There is no dearth of choice in the country when it comes to ice-creams. But there is one brand of ice-cream in the country which has its root well set in the country since its inception from Mumbai in 1984. Any ice-cream lover will vouch for Natural Ice-creams which has managed to carve a niche for itself over the years with its all natural offerings!
When Raghunandan S.Kamath could not clear his seventh grade exams, his father decided to discontinue his schooling and brought him to Mumbai. The first impression that you get reading this is of feeling bad for him, but then this was a blessing in disguise. Since Kamath had a good experience and know-how of fruits (thanks to his father being in the business of fruits), and also because he had a certain liking towards ice-cream, he combined his knowledge and love and went ahead to launch the all natural ice-cream, Natural Ice-cream.
Rewinding a bit to set the context, Raghunandan Kamath and his brother started off with a small South Indian restaurant called Gookul Refreshments from where they used to even sell ice-creams in the evening. As time passed and the family got re-organized, Raghunandan S.Kamath gauging the popularity of their ice-creams went ahead to open a 400 sq.ft exclusive ice-cream shop at Juhu in Mumbai. Keeping in mind the concept of their ice-creams which was prepared from all natural ingredients – from milk to fruits to dry-fruits; he named it Natural Ice-creams. The brand was an instant hit and popular with the local crowd in the area. Eventually, it gained so much of popularity that people from across Mumbai would visit the shop to feast on the all-natural ice-cream preparations from Natural Ice-cream.
This first outlet started with an initial investment of Rs. 3 lakhs and with the help from three workers. His wife helped him with the interiors of the store. Talking about the brand, 27-year-old Srinivas Kamath, the young and dynamic scion of Raghunandan Kamath who is also the director, Kamaths Ourtimes Ice cream Pvt. Ltd., puts in, “We use traditional methods of manufacturing ice-creams and we can proudly claim that we are India’s highest retailer in artisan ice-cream. But the journey came with challenges. Since the thrust of our brand was preparing ice-cream with natural ingredients, my father faced problems with the equipment used to prepare the ice-cream. It became quite a task to increase the production capacity. This led him to customize the machinery himself which would help produce more ice-cream using the same method thus not compromising on the technique and quality of hand-made ice-creams.”
One major set back took place in 1994 when there was an IT raid in the company. For Kamath this came as a shock since he had never anticipated such a thing to happen considering he was a law abiding citizen. The reason for the raid was his ignorance in maintaining the account books. Post the raid, the business was streamlined and the books properly maintained.
As the country entered a completely new era of consumerism from the 1990s with the big brother McDonald’s entering the country and to a large extent contributing in changing the ‘eating out’ habits of the country, senior Kamath took interest in expanding his base and responding to the umpteen queries of franchises that he was getting till then. Says Girish Pai, managing director, Kamaths Ourtimes Ice cream Pvt. Ltd., “For R.S.Kamath expansion was never on mind till then as he was fully emersed in the process of improvising on his product. He would go to any length to introduce new flavors and enhance his production. The brand was a passion for him. But as enquiries for franchises started coming in, he gave it a thought to expand and since then there has been no looking back. The first franchise outlets came in at Borivali,Malad,Andheri Lokhandwala, Bandra and Vile Parle. This was in 1994. It was in 2000 that we ventured out of Mumbai and had an outlet in Pune followed by one at Ahmedabad, Goa, Hyderabad and Bangalore.”
Following expansion, the company set-up a unit at Laxmi Industrial Estate with funds provided by Saraswat Bank. Some time later, another unit at Mira Road was set but owing to logistical and other problems, it was shifted to Charkop for sometime before opening a huge 22,000 sq.ft factory at Kandivali. Kamath meanwhile was also in the process of innovating various technique to be used to produce better quality products in less time and with less efforts. During the launch phase of the brand, the Custard Apple flavoured ice-cream had become an instant hit. This led to an unprecedented demand of this particular flavour but de-seeding the fruits posed a big problem. From the very beginning, Kamath always had this attitude of seeking help where needed and not having any reservations against it. He knew he was strong with his ideas but for execution he had to go and take professional help. For this particular task too, he knew exactly how the deseeding could be done but for the product development he went ahead to take professional help. Thus came into being a new machine that could deseed the fruit in no time and give an exceptional output. Kamath has also developed special packaging to keep his ice-cream intact for inter-city deliveries. The packaging is unique as it can hold more of the ice-cream in very little space.
Coming back to what makes Natural Ice-cream special, Srinivas Kamath adds, “Our product is deeply rooted in tradition and we use traditional methods to prepare our ice-cream. All the ingredients we use are almost completely natural and are sourced within the country. We do not use any preservatives, stabilizers and artificial colors or chemicals, which is why our ice-cream is delicious and wholesome. Also, our ice-cream contains less air which makes it rich and creamy.”
The passion that Kamath had for his product led him to experiment with many different flavours. What perhaps helped him was paying close attention to feed back from customers. Shares Pai, “A lot of our customer would travel abroad and then come to us and tell us about their various experiences. They would share with us the different flavours of ice-creams that they had come across. And this helped us a lot in our menu development activities.”
Joining the family business around two years back, Srinivas has brought with him a fresh perspective to make the brand more relevant to the changing preferences of consumers today. Elaborating on this, he says, “I want the youth to connect with our brand too. The target audience that patronizes our ice-cream now would fall in the category of middle age. We are in the process of a re-inventing ourselves in terms of extending a young image to ourselves. It shall take time as we are taking one step at a time beginning from training our staff across each of our 116 stores spread throughout the country. We basically work on the franchise model but no royalty fee is charged. All that we need is that the franchise designs his store through the third party architect that we have and maintains the uniform price structure that we have set for each of the city we are present in.” The concept that the brand follows is to have a sit-in attached to each of its outlet. Says Srinivas, “We want our customers to enjoy our product sitting at our parlors just like they would feel at ease sitting at a coffee shop.”
The brand has a long waiting list of franchisees waiting to partner with them across India and going by the ethics and principles the company follows; it is definitely not going to be an easy wait for all.