Founder And Director Of Homefills Company
One cannot think about Indian cuisine without spices. Black pepper, cardamom, ginger, turmeric and chilli are just a handful of the spices produces, which are used for their flavour, fragrance and nutraceutical properties. For centuries, countries around the world have sought these spices as the trade routes developed between Europe, South America and India way back in the 15th century. Because it was so difficult to get spices in Europe then, they were once even more valuable than gold.
Today, India remains the world’s biggest producer of spices – accounting for an estimated 70% of global supply. In the race for spice companies, the ‘Homefills’ company has also made its place in Odisha in a very short time.
We talked to Banikant Dalai, director of ‘Homefills’, about the startup. The company’s founders Bichitranand Senapati and Mr. Dalali jointly started their spice company. Both of them were in their early 20s when they started. Prior to this, they were marketing representatives but now they have their own company.
How did you start your company?
The founder of the company, Bichitrananda Senapati was involved in food distribution in a company till 1985. Later, he moved from Rourkela to Cuttack, came across many ups and downs and finally settled in Bhubaneswar. I came in contact with him in 2000. At that time, he had already started taking distributorship of many companies. He had taken distributorship of at least 15-16 companies. During that period, we started planning for our own products.
We applied for brand registration in 2005 and got the approval in 2008. We initially looked for land on lease and also approached IDCO but couldn’t get one. So, we hired a small house first and later, in 2012 went on to buy a private land. We constructed our workspace over around 9000 sq. ft. We took a loan for the same. In 2012, we had around 3-4 products like cumin, mustard seeds, turmeric, bay leaf and so on. Eventually, we got the market acceptance from customers, which encouraged us to expand our range of products.
Our main challenge has been to provide quality products at fair prices. Mostly, many competitors are doing adulteration for cost-cutting. But we have been using quality raw materials as well as taking hygiene measures on priority due to which the cost of production is comparatively higher than others. Even though our products are of premium range and customers are willing to buy it, some retailers are reluctant to sell it because they feel that this will not give them much margin. But there are also some good retailers who put in all efforts to sell the products and they have helped us reach where we are today.
We have been introducing new products from time to time. However, our main focus has been on improving the packaging. We keep on researching on packaging standards and how it can be made more appealing.
During the initial days, it took us around a month to make sales of Rs. 50,000. But today, we are doing a business of 12-13 crores annually.
What were the challenges you faced?
We had nothing to start our venture. It is very difficult to start a business without capital. Both of us belong to a middle class family and had no business background. We have been involved in sales and marketing from the beginning of our careers. In the beginning also, we ourselves handled the marketing and sales and later became capable of employing man power for this purpose.
When I was doing the marketing, the income was very negligible; it was just hand to mouth. But I got a lot of experience in the process and that helped me to enter into the manufacturing sector.
Currently, the company makes a profit of over crores every year and I earn a decent share of it.
Which product of your company is high on demand?
We record high sales in our range of blended spices. Spices like cumin and coriander powder are basic ground spices which every competitor company manufactures. But we have some of the best blended spices including spice blends, garam masala, chicken masala, momo masala, pani puri masala and many others which we are of good quality as no artificial additives are mixed with it. Other companies have not been able to create the same due to which we have a significant market share in these products.
We have many other products like ground spices, whole spices, additives like Kasuri Methi, Asafoetida, food soda, rock salt, black salt etc. This apart, there is besan, sattu, daliya, chuda. We sell 70-80% of the regular grocery items under our brand.
From where do you source your raw materials? What is your catchment area?
We import raw materials from other states. We import jeera from a place called Unjha in Gujrat. Chilly is brought from Guntur, coriander from Rajasthan, poppy seeds from MP, pepper and cardamom from Kerala, Turmeric from Tamil Nadu. Spices like cinnamon and clove are being imported from Veitnam and Colombo through importers. We procure raw materials from 6-7 states.
In terms of sales, we initially tied up with local suppliers in Bhubaneswar with around 1500 to 2000 retail counters. At present we have covered all districts of Odisha with at least two distributor points in each district. Besides, we are supplying to Jharkhand and Bihar and also exporting to Nepal and Bangladesh.
Will you ever compromise with the quality to grab a larger market share?
We have struggled with providing the best possible quality at lower price since day one. Had we failed to get response in the initial days, we would have thought of compromising with the quality. But now people have accepted our products. They choose our products over other companies. Our focus will be on improving the quality even more.
We have got great response from the supermarket and malls where people have shown preference for our products.
You import most of your raw materials from other states. What are the lacunae in the local market that forces you to procure from other states? In your opinion, what can be done in Odisha to attract manufacturers to local producers?
There is a lot of lacunae in the market of Odisha. First of all there is no mandi for procurement of most of the products here. Absence of the adequate number of Warehouses is also an issue due to which storage becomes a problem. Many spices are grown in Odisha but in absence of these facilities, those products do not get a market share here.
This apart there are no proper processing facilities for raw materials here. For instance, turmeric is grown in Kandhamal, but the way the growers process it here is very unhygienic, due to which we import a major quantity of Turmeric from Tamil Nadu and use a little from here. Similarly, black pepper grows in abundance here, but the grading facility is not proper due to which the quality standards are not consistent.
In terms of procurement of spices, Unjha has some of the best facilities. Similarly, for chillies, Guntur has the best marketing system.
How big is your customer base? What are your future plans to take your company further?
We have a customer base of over 20 lakhs at present. About 90% people are aware of our brand in Bhubaneswar, we also have a good customer base in other regions of Odisha.
Our company has made a significant name in the market in the last 8 years. The state government has also recognized us now. Earlier we were not getting support from IDCO, but now they have provided us with 2 acres of land in Ramdaspur.
We are coming up with a project of 20 crores over that land which will be completed in next 1 year. We are setting up a cryogenic grinding plant there, where the spices will be ground at minus -190 degree temperature which will enhance the quality of the products.
We are also trying to expand our export market. We are getting inquiries from many countries including the USA. But we are not able to meet their demand due to our storage problem. We are working on it.
You started as a marketing representative and now you own a company. How does it feel?
It really feels proud. But we face hurdles even today. However, taking experience from the past and evolving every day has helped us survive and grow stronger.
I would like to suggest other that if one fixes his/her goal rigidly and keep patience then nothing can deter him/her from achieving success