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Backwoods boys battle the big ones

india Updated: Mar 19, 2007 23:23 IST
Highlight Story

Ever heard of Gopi Malai Gold? Or Frootlet Khatti Mitthi Emlee? Or Gita Soap? Or Vikram tea? Urban consumers may not have come across these brands, but some of the biggest names in the consumer products business are watching them closely.

Frootlet, for instance, is second only to Nutrine in central Maharashtra. And Nutrine is now part of global candy giant Hershey's stable. Vikram tea is giving Brooke Bond and Lipton a run for their money in and around Aurangabad. And its owner is among the top 10 income tax payers in the region.

These are not just small-time semi-urban or rural brands. Though most are first-generation start-ups, these use modern technology and packaging and many sell not only all over India but even abroad.

Using nothing more than quality to drive word-of-mouth publicity, and a closely knit distribution network, they are standing traditional theories about consumer goods manufacturing on their head. And creating a strong niche for themselves in highly competitive markets in the process.

Like Yogesh Pathi's Goodfood icecream. Pathi, a chemical engineer from Mumbai, was working as industrial consultant till he decided to start on his own. His ice-cream factory, which started production in 2000, today manufactures a quarter of a million litres per year. "Our market share is 12-15 per cent," claims Pathi.

Food technologist Atul Bangewal and his partner Ashok Choudhary, an MBA, started "with Rs 15,000 in our pockets" a decade ago. Today, Trimurti Foods is a regional leader in boiled sweets, with a staff of 200 and a turnover of Rs 10 crore a year.

Explains Bangewal: "We launched Gopimalai chocolates in 1994. It is made of pure milk. Our main test was to increase its shelf life from three days to six months. The second test was its packaging as it needed breathing space."

They tied up with a German company for processing and packaging technology. Today they sell 700 cases, or 3 million pieces, a month. With the addition of traditional Indian sweets like mango cubes and tamarind-based products, their market today extends to 15 states besides Canada.

As enquiries pour in from Singapore, East Africa and the Gulf countries, their R&D lab is busy working on ber, amla and ginger. And they admit the need to go in for large-scale advertising as they intend cashing in on the mall culture, using attractive packaging.

Bhawesh Patel, the owner of Vikram tea, was surprised when this newspaper contacted him. His first question was, "Who told you about me?"

Patel realised that many of his customers were not bulk buyers. So he started selling a pouch priced at just 50 paise.

He has gone through the full product cycle, and is now busy fighting 'me too' brands that have copied his distinctive green coloured packaging, which is what his largely illiterate customer base uses to identify the brand.

Datta Thorat of Dutta soaps used his army background to develop a 'just-in-time' distribution network. Thorat says he cannot afford publicity. Nor does he need it. "We have half a dozen salesmen with fixed monthly schedules. He manages to deliver his range of soaps to the doorsteps of small shops in the rural areas of central Maharashtra on a fixed date, at a fixed time."

From quality control to packaging and branding to supply chain management, these self-made entrepreneurs have cracked it all.