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Butcher Shops May Go Extinct Thanks to ‘Chilled Meat’ and Startups Delivering It

‘Chilled meat’ is changing the face of a Rs 11 billion dollar Indian meat industry, slowly but surely hustling out butcher shops and wet markets

Photo Credit : L-R: image courtesy Licious; image sourced from change.org,

Which meat source do you prefer?

Poonam, a 34 year old mother of one works 12 hours a day. She’s become a true believer in an age that delivers fresh meat to her doorstep. “I have started ordering the chicken online, and it’s good. I really don’t have time to go to the butcher all the time. Yes, it’s a bit more expensive, but worth it”. She says as she scrunches her nose, “The butcher nearest my home, I don’t like going into that shop – you don’t even know where the chicken is coming from.”

Chilled meat and frozen meat are not the same thing. 

  1. Warm meat is meat available at room temperature at wet markets, there is little precaution taken to ensure hygiene. 
  2. Frozen meat is meat stored at or below minus 18 degrees celcius. This is the silver standard in meat storage and preferred to warm meat because it prevents harmful microbes from growing on the meat; problem is when frozen meat thaws out tissue texture is irrevocably altered and doesn’t make for the freshest or tastiest culinary experience.
  3. Chilled meat is meat stored at 0 to 4 degrees celcius and is the gold standard. It’s adhered to by most contemporary meat selling startups like TenderCuts, Licious and Zappfresh. The meat retains its texture and microbes don’t grow on the product. It’s preferred to frozen meat because Indians like their food to taste fresh and inartificial.

Using chilled meat as their benchmark, online meat delivery startups are beginning to compete with wet markets, the neighbourhood butcher and large multi departmental grocery stores.

Meat Delivery Startups vs Wet Market

Because of the preference for fresh meat, wet markets and your friendly neighbourhood butcher account for most of the meat consumed. 95-99 percent people consume unhygienic meat, invariably purchased at wet markets, according to Founder CEO of poultry delivery startup TenderCuts Nishanth Chandran.

Before these meat startups, consumers either had to trust a wet market’s hygiene standards, or they had to consume frozen meat compromising on taste and freshness.

Now meat delivery startups sell chilled meat – essentially fresh meat delivered within 2-3 hours; it has the added benefit of properly cleaned and cut portions with guaranteed safety and hygiene. Wet markets typically do not deliver to your door step nor is it cleaned and cut to right portions for cooking.

Chilled meat sees promising start

Still emerging, these chilled meat delivery startups nevertheless seem to be passing the all-important “freshness test” set for meat products.

Founded in 2016, omnichannel TenderCuts has ten standalone stores in Chennai. Each new store breaks even in three months and turns profitable in the fourth month. They have about 100,000 customers and an average order is worth around 510-520 rupees and has about 1500 orders a day.

Zappfresh founded in 2015, currently operates in the NCR only and its Cofounder CEO Deepanshu Manchanda says the business has close to 70,000 customers with 99 percent repeat rate – they do 1000 orders a day and an average bill is around 600 rupees.

Licious founded in 2015 by Abhay Hanjura and Vivek Gupta serves about 3 lakh customers in Delhi, Gurgaon, Noida, Bangalore and Hyderabad. The founders say they receive approximately 165,000 orders a month and the average bill value is 550 rupees.

With a taste for success growing, thus these startups mull expansion. For example there’s the possibility of B2B sales, serving to HoReCas - but only those that would want to pay for the high quality meat. Nishanth of TenderCuts has tried a few B2B partnerships, but finds most restaurants would prefer the wet market to save on cost. Undeterred and confident in customer demand for their product, TenderCuts will very soon open quick service restaurants serving non veg Indian cuisine.

Deepanshu of Zappfresh says investors don’t like doing B2B. “We would do selective partnerships and not try to work with every food outlet”. They already provide services to Lite Bite portfolio restaurants, promoted by Amit Burman, and investor of Zappfresh. Lite Bite manages brands like KFC and Subway and owns brand Punjab Grill.

Licious is establishing itself as a strictly B2C fresh meat brand . The founders say, “We are essentially building a fresh meat and seafood brand and are platform and channel agnostic. We don't see multi product folks [like large grocery companies] as competition but as a channel for distribution. Our products are already available on some of these platforms.”

Expansion of business also sees these startups selling ready to eat or ready to cook (marinated) poultry and meat products. TenderCuts says their marinated category, in the nine months it started, has gone from contributing 3 percent revenue to around 9 percent. Zappfresh is witnessing growth in products like precooked seekh kebabs and would look at expanding the category; Licious founders says its variety of gourmet and smoked meats are picking up.

Meat Delivery Startups Vs Established Grocers: Competition is brewing

It’s seems logical to think customers would prefer ordering from a grocery store like Amazon or BigBasket. They have all your grocery needs including meat. Why go to a startup that sells just the meat?

Licious founders say, “In an offline world or an online world what horizontal aggregators or super markets do well is that they make existing high-quality brands available to the consumers. However, in the category of meat and seafood the entire vertical is missing, and the market is totally under served. The few brands that are available to consumers today in India are frozen products which Indians don't prefer.”

“This isn’t a demand problem, this is a supply problem”, said another startup founder. The big delivery firms are yet to crack the supply chain of getting the meat faster to the customer. Not just faster, but it has to be fresh too.

The cold chain becomes very important here. The chilling temperature must be maintained throughout the subsequent processing, handling, transport, storage, distribution and retail. Shelf life of frozen meat is 6 months while for chilled meat it’s 3-5 days. It is not always commercially viable for a larger grocery store with the responsibility of fulfilling orders across multiple product categories, to also deliver meat fresh within five days. For even a startup dedicated to meat, the product may be kept with them for up to 36 hours before delivering to a customer. In addition the cold chain for chilled meat is slightly more costly than a cold chain for frozen meat.

However biggies like Amazon and BigBasket seem to be ironing out these kinks. Both companies have come up with express delivery services and have started selling “fresh meat”, essentially chilled meat products.

And why not - chilled meat sells at a tidy premium over frozen meat. It’s about 20-30 rupees more for 1 kg of poultry and fish, 40-50 rupees more for 1kg of red meat. With customers not minding the mark up, chilled meat is setting the stage, albeit at a very nascent one, for a complete overhaul of the Indian meat market scene.



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