Fresh In A box, the brain child of Kudakwashe Musasiwa and Rufaro Dhliwayo launched in October of 2018. The business idea was simple, they promised to deliver a box of fresh vegetables to your doorstep. The box has a variety of vegetables which include cauliflower, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, carrots, broccoli, spinach, onions, cabbages among others. They started out servicing Harare and later expanded to Bulawayo. The business now moves 2.6 tonnes of vegetables per day (that’s a lot!) according to Kudakwashe Musasiwa. It is an unlikely success story in our economy. No individual element of their business is new. Yet many have started to describe it as being disruptive.
The business model is quite dynamic and their success in the market cannot be pinned down to one specific factor. What lessons can we learn about their business and how their approach may signal a new way of doing business in Zimbabwe? Let’s look at some of the factors behind their astounding success.
In their first week of operation they sold 10 boxes. It was a truly humble beginning for the outfit. This did allow them an opportunity to test their systems and just a week later they would be dealing with a different problem altogether. From early days they geared for expansion by using automated responders (bots) in their communication.
Social media based campaign
Fresh in a box is massively marketed through social media. This was clever on the founder’s part as they are using social media reach to advertise to resident Zimbabweans and those in the diaspora. It has been well documented that the dire economic situation in Zimbabwe has seen diaspora remittances support many families. Fresh in a box geared their business to appeal to both sets of customers and it paid off. Their social media campaign is both authentic and engaging. If you are an entrepreneur, we encourage you to check out their social media pages: Twitter , Facebook. They also have a simple-to-use website with ecocash integration: www.freshinabox.co.zw.
By the Thursday of their second week of operations, Fresh In A Box had to start limiting order quantities to 150 boxes per day. Within a week they had quickly scaled their business. Their growth has continued week on week. At one point they had to start capping orders. On the 3rd of December they introduced a subscription service allowing customers to pay for four deliveries a month at $96/month. This ability to anticipate the trend and prepare for the demands of growth is a key to their success.
Investment in personnel
A key investment in personnel allowed Fresh In A Box to bring capabilities that were needed to keep the quality of the product up to scratch. They employed a young Agriculture graduate to act as Quality Controller for vegetables. They chose to focus on their core business promise; fresh vegetables. Prioritising the quality of the product was an important step. They have taken on more personnel in roles such as sales and processing. It is not just the people they have brought on but how well they communicated this to their customers that mattered. Announcing each new partnership with video on social media allowed customers to connect with the true essence of the team.
Supply chain management
Bringing convenience to the customer is only one part of the success of the business model. Through innovative use of technology, they have also made great strides to provide convenience on the supply side. There’s long been a history of farmers being at the mercy of supermarkets, middlemen and vegetable markets. Farmers often were shortchanged. With a disorganized market structure and need for cash they are forced to sell in a buyers’ market at low prices. Fresh In A Box now have a network of 1200 farmers and counting.
By leveraging the ubiquitous WhatsApp, Fresh In A Box organized suppliers into communication groups that would allow them to place stocks up for sale. The convenience to the farmer was agreeing price and quantity beforehand – something the vegetable markets did not offer. In so doing they brought convenience to both sides of the market.
Realising their capacity challenges, they made another vital move. They partnered with local delivery startups: Hwindi, Link 2 Load, Thumeza and Mutumwa to handle their deliveries. Outsourcing allowed the team to focus on their core business and benefit from logistical partners’ network and strategic capability in making deliveries. This allowed them to cover more areas with more deliveries. They soon expanded to servicing Bulawayo through this principle.
Fresh in a Box has kept a level of communication that is perhaps unprecedented in Zimbabwean business. They have communicated both their challenges and plans to remedy them openly with the public. In an age where communication is easier, Zimbabwean business big and small are notorious for communicating poorly if at all. Understanding the market, listening to and communicating with stakeholders has certainly weighed in their favour. Another critical part of their communication strategy is their social responsibility and investment efforts. From the very first week of operation they were giving to charity, thus truly establishing the business as part of the community.
Other forces at play
While we’ve looked at internal factors and smart decisions that brought them success we must also acknowledge the existence of external forces that gave rise to the viability of the business model.
The current situation in the country makes shopping of any kind a nightmare. Due to the harsh environment and the erratic supply patterns it is common place to have to visit multiple stores to get your supplies at the lowest price for each item. To get together 20 different vegetables at the appropriate price and quality, one may have to visit 5-7 stores. Other challenges such as limited supplies have made it a sellers’ market.
With traffic and the cost of fuel added to an already poor public transport network, the idea of having groceries delivered to you is bound to be a winner. Of course it has been tried before but these attempts did very little to make it easy for the customer. Customers today understand convenience more than ever. Even without a working delivery based business in Zimbabwe, we are well aware of developments in other countries and expect, where possible, similar service.
Millennial is a term used for people born between 1980 and 2000, currently age 18-38. Many studies have been done on millennials and one conclusion is that millennials value luxury more than the generations preceding them. It makes sense therefore that this convenience would appeal to millennials. There’s a lot of buying power in the market with this age group.
Not without its challenges
While it is easy to harp on and on about their success the business has also faced challenges;
Even heroes put their pants on one leg at a time. So like many, probably all businesses in Zimbabwe, Fresh in a Box has also had to deal with the onslaught of one piece of bad news after another. They have openly communicated that the fall of the bond note value has led to produce price hikes which affected them. Additionally, the increase in fuel price further impacted their logistics. They further communicated how this had led them to increase price to $25 from $20. Judging by the reception to this, the price increase was received with understanding by customers.
It is how they have met their challenges that has characterised their success. They recently held a convention for stakeholders dubbed Freshcon. A business that is barely two months old, boldly held a convention to speak to suppliers and other partners. It is this bold innovation with a focus on truly listening to people and communicating openly that has given this business such an edge. The whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts.
Founder’s advice to other startups
I spoke to Kudakwashe Musasiwa while writing this article and asked if he had any advice for startups and those inspired by the Fresh Revolution. He had this to say:
“If you’re looking to invest in Zimbabwe, invest in agriculture. Agriculture is the best way for Zimbabwe to take itself out of this mess. The white settlers proved this and the young generation of Zimbabwe can do even better if we work together. We need to work together as farmers, business and customers to get fresh produce to people. Together we can feed the nation and a lot of the world.”
Well there you have it. Our take on the factors that have led to the success of Fresh in a Box. Are there any other factors you believe have been important? Have you used their services?