Hot startup: Fresco Retail uses ozone technology to remove pesticides vegetables


Ozone treatment has been widely used internationally in food processing as ozone removes impurities without leaving any harmful residue.


Until a few years ago, Mumbai-based Karan Gaba, 28, had never been to a vegetable market.

Now as the founder of a one-of-its kind grocery chain in Mumbai, which is targeting Rs 6 crore in turnover next fiscal, the better part of Gaba's day is spent amidst vegetables. 
Fresco Retail, a venture he launched in November 2011 primarily retails vegetables and fruits that have been treated with ozone to remove pesticides and micro-organisms. 

But the journey to becoming a retail entrepreneur began five years back when his mother dragged him to a vegetable market for the first time in his life to buy groceries for a party. "It was an eye opening experience for me as the vegetables were all so dirty and I asked my mother 'is this what we eat?'" says Gaba, who passed out of Mumbai's 
Thadomal Shahani Engineering College that year. 

He began working with his father in his import business but remained keen to begin a new venture in food and honed in on organic farming. But he soon realised that he did not have the skills for it. 

"At that time we had bought a water purifier for our home. That is how I thought of developing a machine to purify food," says Gaba, who set up 
Waltro Technologies

 and spent two years designing and building an ozone-technology based machine that purifies vegetables and fruits

At home. He began marketing the product in 2010 and in under a year he had sold around 500 units without any large-scale marketing initiatives. Though the company had reached profitability, Gaba realised he would need heavy investments to build the brand and scale it up nationally. 
That is when he realised there was an opportunity to sell cleaned vegetables and food directly to customers. The profits from his appliance business, which he shut down, and a loan from his father helped Gaba set up a central purification centre in Santa Cruz and a retail store in Bandra. 

Every morning at 4.30 am the produce from the whole sale markets reach the 2,000 square feet purification centre. It is weighed, sorted and graded and then machine washed with water to remove visible dirt. Once the produce is dry it is put for around 10 minutes in the purification machine, in which oxygen is converted into ozone to remove surface pesticides and micro-organisms. The cleaned produce is packed in sealed packets and is ready to be sent to stores by 8.45 am. 

Ozone treatment has been widely used internationally in food processing as ozone removes impurities without leaving any harmful residue as it decomposes to become oxygen. However, retailers are yet to offer this to customers. 

"Ozone will be the future for ensuring food safety especially for fresh produce," said Brijesh Tiwari, a professor at the Manchester Metropolitan University, UK, who has published numerous papers on use of 
ozone technology

 in food processing. 

Gaba says the technology was the easy part, learning sourcing and stocking was much tougher. "At first I did not stock vegetables that I did not like, wholesalers would sell me 2-kg cauliflowers that no customer would pick up and I would buy too much or too little for a day," It took him a couple of months to iron out these issues.