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APMC's mailbox system ensures kirana shops get goods on time

While the claim to the world’s most ingenious food distribution system belongs to the dabbawalas, another similar delivery model is giving it a tough fight for the top spot.

Transporters check their mailboxes
You’ve got mail: Transporters check their mailboxes for orders deposited by brokers at APMC in Vashi

If you thought that your local kirana storeowner is directly picking up groceries from Vashi’s Agricultural Produce and Marketing Committee (APMC), then your mistaken.

Untouched by technology and based on trust, this decade-old system involves four key players - the local shopkeeper, broker, wholesaler and transporter - who work in tandem to ensure the success of the distribution model.

Model explained
The local shopkeeper only commits his order for required commodities on the phone to a broker, who in turn places the order with the wholesaler. The broker then places the invoice in the transporters’ bills box, similar to a post box, situated in the APMC premises for them to pick up. On verifying the order, the transporter makes the delivery to the retailer.

The intricate system comprises of hundreds of brokers who are connected with storeowners stretching from Colaba to Virar. The middlemen are in turn associated with three different transport associations - Retail Transport Owners Association, Mathadi Kamghar Local Transport Association and Navi Mumbai Retail Transport Sena (MRT) - in the APMC grainmarket.

Elaborating on the system, Praful Nagda, vice president of MRT said, “It is a systematic distribution system similar to dabbawallas’ method. The broker receives a call from the main retailer who tells him that he needs approximately one tonne of a particular commodity. The broker records the order and deposits the request in the transporter box. We take the list and then our vehicles are loaded with the commodity, which is then dispatched to the respective shops in the city.”

Although the process involves several middlemen, the individuals concerned in the system say it’s a swift method. Vinesh Shah, one of the brokers who has been into this business for a decade, said, “One call from the retailers and we set the ball rolling. And we place purchase orders after checking the quality of the commodities.”

Jinesh Majethia, a wholesaler of sago and groundnuts, says almost 80 per cent of his customers are brokers. “Since retailers cannot pick up commodities and cannot come here themselves, hence they affiliate with one particular broker.

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