivery and operations is an architect, and there is Madhumathy who assists the duo, and Swaminathan's Mom Ms. Chandra who takes care of the procurement aspect of the business.

After every registration they receive over the net, Swaminathan personally gives a `Welcome Call' to every new online customer for that personal element in the business which the founders believe is extremely important. Besides, it also helps them to assess the validity of the online customer. It's big business and there is a huge market, says Swaminathan. ``It's a ten crore market out there. For the first year, even if we do 0.1 per cent of that, we would be very happy,'' he adds.

``We are looking at being the pioneers in branded vegetables and maybe someday have our own farms,'' says the enterprising entrepreneur who didn't really look for venture- capitalist funding that fleeing dotcoms often milk.

There's not much competition today for Pookaaikani given that it is ``not an easy job'' when your day starts at three in the morning and when you have wastage after the cleaning and packing process. ``We have wastage of 10-15 per cent. So if the requirement for the day is 60 kgs of tomatoes, then we usually buy 65-70 kgs,'' says Kalpana.

That happens when they take stock of the orders received till 7 p.m. every night. They send an email to their procurement unit in Koyambedu which in turn gets its work started in the wee hours of the next morning.

Talk about technology, it's creeping into your vegetable soup now!