Making the cut

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BY MICHAEL FISHER | B&C

To be tomorrow’s leader, Santana Menezes in the 1990s worked as a front office supervisor at Leela Hotel and decided that he must learn how to identify challenges and opportunities in the future if he has to move out of the employee circuit and learn to develop ways to meet those challenges and capitalize on those opportunities.

He was in charge of room, bed and breakfast, a concept introduced by Leela in the early 1990s. He noticed that foreigners helped themselves to an extra portion of cocktail sausages, salami, ham, bacon and other cold-cuts delicacies.

A couple of years later he joined Holiday Inn as a duty manager and was responsible for all departments and made sure breakfast for guests were ready 8 a.m. every morning. Cold meat products in the market were very costly and shortage of supplies was constant. “There were times we would get our supplies from NRIs and seafarers who would sell their canned products in the local market and the hotels such as ours would buy it from the local market,”recalls Menezes.

The bed and breakfast concept was a success and it lured more tourist footfalls but the shortage of cold cuts was becoming embarrassing. Local food processor Costa`s was the only producer of cold meats in those days. Some of the hotels used to order cold meats from other states to meet the shortfall in Goa. This shortage was becoming pandemic as new hotels and resorts were coming up.

“I finally decide to venture into food processing. Like all moms, my mom was also an ace cook. She had the ingredients to prepare pork sausages, prawn balchao and a range of pickles. I knew some of her traditional recipes would work. I chucked the hotel job in 2000, put on the student cap and enrolled in a government of India Institute of Food, Preservatives and Marinating course under the SISI (Small Industries Service Institute) for small industries. After completing the course, I had to complete the CFTRI course in Mysore where transfer of technology and know-how of food preservatives, soft drinks, cold meats and other foods was passed on. This course cost me Rs 50,000 then, today it is more than a lakh of rupees,” he says further.

Armed with the technology and know-how, he started his own market research, visiting stores, supermarkets, cold storages retailing cold meats and packaged foods. He jotted down names of every hotel catering bed and breakfast in their itinerary.

The few items manufactured in Goa were costlier than the imported supplies.

In those days, due to a lack of awareness barely 10 per cent of the population of Goa consumed these food items as the market for cold cuts was growing exponentially. This was attributed to resorts and hotels coming up, therefore demand exceeded supplies. Goa was depending on unorganised imports from abroad and from neighbouring states.

“So I decided to start a meat processing unit and got registered with the directorate of industries in the name of Shahil’s. I took a loan from Corporation Bank to build the food processing unit at our ancestral property which was completed in 1999. It was a joy to see my vision turn into reality. I spent the night dreaming of all the cold cuts I will manufacture. The next morning the high court shot down my dreams, banning new power connections to industries on account of pilferage by some industries. This shocked me as I was not even given a chance to produce the first tray of cocktail sausages. License for production can be obtained from the Ministry of Food Processing (MFPO ) on verification of the source of energy which I did not have and in the meantime I was finding it difficult to pay back the loan installments. I was issued a warning from Corporation Bank to pay or close down the unit. I sold my bike to pay the first installment. It was getting tough for me. Then in the guise of a guardian angel, a classmate, was the branch manager of United Western Bank, which has been now taken over by IDBI bank. After hearing my predicament, he agreed it was not my fault. He came to my rescue and asked me to transfer all my loans to United Western Bank, giving me a six-month lease period. By the fourth month I was given connection and production started. I produced my first 100 kgs of cocktail sausages and the market consumed it instantly. After that, there was no looking back. I started to pay back the loan installments,” says Menezes.

Menezes says he learnt some lessons from this debacle as it improved his knowledge of banking and what it meant to have a contingency plan in place. When he started, his son Shahil was five-years-old and was employing four people then, today he has 19 workers with a total monthly capacity of four tonnes.

The raw materials viz chicken, pork, and other red meat is sourced from SPDA market. Some new items that he is now planning are pepperoni chicken salami and cheese and chicken cocktails. The thought of exports has been temporarily shelved as the whole of India is a huge market, he says. India’s market is like an ocean. All we have to take care is to see that the supply is constant to meet demand, he point out.

To start such a business, first of all one requires land for the unit. Then the next step is getting all the necessary permissions viz from the local panchayat, town and country planning department and industries and mines department. Later, one has to apply for a license to produce from FDA and then get an NOC from the pollution control board. Registration at the sales tax department is also needed and for conducting sales in the market one has to obtain a trade license from local panchayat or municipality, he explains.

“There is nothing like being your own boss and giving customer satisfaction. Yes, I agree one has to go under great pressure when starting a new business especially for making frequent trips to various government departments for obtaining licenses, but at the end of the day one can hold up his head high in the air and proudly say I am an entrepreneur employing families under my roof,” he says in conclusion.