In March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, several street vendors across India lost their livelihoods in the subsequent lockdown as they were dependent on walk-in customers.
At that time, Aakanksha Chaudhary, who had set up Mireya Foods and her brand Chaat Street in 2017 in Bengaluru, got back to the drawing board.
She along with her co-founders, Kavita Azad and Angad Bhalla, decided to set up Hokart, a B2B2C platform to empower street vendors by providing access to digital commerce, quality supply-chain, and infrastructure.
The platform, an independent vertical under Mireya Food Pvt Ltd, enables street vendors to launch and operate online stores with zero upfront investment, and enables multi-channel delivery options.
Hokart provides vendors with a 360-degree solution approach, including licences, marketing, product cataloguing, accounts, maintaining operational metrics and hygiene standards through training, to enable semi-literate or illiterate street vendors to conduct business online.
What does it solve for?
The platform addresses problems of the street vending sector at multiple levels, such as sourcing, operations, marketing, and customer experience.
Akanksha says they have a supply-and-demand problem to solve, which is why the team is focusing on “developing a new sales channel to drive the next mobile users from Bharat to turn customers” through new mediums of engagement and demand fulfilment.
“We observed that most vendors have to haul their equipment and infrastructure to a selling point to make sales each day. They spend almost 40-50 minutes setting up the store and have to carry the equipment each day, adding to transportation costs. It is a strenuous task, one that ca be simplified or eliminated,” she says.
A quick pivot
Hokart launched as an infrastructure leasing service in Bangalore in November 2020. The team built state-of-the-art kitchen-grade mobile carts; these were self-contained units with power, water, gas with burners, and garbage disposal features.
The carts were rented out on a daily basis and were shipped (and picked up) to selling points on request, thereby reducing effort and capital needed by vendors to start a business. The service was an instant hit with vendors “lining up outside our office to make bookings”.
“However, we were quick to learn the scalability issues with the model, and were unable to see impact being made at a large scale to make a difference. During field operations, we learned that vendors have rudimentary infrastructure in place and have been doing well.”
Aakanksha, Angad, and Kavita
“Immediate attention was needed to improve revenues, and going digital was the best way. We started setting up the digital infrastructure to accept orders on online food aggregator platforms and on-boarding street vendors,” Aakanksha says.
The Hokart team wanted to make selling online more friendly and easy for vendors. So, the idea was to launch street vendors as a “unified brand” and take care of all the backend nuances of running a business online.
Activities such as licensing, online marketing, menu engineering, accounts, and sales are now handled by Hokart, which lets vendors focus on food preparation. The new business model started gaining traction as vendors just needed to submit an ID proof; the Hokart team “took care of the rest”.
Revenue and growth
Within 30 days of their re-launch, Hokart was able to on-board about 40 vendors purely by word-of-mouth marketing.
Vendors saw a jump in daily sales by as much as 53 percent in some cases. Many features built into the business model make doing business very convenient for vendors – from fast settlements to customer support. The system is simple enough for a semi-literate street vendor to start operating immediately though the integrated vendor app.
“Since the relaunch in February 2021, we have already on-boarded about 160 street vendors and are growing 100 percent month on month. We relocated some of our existing partner vendors to their home locations during the second lockdown and enabled their operations during COVID, thus providing livelihood even during lockdowns. Some vendors managed to earn 100 percent of their offline revenues via online channels through Hokart,” Aakanksha says.
The parent company Mireya, last year had earnings of Rs 100 on their first day; the brand is now seeing a revenue of Rs 5 crore. It has seven stores and one central kitchen in Bengaluru at present, and has an annual turnover of Rs 5 crore. The store’s EBITDA is pegged at 25 percent.
Explaining the reasons that made her start up, Aakanksha says, “Traditionally, chaats are treated as an accompaniment to meals and are sold in big sweet shops as part of the menu. However, we quickly realised this was a category waiting to explode. People love Indian food, but are served burgers-pizzas-coffee by multinational companies. Additionally, with changing lifestyles, people are choosing to eat light meals more frequently during the day as well. This has resulted in a huge demand for Indian snacks offered in smaller portions during the day.”
Market and the future
Currently, Hokart competes with the likes of Swiggy, which has tied up with the Street Food Vendors programme in 125 cities under the Prime Minister Street Vendor’s AtmaNibhar Nidhi (PM SVANidhi) Scheme. This follows a successful pilot that Swiggy initiated with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) in the cities of Ahmedabad, Varanasi, Chennai, Delhi, and Indore, through which it has already onboarded over 300 street vendors on its platform.
The Hokart team is expanding operations and scaling up their vendor fleet across Bengaluru, and will be launching in another city soon.
It has onboarded over 160 street vendors and is growing at 100 percent month on month run rate. The plan is “to add 600+ vendors by December 2021”.
“We are working on a unique engagement platform, the Hokart App, to redefine the buying experience of food online. This is due to be launched in October 2021,” Aakanksha says.