We often refer to Freshville as an accidental venture because we didn't know how things would pan out when we started. Our family has been particularly fond of strawberries and we have always struggled with finding good quality and fresh strawberries in Chandigarh. In December 2019, we decided to utilise our family land in the city's periphery and experiment with cultivating strawberries.
My brother, Parth Narula who is 21 years old, is currently pursuing BCom (Hons) at Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies (NMIMS), Mumbai. His keen interest in farming stems from our father's passion for modern farming methods and techniques. Based on information gathered from his farming journals and research material available online, Parth learnt about different sustainable techniques that can be employed for strawberry farming.
Fortunately, the experiment worked in our favour and we received a good crop, totally free from the use of chemical pesticides. The size of the harvest was way bigger than we had anticipated. We harvested the first batch of fruit in March 2020. Originally grown with the intention to share the produce with family and friends alone, we were rewarded with an abundant marketable surplus, which necessitated channelising it somewhere. We then decided to sell our produce to consumers directly so our produce reached everyone on time and at an affordable price.
Around the same time, a nationwide lockdown was imposed due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and there were restrictions on movement within the city. This was the big challenge before us. We managed to get permission from the municipal corporation authorities to deliver strawberries door-to-door. Soon after, my brother and I designed a flyer carrying details of our produce and shared it on various WhatsApp groups. The response we received was rather overwhelming.
Given the pandemicA, we faced some operational challenges at every stage. To list a few, we were unable to find the requisite packaging material for the berries, we launched our product without branding which negatively impacted brand recall and customer loyalty, and we had a self-supply delivery system that limited our area of operations. Nevertheless, to our surprise, our strawberries, a source of nutrition and joy, became increasingly popular in the Tricity within a span of few days and by the end of the season, we had a network of 400-plus customers.
Overwhelmed with the response and encouragement we received last season, we decided to grow strawberries this year too, increasing the area under cultivation from half an acre to four acres. We worked for several months ahead of the harvest season on finding proper packaging material, building a brand name, putting into place a delivery system, diversifying our product range and exploring new methods to improve crop productivity and yield. This led to the birth of Freshville Berries & More in February 2021.
Parth and I have distinct areas of expertise and interest. While he manages the production, administration and financial aspects, I take care of public relations, marketing and distribution. Functions such as order booking, marketing, sorting, grading and packaging of the berries are kept in-house in order to maintain a personal touch with our customers and maintain strict quality control. We categorize our produce solely on the basis of size like Grade A+, A and B – all berries being equally ripe, fresh and flavoursome.
Our operational model is such that we pick the fruit in the morning and deliver all orders for the day within 6-7 hours of harvesting, retaining the berries' freshness and flavour. We are currently a team of 15 people and we support women's empowerment by employing local village women for picking and packaging daily.
We now market our produce through WhatsApp groups and via our Instagram page, @itsfreshville. In less than two months of operations, we reached a base of about 1,200 customers that is growing each day! This year we have diversified our product range and are using surplus berries to come up with home-made strawberry jam, slush, crush, ginger ale and a sugar-free variant of the jam, all prepared in our home kitchen by our mother, Meenu Narula who is a home-maker and an excellent cook.
Though we currently deliver only in the Tricity area comprising Chandigarh, Mohali and Panchkula, we envision expanding our operations at a pan-India level by next year, making our products accessible to strawberry lovers across the country.