Pradipta Kumar Sahoo
Business Head, Safal, Mother Dairy Fruit & Vegetable
Fruitful Segments in Focus
Safal, the fruits and vegetables brand from Mother Dairy, is expanding through a focus on pulp and concentrate and frozen products. Introduction of new products in the Middle East region is also one of the agendas, says Sahoo.
How has the business been for Mother Dairy?
Mother Dairy is primarily into dairy products, edible oil and fruits and vegetables. These are the three key business verticals. There are other segments too but majorly we are into dairy as the name says ‘Mother Dairy’ and fruits and vegetables (F&V). In F&V segment, we focus on fruit pulp and concentrate and frozen products. Export for our F&V segment has been very active and aggressive. While 50 pc of the pulp and concentrate is exported, 50 pc is confined to domestic market. Internationally we have footprint in 38 countries.
This year, we are targeting to generate revenues worth USD 29 million of which export of pulp and concentrate will contribute to USD 15 million.
What are your expansion plans in the context of both domestic and international markets?
In F&V segment that I head, we are targeting revenues of USD 11 million. Right now, our focus is on eastern India where we are building state-of-the-art plant in Jharkhand for processing of different ingredients including green peas, mango, guava, litchi and tomato puree. Our footprint in south is quite strong, specialising in mango and guava. We are doing thought processing for the arrangements in the western part.
What is your overall strategy behind launching pulses in Srinagar and also entering the convenience foods segment?
Though we are quite big in milk, pulses is the new business in which we have stepped into. Lentils and pulses have an immense potential in India. We see a big role in terms of organising the market and to be present in the value chain in a holistic manner. Therefore, we have started procuring and selling it under our own brand. We have an ambitious plan for pulses. We want to get into procurement policies directly; exactly the way we did for milk. We will go to the farmers and buy directly from them and store in warehouses and then the milling of pulses will be done. Once it is done, pulses will be sold in two brands – ‘premium’ and ‘value for money’. Premium brand is finding places in the metros and value for money will go for all government schemes like mid-day meals and public distribution system. So the plan is ambitious and we have embarked upon it. We are looking at the value chain, right from the back-end. Our strategy is in place for sourcing, milling and branding of the process.
The second focus is the frozen snacks market where we have added aloo tikki (famous Indian snack), hara-bhara kebab (deep-fried snack made up of spinach and potato). Just in the span of two months, we have witnessed a huge success. I won’t say it is in competition with McCain, but it is totally an Indian ethnic tested product. We are also looking at dehydrated fruits and vegetables business as one of the vehicles for expanding our footprint. In the next couple of months, you will see us selling dehydrated onions. Earlier, India was subject to only exporting dehydrated onions to Europe and other countries. Now we are thinking this as a big business.
So, do you have any plans to take it to Europe?
No, not now. There are players, for instance from Gujarat, who are exporting it to Europe. Our footprint will be confined to consumer market in the country.
How do you see the Middle East market and what are your expansion plans in this region?
Middle East is a growing market. We have been exporting fruit pulps, IQF (individually quick frozen) vegetables, preserved gherkin (a variety of cucumber), fresh fruits and vegetables, skimmed milk powder in middle east. We do see a market for UHT (ultra-high temperature) milk and value added dairy products like ice cream, long shelf life lassi (yogurt-based drink), flavoured milk and edible oil. We are discussing these products with various potential customers and hope to start export of these products in near future.
What, according to you, can be done to overcome the infrastructural and technological challenges such as cold storage, transportation etc. that lead to huge food wastage?
Cold storage is an integral part of our business expansion. To retain the value, cold chain is important for our different segments. We started frozen business about 20 years ago and since then, we have concentrated on cold storage. We have cold rooms and reefer transportation. We even export fresh grapes to Europe in reefer containers. This is in-built into our investment proposals because once the product is processed, it has to go to the cold store. And cold store can’t be outsourced when it comes to consistent quality in maintaining the temperature.
So what are your parameters for quality and food safety?
We are one of the fastest companies to be certified by FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) and all European standards because we have been exporting for a long time. We make personal visits to the clients. For Indian mangoes, for instance, they approach Mother Dairy without a thought. That is the kind of confidence we have built over the years.
How has been your clientele?
In India, we have a very solid client base. They are growing with us and we are growing with them. Our offerings are consistent and qualitative. Our pricing is very competitive. Clients like Coca Cola, Pepsico and Unilever are with us for many years. We have been servicing them as per their requirements and therefore, you won’t find any customer leaving us. If we are selling alphonso, it will be alphonso, and not any look-alike. That’s what makes us unique.
Amidst immense competition, how do you create value for your customers?
The biggest value that one can create for the customers is consistency and quality. The second area is of delivery and maintaining the temperature. Third, we maintain food safety. So, quality, safety and consistency are the three key attributes that we are consistently maintaining. And in the competitive scenario, these three attributes are non-compromising for us.
What prospects do you see in fairs like Gulfood for a brand like yours?
Gulfood is the best food fair to participate in the Middle East. It is the second largest (in terms of visitors and exhibitors) in the world after ANUGA. The location of fair in Dubai is very easily accessible and customers from all over middle east and African countries come to this fair. It has grown in size over the years and this was the reason they started doing it twice a year – one in February and another in October. This gives us a platform to meet our customers (existing and potential) from Middle East and African region.