Giving up a steady job with a company to test the waters of entrepreneurship can be intimidating. And Jeetendra Bhandari (JB) did just that. After years of experience in management positions in large companies, he decided to take the plunge not in the country where he resided, but thousands of kilometers away. Today, its NIC brand is one of the fastest growing natural ice cream companies in India today.
Speaking at The Success Edition, an initiative of Kotak Mahindra Bank and YourStory, JB, CEO of Walko Food Company, says, “I wanted to do something on my own and pursue the passion of building a world class business. But he had to start from scratch. First, he had to convince his family and friends, all based in the United States, and rally them to the decision to start his own business. With the tremendous support of his friends and family, JB started his journey in 2010 in India.
The first two years were spent researching and trying to understand the Indian market. JB made several trips to India during the time to finalize the industry he would enter. “And in 2012, we incorporated the company and conducted pilot tests with the frozen and potato-based snack industry in North India. During this time, through a network, we came across this coffee chocolate company in Pune looking for a joint venture. We decided to acquire the brand and closed the deal in 2013. We built the plant in 2014, ”explains JB.
The team realized that among the products of the café chocolat company there was a small brand of natural ice cream. In 2015, JB decided to work on it after analyzing reports from the ice cream industry, which indicated that per capita consumption in India is 400ml compared to 23 liters in the United States and China. He also noticed that while the ice cream industry was crowded, the natural ice cream category didn’t have too many players except one dominant player. “So we analyzed that the natural ice cream industry would grow at a much faster rate than the regular ice cream industry, and that there is room here for another player to become a catalyst. “, reveals JB. After securing a few big names as their first clients, the team was clear that they were going to enter the salons. “We had to go into retail and we also have a franchise system. So it started in 2016. We had good results and we knew that the acceptability of the product was very high. So with that confidence, in 2017 we continued to grow, ”says JB.
One thing JB and his team were very attentive to was the attention to detail. A major challenge was to ensure that the product met or exceeded customer expectations. The production of natural ice cream is much more labor-intensive than that of regular ice cream, and also raises the question of uniformity of taste. JB says, “When you make two tons of mango ice cream in 20 liter batches, how do you make sure that each batch is the same? Consistency of quality is very important. So we’re focusing more on that. “
At the same time, the team also had to strengthen their supply chain, as frozen food companies need to ensure that products are kept at a certain temperature. During the initial launch of NIC in different cities, distributors asked them to increase the volume to be distributed and the cost of partnering with a third party was also high. Thus, NIC began to make its own distribution. JB believes that since they controlled their supply chain, they didn’t have to depend on a third party and were reaching more customers organically. “For an FMCG product, a single-brand distribution network has been created. I’m not sure if there is another brand in India that has done this, ”he said, adding:“ Actually, during the lockdown last year, one of our competitors asked us if we would be interested. to distribute their ice cream.
But through it all, capital has remained a challenge. JB explains that his business was mostly self-funded as the majority of investors were his friends and family. With limited liquidity, they had to be careful. But they found solid support in Kotak Mahindra bank. “The logistics cost to deliver ice cream across the country was too high. When we went online we had to invest money to build a network of outlets across India. Kotak stepped in and gave us the working capital to do it, ”JB explains.
After that, the team experienced massive growth, so much so that they ran out of production capacity and had to build a new factory. A year later, Kotak stepped in again and gave the team money to fund the project to build a new factory. JB says it’s not just the financial aspect of their relationship that makes him want to continue working with Kotak, but also the advice and guidance he receives from senior executives at the bank. “We are a one-bank business and we are very satisfied with the service provided by Kotak. Not only through transactional activity, but also through funding and as a partner in our journey. And when we sit down and talk with them, they give their opinion and their solutions, ”says JB.
As for the future, JB says the team will continue to focus on the NIC. “I firmly believe that between us and other natural ice cream brands, we can expand this category 10 times over the next seven to 10 years, and we should be working on it. From Walko and NIC’s perspective, we’re still quite unknown to the average customer, so we need to increase our visibility, ”he says.
There are no plans to slow down. “We are present in 1,100 sites across India. We supply ourselves, with no distributors involved. We have a workforce of over 440 people. We have seen growth even during COVID-19. In the future, our goal will be to enter sectors such as modern retail and franchising. We get a lot of requests for franchises, ”says JB.
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The views expressed by the speaker in this video are personal. This video is for informational purposes only.