Prabhu Gandhikumar belongs to a family of entrepreneurs and seeks new challenges constantly. After completing his mechanical engineering and having worked in the IT industry in the US, he returned to India to join his father’s foundry business. But the urge for challenge led him to food processing segment, beverages to be precise. Prabhu shares his experiences in setting up and challenges in running Tanvi Foods, and how he learnt the ropes on the job.
While Prabhu Gandhikumar had entrepreneurship in his blood, soon after completing his mechanical engineering from PSG Tech, Coimbatore, he joined the IT giant, TCS, in 2006, where he worked for six years. Out of those six year, he was in the U.S. for fouryears, consulting for the retail industry there. In 2012, he returned to join the family business, the Gandhikumar Group, which is primarily into Foundries.
But since he knew the business well and it was on auto mode, he missed being challenged. “I was always passionate about farming, and so thought of exploring opportunities in the agri-business sector,” says he. Post processing of agri-products seemed to beckon him and thus, he along with his wife Brindhastarted Tanvi Foods in 2015, to manufacture beverages.
Striking a New Path
Keen to be different and provide healthy drinks, the company’s first release was papaya juice. “Our plans went for a toss. We went back to the drawing board to see what people wanted to drink instead of pushing what we wanted them to drink,” he reminisces. Mango, the king of fruits, seemed to be the most popular flavor amongst drinks as well. “But here too we tried to be different,” says the founder and Tanvi Foods released mango juice with no added sugar. This experiment too met with the same fate. But undaunted, with the blessings of a supportive family that allowed him a free hand to explore till he succeeded, and a team of fresh blood willing to experiment, the company released mango juice with 60 per centless sugar under the brand name of Plunge. This time, it clicked and has become popular in the southern markets, selling 1 lakh bottles a day. “We do not advertise the fact that this has less sugar because the wholesale distributors are wary of anything new,” explains Prabhu.
Now the company also offers Apple flavor and carbonated drinks all with 60% less sugar. In addition, it has its own range of unique flavours such as paneer soda, ginger soda and jeeramasala, and is working on other product lines such as carbonated nannariand vettiver flavors, to be released soon.
Two key factors that have helped make a dent in the market are – hygienically packaged herbal flavours and selling packages of Rs 10, where big players are not present. Of course, making the packaging attractive has also enabled to create the right interest.
Learning on the Job
“Being a mechanical engineer, setting up the factory was the easiest part,” recalls Prabhu. Everything else has been a learning experience – right from how to source the raw materials to getting the product out. “It has been like a crash course in food technology,” he says chuckling. For instance, he has a need for 1 tonnes-1.5 tonnes of sugar every day, which, to him, was a large amount. But he was surprised when none of the sugar mills responded to his requests and realized that they do not consider anything less than 100 tonnes!
He also preferred to recruit freshers in his team so that they do not come with preconceived notions and are willing to learn on the job, which also makes their job exciting. Only recently has he recruited a senior manager with experience in the industry as he looks to expanding the market reach.
Apart from a product pipeline, now the company is ready to strengthen its presence in the existing markets as well as expand. It is also planning to set up a second bottling plant in Hyderabad to be able to cater to the Andhra market. “Only 60-70%per cent of my current plant in Coimbatore is being utilizedoverallbutsales tend to spike in the threemonths of summer, when it goes up by 200 per cent. Even when running in three shifts we are not able to meet the demandduring summer,” explains Prabhu. The Coimbatoreplant will cater to Tamil Nadu, Kerala and SouthernKarnataka. But since transportation is a challenge, he wants to distribute the load by setting up a second one.
Access to capital is the next area of focus. The company was started with Prabhu’s savings, family fundsand bank loans. Now for expansion, the company needs further fundsand is exploring options. Prabhu is not just looking for capital but also investors whocan provide mentoring as well.
Two key factors that have helped make a dent in the market are – hygienically packaged herbal flavours and selling packages of Rs 10, where big players are not present. Apart from Mango flavor, the also offers apple and carbonated drinks. It has its own range of unique flavours such as ginger soda and jeeramasala, and is working on other product lines such as carbonated nannariand vettiver flavors, to be released soon.