Imagine a Harare city centre where you do not get caught up in the cat and mouse chase between police and illegal vendors,
where you walk freely in the streets, not afraid to step on tomatoes and other food stuffs that usually cover half the pavement causing untold congestion.
Just picture not having to buy from a vendor at the corner of your street, some of whom have been accused of dipping their vegetables in the sewer infested Mukuvisi River to keep them fresh; not having to buy fruits, vegetables and meat from unknown sources that may at the end of the day live you diseased.
Well, online vending may just be the solution to make your imaginations dawn into reality.
The above mentioned hustles, the presence of many challenges on the fruit and vegetable trade chain that includes makoronyera (middlemen) who reap off both farmers and their customers.
A quest to chip-in in solving unemployment has led to the founding of Fresh in A Box (FIAB) a startup online shop that sells fruit, vegetables, meat and even liqour.
They deliver the products free of charge, serving the major cities and constantly expanding to reach more areas.
FIAB founder Kuda Musasiwa said he started the initiative in October 2018 to crawl himself from desperation and unemployment.
“At that time I had found myself unemployed. I started a tomato project and needed to find a way to sell my produce.
“I had a lot of trouble trying to sell to retailers or even to Mbare Musika; it was just impossible so I decided to go direct to the customer.
“It was also inspired by other farmers on social media who said they also had produce that we combined and we started delivering using our Honda Fit,” he said.
To establish a successful business, Musasiwa had to force himself out of his comfort zone, learn the trade and constantly study how to improve his services.
“I have learnt a lot about agriculture and the middlemen in the process of marketing in Zimbabwe. I’ve learnt a lot about what needs to happen in agriculture in the farmlands to make sure that we can become the breadbasket of Africa again.
“I’ve also learnt about retail and people’s demands for high customer services,” he said.
In learning and developing his business idea, Musasiwa noticed his lack to produce enough to service his growing list of customers, who would at time request products he was not growing at his Glen Forest farm.
“To access fresh produce we have built a website and mobile application and we have registered about 1900 farmers who we coordinate using technology with growing schedule to deliver fresh produce to our warehouse every day that we pack and deliver in boxes.
“We also own a fresh farm in Glen Forest where we are current farming 15 different vegetable lines which are also supplementing our box,” he said.
Musasiwa lays his hope in the Government that it engages small businesses and come up with more lenient laws that supports small and emerging players.
“We are hoping our Government can make doing business easier by somewhat deregulation so that they can give us a level playing field so that we can play and win.”
Despite the many challenges FIAB is facing, they have found ways to stay afloat and thrive.
“We are sending out about 300 orders per day. We could do a lot better but the economy is challenging but I believe we are doing much better than most other shops.
“Looking at the fact that each box weighing about 15kgs, we are talking about 30 000kgs of food we have to move about at any given time so it’s a lot of produce that we are moving.
“Right now we have done in essence over 40 000 successful deliveries in Bulawayo, Harare, Chiredzi, Mutare, and Victoria Falls areas and we hope to keep reaching further,” said Musasiwa.
The company is even making steps towards conquering the region.
“From the very inception of our brand we have always tried to build ourselves scale so we have already implemented other payment methods from all around Africa. We are just about to launch our Zambia branch.
“We already have a team in place, we have already been there, got the boxes priced, and the more stable economic environment there has proved very beneficial.
“All we are doing right now is locking down logistics and we shall be moving in the region pretty aggressively in 2020,” he said.
Musasiwa believes what sets his company apart from other online stores is agility.
“Our motto is adapt or die so we don’t wait to die, we always adapt.
“When we faced electric outages we started delivering our veggies in cooler boxes with ice packs to ensure that our customers can have them for longer; we did not just wait around for someone to fix things for us.
“When we had bread shortages we made sure we added baked loaves in our customers’ packages so that our clients can have bread,” he said.
“Our ability to stay small and adapt to our environment and change at any given notice makes us able to be much faster than some of the bigger retailers.
“We can change prices quicker. Our leveraging of technology can get us to more places at once. We can run around and find rare things for our customers other bigger organisations cannot.”
Despite being a relatively small business, FIAB has been making great strides in giving back to the community.
When Cyclone Idai hit, they used their good logistics in mobilizing donations, collecting from different points around Harare.
In the end they managed to collect aid adding up to 50 trucks.
They have also been active in helping less fortunate young people get an education.
“At the beginning of this year we started a drive we dubbed Fresh Future where we use our customer base and our social media following to support young people who are vendors or domestic workers but with enough qualifications to go to tertiary education.
“We have so far managed to sponsor 25 young people who are enrolled at University of Zimbabwe, Africa University, Midlands State University and National University of Science and Technology.
“We look after their accommodation, food and tuition. We have a Whatsapp group of guardians who look after the day to day needs of these students.
“It’s a crowd-funding exercise where every now and again we highlight a case and we ask people to donate to that particular cause,” said Musasiwa.
FIAB is has been proving its mantle in coming up with fresh ideas that are helping address challenges.