After spending 23 years of his life in corporate world as a software engineer, Sudarshan Boosupalli was looking to start his own venture. He exited the job market and planned to bet next few years of his life on an agri-tech startup. The idea was to provide solutions to the farmers, both in hydroponics and anthropoids, provide critical information on soil science, what crops would be ideal to grow and at what time.
Even buying the yield directly from the farmers via an e-commerce/online platform was also on the table so that annadatas are fully covered from start to end and their risks are reduced to minimum. Non-vegetarian produce was also going to be a part of this equation where the startup could act as an aggregator (like Amazon) and allow farmers to sell livestock or butchers to sell meat directly to customers for a small commission.
Then the Covid-19 pandemic hit and Sudarshan had to curb his ambitious plan and start small. Even the research went on a back burner and the in-house tech solutions his team was developing as a backbone for the e-commerce startup didn’t materialise. It’s still under development though things have picked up pace.
“Due to all sorts of problems during Covid-19, we decided to kick off with only the e-commerce part focusing on the non-vegetarian market alone,” Sudarshan tells Swarajya.
But it wouldn’t be like any other meat startup. It would be a Jhatka meat startup. That was quite a bold decision but something not taken in haste. Rather, it was driven by circumstances as much by extensive market research.
“When we were still contemplating over the idea, news of RTI query revealing that Air India serves only Halal meat on-board to its flyers came out leading to a huge controversy. Then similar rows erupted in case of Zomato, McDonald’s, etc. I had also been following Swarajya which was highlighting the monopolisation of the meat market by Halal ecosystem,” the Meamo founder says.
Four years back, one of Sudarshan’s friends had also approached him to start a Jhatka meat outlet but he was still stuck in corporate life at the time.
In the meat market where Halal ruled the roost (no pun intended), Sudarshan wanted to provide an alternative to consumers. “In today’s world, monopoly cannot exist. Consumers need choice but this was not provided when it came to meat. I was researching for last few years on the consumer meat market, who are the consumers, the size, demographics, the demand for certain products, etc,” he tells us.
”Consumer meat industry in India has shown tremendous development in the last decade and is estimated at $94 billion. Revenue in the Fresh Meat segment amounts to upward of US $50 bn in 2021. The market is expected to grow annually by 7.92 per cent (CAGR 2021-2025). In relation to total population figures, per person revenues of US $11.86 are generated in 2021. In the Fresh Meat segment, volume is expected to amount to 4,550.4m kg by 2025 and it is expected to show a volume growth of 7.2 per cent in 2022. The average volume per person in this segment is expected to amount to 2.4 kg in 2021. The per capita meat consumption in India every year is around 5.2 kg. Chicken and fish have the highest consumption rate. The consumption of poultry meat in India was over 3.9 million metric tons in 2020,” Sudarshan bombards us with information laden with facts about the market.
What’s more revealing is that 99 per cent of this is wet market and the farm-to-fork model that some modern retail outlets have come up with and gained prominence and popularity amongst consumers is because they provide much more hygienic and safe meat.
But all this only proved that there was a huge market to be captured with the ‘farm-to-fork’ model. The rationale to focus on the Jhatka meat came from the surveys conducted later by Sudarshan & co.
“We thought that if Jhatka has to be provided, there needs to be an awareness about it. We conducted a poll and to our surprise we found that more people wanted Jhatka than Halal and there was also a large section which didn’t care as long as they got hygienic meat. This latter group was also a good target as their only concern was about the quality. These findings provided us enough encouragement to start Meamo,” Sudarshan narrates.
Bangalore might be the ideal city for startups but seems an odd one to chose when it comes to Jhatka meat. Picking Delhi or Chandigarh might have been better choice. But Sudarshan says that Bangalore was as good a place for this experiment thanks to the demographics as it has people from all across the country. But expectedly, the startup ran into an obvious problem right out of the gate.
”When we went out to source the meat which was obtained by Jhatka fashion, we couldn’t find any slaughterhouses in Bangalore,” he says.
But necessity is the mother of invention and the problem that Meamo encountered led it to a business model which it’s planning to take it to all major tier-1 cities in India.
“We decided to start our own slaughterhouse. We took an existing plant on lease and then upgraded it to facilitate the Jhatka process. We got big hawk cutters that would do the Job in a second with one slice. It’s a semi automatic setup. We hired people from Pune who were earlier employed in Jhatka slaughterhouses. Setting up our own system ensured that when we go out and say we are providing Jhatka, customers can be absolutely certain of it as we aren’t relying on third parties to source our meat,” Sudarshan says proudly.
Meamo thus became the only true farm-to-fork Jhatka meat startup in the country. Its people choose the livestock on farms, get them transported to their slaughterhouse in Bengaluru where animal, bird and seafood meat is processed, portioned, packaged and then sent to distribution centres in the city. From there, Meamo’s delivery executive completes the order and takes the products to the customers’ doorstep.
”From sourcing to delivery, the meat is handled by Meamo employee. We are ensuring integrity throughout the supply chain,” Sudarshan says.
The response to Meamo has been impressive as per Sudarshan and has seconded the survey’s findings which had highlighted the potential for Jhatka meat.
“The moment we announced our initiative in Bengaluru, we had thousands of queries from people, most of them who hailed from North India. They had more awareness and also tradition of only eating Jhatka, for example Sikhs and Rajputs. These people told us how badly they were waiting for such an outlet in absence of which they were forced to turn vegetarian or compromise and some groups even had to go to great lengths to get their own livestock, slaughter it and distribute among the members of the community. Meamo was the option they were waiting for. Within a short time, we got thousands of loyal customers which have stuck with us firmly. This has confirmed our belief that there is definitely demand for Jhatka and it’s a choice that people must have.
But Meamo has not only focused on ensuring integrity in the whole supply chain and provided an alternative by being fundamentally different, it is also positioning itself as the company that is ‘bringing back our culture‘ says Sudarshan. “Among the traditional practices we are reviving, the most popular one includes the Turmeric Wash and Clean-Up. Much like in the earlier days, Meamo has an option of unique Turmeric Clean-Up, a process in which the meat is coated in turmeric and thoroughly cleansed. Turmeric has proven Ayurvedic benefits and helps kill any bacteria that might be present in the meat and readies the meat perfectly for cooking,” he explains.
One demographic that this more humane way of slaughter by Jhatka attracted—the extent of which even the company might not have expected—are the pet lovers in Bengaluru. Many pet owners may be vegetarians themselves but they have to feed meat to their pets. “They were very happy that Meamo was providing Jhatka meat where animals were not unnecessarily tortured. Plus, we are providing high quality meat to these pets, same as the one being sold to customers. This is what these pet owners appreciate and have become emotionally attached to us,” Sudarshan tells, adding that the demand for pet feed is so high that Meamo runs out of stock as soon it is made available online.
Success in a short time has given Meamo enough confidence to scale up business in other parts of the country. The company is planning to move to Chandigarh, Delhi, Chennai, Hyderabad and Mangalore. In the north, it would have an easy time sourcing raw meat as there are many registered abattoirs which provide Jhatka meat. It will only need to give specifications and have its people on site to monitor the quality of animal or bird and portion size.
The company will have a slightly difficult time in the South, in cities like Chennai and Hyderabad, where there is still a challenge of lack of awareness compared to say, Chandigarh or Delhi.
Meamo has identified 10 tier-1 cities where it will be present fully, owning the whole supply chain. In Tier-2 cities, it will be opt for the aggregator model akin to Ola/Swiggy, etc where it will approach the local Jhatka butchers and invest in them. It aims to provide them with modern equipment (cutting machine, weighing scale, vacuum packaging, etc) to modernise and standardise their processes.
”Once they are at certain level of satisfaction in providing hygienic and clean meat, we will work through them to serve the customers who were already going to these butchers. Our contribution will be in value addition to this wet market so that people get quality meat. We will only get a small commission for online Meamo orders and won’t charge them for their own walk-in business. This will achieve the modernisation of Jhatka wet market at the lowest level,” Sudarshan explains.
As far as offerings are concerned, Meamo wants to focus only on chicken, mutton and fish for now – three products that account for overwhelming majority of the meat market in the country. It doesn’t see much challenge in the poultry industry as it is very well integrated and highly standardised. Ditto for seafood.
“The real challenge is with the mutton industry because one farm can’t supply to you and there are different climate conditions and various breeds. So, we solved this problem by sourcing livestock from the north (mostly from Uttarakhand, Punjab and Rajasthan) where due to colder climate, tender and moist meat is available. So we have fixed that part of the supply chain. We had to also focus on getting goats and sheeps of the right age,” Sudarshan says.
Usually there are complaints of unavailability of good lamb meat in India but Sudarshan assures that Meamo has solved this problem by sourcing Bannur lamb, available close to Bangalore, which is exported even outside and some livestock from Uttarakhand.
Sudarshan is obsessed with ensuring the integrity to customers that the meat is not compromised at any point in the supply chain. In future, he intends to provide an option to consumers where they can scan the QR code on their Meamo meat packet and know all tiny details about the supply chain of the product – where the animal has been brought from, the day it was slaughtered, processed, packaged etc. ”We are working in delivering that level of customer satisfaction,” he says.