Is this the world’s cheapest refrigerator? Launched by Indian conglomerate Godrej and Boyce, ChotuKool's $69 price tag is not the only reason it can be called super economical. The portable, top-opening unit weighs only 7.8kg, uses high-end insulation to stay cool for hours without power and consumes half the energy used by regular refrigerators. This is a product that has crossed several technological barriers and is designed to cross several social barriers as well.

To achieve its efficiency the ChotuKool doesn't use a compressor, instead running on a cooling chip and a fan similar to those used in computers, so like computers it can run on batteries. It's engineering credentials are further boosted by the fact that it has only 20 parts, as opposed to more than 200 parts in a normal refrigerator.

The ChotuKool was co-designed with village women to assure its acceptability, and is distributed by members of a micro-finance group.

"It’s a reverse engineering of sorts,” says G. Sunderraman, Vice President of Corporate Development at Godrej & Boyce.

Sunderraman says the idea to target the bottom of the pyramid customers was given shape at a workshop with Clayton M. Christensen, the Harvard University professor, best known for his ideas on disruptive innovation.

The idea discussed in the workshop was to involve villagers right from the design to selling of the product. A survey by the young employees of Godrej followed, with findings showing that rural Indians expected a refrigerator to be used to cool 5 to 6 bottles of water and stock 3 to 4 kilograms (6 to 8 pounds) of vegetables. They also wanted it to be portable so that it could be moved out to make room for family gatherings.

The ChotuKool has undergone several alterations after every little detail, including pricing and color (red and blue were the clear winners) was discussed with a select group of villagers and micro-finance institutions. The villagers will also act as marketers and will earn a commission of approximately $3 per fridge sold. This fridge is targeted at households who earn approximately $5 a day, of whom there are almost 100 million in India.

Addressing the power shortage in rural India

Products like the the ChotuKool overcome technological and social barriers and address the one of the most pressing issues in India.

India hosts the world’s largest population deprived of electricity. Ninety two percent of this population lives in rural India, equaling about 380 million people or 71.7 million households. The quality and quantity of power these people have access to is very poor and consequently the country has very little development happening in rural areas.

The power situation in rural India cannot be fixed overnight and until it is, products like this are needed to make people's lives a little better. Effective refrigeration in rural areas can help people extend their access to not only food, but also essential drugs.

Godrej and Boyce, which has interests in real estate, FMCG, industrial engineering, appliances, furniture, security and agri care, plans to launch ChotuKool in India by March 2010 at a price of US$69 or Rs 3250.