Social Startups

Frontier Markets : Bringing Useful and Affordable Consumer Products to Rural India

The 4 billion poor around the world – people who live on less than $2 a day, have largely been viewed as weak and dependent on others for their survival. Frontier Markets wants to change all that forever.

Charity organizations raise millions of dollars in donations ever year to provide free food, clothing and services to the poor and many a times unknowingly dictate how they should live and what they should eat.

Rarely are the poor viewed as people with purchasing power who would need products that could help make their life easier and like us may need wide range of options to choose from. If today we want to buy a TV we go to a store where we have hundreds of brands, abundance of features and prices to choose from. In addition easy financing options available right in the store help us pay for the purchase. However on the other hand poor rarely have products that are designed for their lifestyle or that fit their budget. They’ve never been considered as serious consumers and thus totally overlooked by the market.

The economist C.K. Prahalad’s book The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid helped influence many minds and led to an era where people and organizations are now thinking of the poor as serious consumers and designing useful products of extreme affordability.

Frontier Markets – Useful and Affordable Consumer Products

Riding on the ‘poor as consumer’ wave, Frontier Markets, an India based organization plans to bring socially relevant and affordable consumer products to rural India. They want to market and retail products of various brands which are useful and relevant to them. Initially their product offerings would include products related to energy for instance solar powered lights, cookware etc and then gradually expand to include products in the area of health and hygiene.

After identifying and sourcing the right products from various manufactures, Frontier Markets would do all that is needed to bring the products to the poor which includes marketing, setting-up the distribution chain right till the village level through their wholesale points and product placements in the existing village stores and obtaining rich consumer insights. To bring the product to the market fast, Frontier Markets plans to use the micro-finance institutions (MFI) as their entry point in the villages who are already engaged and have people from the village subscribe to their financial services. In addition they plan to have their own sales cum customer support people who they would hire from the village itself as they can talk their talk.

Frontier Markets is geared to launch their operations in April, targeting Rajasthan as their first state where they plan to grow and up-scale before targeting rest of India. They’ve tested their model in Karnataka where they brought two health related products to market by leveraging on the network of Ujjivan microfinance.

I met with the Founder of Frontier Markets, Ajaita Shah yesterday who was beaming with enthusiasm and excited about the potential of changing the lives of people with products that are better, safer, cheaper and relevant. She showed me the D.Light lantern she plans to market to millions of people who’ve been struggling with kerosene lamps and desperately looking for cheaper, better options.

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