At a weekly bazaar, Vaibhav Tidke, then a student at the Institute of Chemical Technology in Mumbai, noticed that farmers had to sell their produce at a cheaper rate by evening because it would otherwise rot. The observation led him to a business model that would not only help dehydrate and process excess vegetables and fruits, but also a supply chain that would get the foods to the market.
Tidke, along with peers and friends, decided to develop a solar conduction dryer that would increase the shelf life of vegetables to about six months. Tidke, along with Ganesh Bhere, Tushar Gaware, Shital Somani, Ashwin Pawade, Nidhi Pant and Swapnil Kokate, set up S4S Technologies in 2014.
Since sun-drying has been used by women since ages, they decided to make women farmers their target audience. “We spent two years working on the design of the machine, to make it easy to use for women farmers. After their constant feedback, we came up with the final design of the solar conduction dryer, which is 6ft x 6ft and can easily be assembled and dismantled,” says Gaware. Since the dryers work on a renewable source of energy, they are well suited for farmers, who have to deal with erratic electricity supply.
“Farmers don’t have to invest anything in the machinery. We install the machine at a farmer’s place and take ₹1,000-2,000 security deposit,” says Gaware. “The only maintenance required is wiping the tray with a wet cloth. Apart from that our local team visits once a week to ensure maintenance and raw material availability. If there is lack of material, the team ensures they get it from another village,” says Pant.
The rent-based model not only makes the product affordable for the women farmers but helps generate additional income for them since S4S sells the products to customers under their brand DesiVdesi as well as targets companies, hotels, restaurants and the catering segments to sell their dehydrated products. Their products include beetroot chips, dried amla etc. “We are currently selling through online channels like Amazon, and we sell to organised retailers as well as small kirana shops. So far we have reached around 2,000 point of sales mainly in Navi Mumbai,” says Pant.
S4S buys dehydrated vegetables such as carrots, onion, beetroot powder from the farmers and the produce goes through various quality checks before it reaches the end user. Marico Innovation Foundation and Nestle have helped the Mumbai-based startup come up with the quality check norms.