Thiru is currently involved in what he calls “Investing for Impact, in Retail Marketing,” in the city of Negombo, Sri Lanka. The concept refers to investing in the retail and marketing sector, for maximum impact on local communities. In Thiru’s case he has applied the concept to the ready-to-eat-food (RTE) retail sector in Negombo, by developing a network of community kitchens that supply breakfast and lunch to the market, through a network of retail outlets.
“My supply network is made up of a number of community kitchens, where women from low income families prepare traditional, home cooked breakfasts and lunch packets. I then link them up with retail outlets, including mine, to market their products,” explains Thiru. The home kitchen suppliers procure their raw materials from local sources within Negombo town, prepare their own menus for the day, and quote their prices to the retailers. The retailers pay them on delivery of the food. The retail network, that comprises about 35 retail outlets, is located in and around Negombo town, and within close proximity of schools, to ensure a strong, sustained demand for food, on a daily basis.
“At the start, I encouraged women to invest in the venture by providing them with initial start up capital. I also advised them on hygiene and product quality standards,” says Thiru, adding that although it is still a very small network, the initiative is paying significant dividends to seven, low income households, by ensuring a regular and fair source of income. In most cases, the women re-invest their incomes from the food sales into the education and welfare of their children. “As my network expands, we are now considering introducing a supply quality assurance certificate, with producer confirmation of the products,” says Thiru. In addition, Thiru also conducts free training on new, RTE products using his food science and technology background. This training, says Thiru, is useful to survive the highly competitive RTE food market.
“While my current occupation may seem very different to my work at LIRNEasia, I think my time at LIRNEasia had an impact on how I ended up at this point,” he says. Thiru worked as a Project Assistant at LIRNEasia on the ‘Knowledge to Innovation’ project, from November 2007 to July 2008, where he examined the problem of e-waste. He was also involved in surveys conducted in Gampaha, on the 3R project. “This work exposed me to new ways of thinking and market dynamics,” says Thiru. “For instance, we learned that waste can be turned into wealth, as in the case of compost, and recycled metals and plastics. So I feel it opened my mind to look for opportunities that may not be obvious to the traditional way of thinking. In this context I must say a special thank you to Dr Sujata Gamage, for encouraging me to ‘think out-of-the-box,’” says Thiru.