Sunday , 19 May 2019

Local food processor packs a punch

Shivlila Deepak Manerikar’s food processing unit, Vaibhav Enterprises, is one of the few Goan companies to sell products side-by-side with popular food brands, finds out Serilda Coutinho

Home-grown cereals such as jowar, bajra, millet (ragi) are soaring in popularity these days. The market is awash with processed local grains manufactured mostly by MNC food companies. So it is great to discover a Goan name among the MNC brands that looks like is selling well and competing satisfactorily with larger rivals.

Entrepreneur, Shivlila Deepak Manerikar, food processing company Vaibhav Enterprises, located in the interiors of Parra village is actually a grinding unit that powders variety of cereals and sells the processed products under the brand name Oorja.  The brand is sold at leading supermarket chains such as Magsons, Borkars, Goa Sahakar Bhandar, Bardez Bazaar, Mapusa Bazaar, AJ, DG Mart and Teles.

Over the years Manerikar has expanded her range to include spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, cumin, fenugreek and also mixes such as idlli rawa. Her products have a steady clientele which is quite an achievement for a first generation entrepreneur with no experience in the food business.

Down-to-earth in her attitude, Manerikar reveals that, her journey began with just one product ragi powder (nachne malt) that was given away as a free sample. Today she does a monthly turnover of around Rs five lakh with 25 products under her brand Oorja.  “I started off with the supply of ragi malt which fetched me around 50kg-100kg sales on a monthly scale. It turned out to be one of my best selling product with an average sale of one ton per month,” she says.

Having ventured into business, Manerikar takes her entrepreneurship goals seriously.  In the future she plans to invest in automated machinery to reduce the time taken and wastage in the process of packaging. “Currently all the packaging is done manually but as we now have a bigger space available to accommodate the machinery we can afford to expand the business,” she says. The cost incurred on the infrastructure is expected to be recovered from expanding her supply chain to neighboring states.

While doing her post-graduation in commerce, Manerikar took up a job with a NBFC. The job was good and she was at the managerial level, but she realized that she didn’t want to work as an employee. “In 1998 my company was going through a crisis, I decided to quit my job and later started assisting my husband who did contract work of assembling products for companies.”

In 2003 the couple observed that the payment for their work was reduced. Manerikar says that, she decided to start something of their own to become independent financially. Currently she handles her company on her own while her husband who plays for music bands is engaged in his own profession.

To finance her unit Manerikar, says that, she started a tiffin service for a hospital and for bank officers in Mapusa. “I provided this service for a year to generate income needed for the business.”  Having no prior savings to set up the mill and buy the machinery the procedure to complete the legal formalities and permissions needed to set up the grinding mill was started back then, she reveals. In 2004 Manerikar managed to start the unit working. Her husband supported her with earning from his musical performances,. She points out that, setting up a business requires disposable income on hand. “We started off with an investment of Rs one akh that was spent only on buying the machinery. However at that point we could not afford to hire a work force so I managed the accounts, operations and packaging single-handed.”

Initially Manerikar retailed wheat grass powder manufactured by a Pune based company. To each customer she gave a free sample of ragi malt. “Initially when the mill was started we would provide grinding facility for residents in the neighborhood but as the sales picked up we decided to work only on our products,” she informs.

Giving details of the groundwork that went into manufacturing a variety of flour, supplements and spices, Manerikar revels that, in order to ensure profitable returns she used to carry out trials with smaller quantities of ingredients sourced from the local market before introducing the product in the market. “During these experiments, I observed that there was wastage of around one kg of flour during the cleaning and grinding process. This loss had to be accounted in my pricing and I gradually learnt how to price with a profit margin and taking into account the expenditure.” With ragi, rice, bajra, jowar, soya, etc available in limited quantities in the state,  s Manerikar  sources her raw material from Hubli and nearby regions of Maharashtra.

Taking pride in her products, she says that they are nutritious and serve the purpose of food supplements. “I have a loyal customer base who use ragi malt for patients who are on liquid diet and the positive feedback that I receive from them gives me the satisfaction,” she says.

Backed by her education and family support, especially of her husband, Manerikar keeps striving towards achieving her goal of being self sufficient. The unit has six grinding machines that are operated by about seven local employees who handle the packaging, cleaning and transportation of the products. The unit employs women except for two men who handle the packing and transporting.

“We have to maintain the quality and consistency of the finished product as we have to live up to the trust of our consumers. I organize meetings on regular basis with the workers to check the progress and address any problems noticed in the manufacturing process.” She says that, she also organizes an annual day for the employees where the best worker is facilitated as encouragement.

According to Manerikar her products are popular among mom’s and local nutritionists recommend them. The slack months for her unit are during February – June as kids have their vacation during this time. “We see this time as ideal to purchase new machinery and work on improving the existing range of products,” she reveals.