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On a green run

When it comes to supplying vegetables and fruits, M K Rai is one name that stands out among all
By Jason Soares | B&C
Whether its savouring your favourite ‘bhaji’ at a local restaurant or chomping down a bowl of your mother’s vegetable fruit salad, chances are that the produce most likely came through ‘M K Rai’, a little-known supplier of vegetables and fruits in Panaji. M K Rai happens to be one of the oldest green grocery units supplying vegetables and fruits to local food establishments.
It all began in 1973 when M K Rai, better known as Mansaram Kedarnath Rai, came to Goa from Uttar Pradesh to help his uncle. With only 100 rupees in his pocket, he bought a small place in the old Panjim market and began supplying vegetables and fruits. Later, he was joined by his two brothers, Udainath Rai and Ajaykumar Rai.
Since its first client – Fort Aguada Beach Resort – M K Rai today supplies Indian as well as imported vegetables and fruits to over 52 establishments that includes prominent starred hotels, food chains, small restaurants and hotels all over the state. It also has a retail and wholesale point in the market.
“We are one of the earliest suppliers as there was hardly anyone doing this at that time,” says his youngest son Vinay Mansaram Rai. The goods, informs Vinay, are sourced everyday from vegetable agents in Belgaum. Some imported items come from Pune and Bangalore, while mushrooms, pineapples, papayas and tambdi palak is sourced locally.
“Clients place their orders every evening for the next day according to their requirements, only then we telephonically inform our agents for the goods. The produce arrives at 5.15 in the morning here at the market where our workers unload, segregate and pack it according to the orders. Deliveries are done with our five trucks, two for North Goa and three for South Goa. Besides this, we have our own local transportation for hotels based in the city. This is the daily routine we follow. After lunch, our workload reduces during the latter half of the day where we do the billing and take orders,” explains the 25-year-old.
On an average, the daily requirement is 800 kg each of onions and potatoes, and 1,200 kg of tomatoes. Besides this, there are other vegetables and fruits.
“Tuesday is a holiday for the Belgaum markets, however, we work 365 days a year with no holidays or festivals. I don’t even remember when was the last time my father took a holiday to travel outside the state, probably it was 7 years ago. This kind of job requires a lot of hard work. Our whole business is dependent on manpower. During a worst case scenario if a worker fails to turn up then it’s up to us to do the loading, segregating and packing,” says Vinay.
Pricing is one of the biggest factors in such a business, he points out. “Resorts and hotels sign a yearly contract based on a fixed rate, but this does not take into account inflation. It takes a considerable time for the bigger establishments to revise their rates. There are also instances where a lime can cost Rs 5 but hotels buy in kilos. So we end up making a loss due to fluctuating rates,” he says.
Vinay points out that with government-run horticulture outlets selling subsidised items in every nook and corner, not many people visit the market for shopping nowadays.
“People don’t have the time to come here and make purchases. So they tend to do most of their shopping at local stores near their home. Traffic in the capital is also another deterrent for people. So we are totally dependent on the hotels for our business as we can’t rely on retail sales alone,” points out Vinay.
With Goa being popular even during the monsoons, demand from eateries tends to be the same throughout the year. But the peak months of October to March is the busiest of all for them, so much so that there is hardly any time for lunch, and with the wedding season orders keeping pouring from caterers.
Vinay says that there are a lot of wastages when it come to dealing with such perishable items, and this is a big problem especially during monsoons as everything arrives in a wet condition, thereby adding to losses. Therefore, efforts are made to ensure that the storage place is adequately ventilated. For green leafy veggies and fruits there is a cold storage facility.
When it comes to organic produce, Vinay says that since its expensive people don’t tend to buy it, with only a few hotels asking for it occasionally. The bigger hotels prefer to import their orders directly. Shitake and oyster mushrooms are sometimes bought by people during Christmas and New Year celebrations. Also, for hotels using organic produce can be expensive as the pricing of each dish goes up.
Vinay is a hotel management pass out from IHM. After working at Taj Vivanta and Grand Hyatt for 4-5 years, he decided to join his father and assist him in the business. And now he has his own ideas to take the business forward.
“As part of our expansion, I plan to introduce something that will make people’s lives a little easier. For instance, selling freshly packed veggies meant for a specific dish. With this, people don’t have to go around searching for items that are needed for a particular dish, say a salad. A small portion of all the necessary items will be freshly packed in a small basket, all cleaned and cut. This will probably happen next year,” he says on a concluding note.

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