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By TPCI | October 4, 2019

While it is well entrenched into the Indian institutional market and prevailing in a fiercely competitive retail space, VR Industries is also satiating the demand for cereals in the Middle East & Nepal. Today, VRI is the only Indian food company to have the maximum range of breakfast cereals produced in-house, and plans to expand its presence in Southeast Asia, East Europe and Africa.

With quality, hygiene and customer satisfaction as their self-professed success mantras, VR Industries has built a strong presence in the industry with its two flagship brands viz., 8am and Golden Gate. Known to produce, process and package high-quality breakfast cereals, premium quality nuts and healthy snacks, VRI also dwells into a range of FMCG products like detergents & toiletries under the brand name 'Admiral'.

Talking about the company’s expansion with constant innovation and quality enhancement, Mr. Vishal Bakshi, MD, VRI, speaks to IndusFood on various trends, challenges and opportunities in the industry.

IndusFood: What was the inspiration behind VR Industries when it was founded? How did the business launch and evolve in the initial years? What has been the entire growth story?
Vishal Bakshi: The inspiration was to get into a category with fewer players at that time – 10 to 12 years ago. Breakfast cereals had a niche market but it was growing with consumers trying the products for the first time and slowly willing to accept them.

There was a change noticed in their breakfast consumption behavior. Being an Indian company (small scale industry), we thought it was a good idea to get into a segment, which caters to the hunger of the health conscious millennials. However, the launch, as in any other business, was not easy. Every business in its initial phase goes through its own challenges and we were no exception. From brand creation to ensuring acceptance and building brand loyalty, the journey had been long but fruitful.

The growth story has been interesting because we started off with a single product – cornflakes. Over a period of time, we added the entire breakfast cereal range under our portfolio. Initially, we were outsourcing but soon we established our own manufacturing units. We started with selling to institutions and then expanded our presence across retail stores not only in India but also abroad. Due to our high quality standards, we were approached by many big brands for their private label. Now, we also manufacture for 4-5 big brands.

IndusFood: What were the major challenges to growth and expansion and how did you meet them?
VB: The major challenge for growth and expansion – retail. We are a small profit-making company trying to take shelf space of competing brands owned by big multi-national companies having deep pockets. We are a bootstrapped firm and keep investing our own funds and earnings into purchase of machinery, expanding infrastructure, marketing, branding, publicity, etc. So, these challenges are always there but we’ve been able to meet them cautiously. Until now, there has not been any major regret.

Domestically, we are in NCR region, we are also down South and the East.  We are one of the biggest breakfast cereal suppliers to Canteen Stores Department (CSD), which is a major market and client for us. We are proud to be associated with them for more than a decade. With the presence of brands such as Kelloggs and Nestle in CSD, we contribute a significant amount of product portfolio as well as market share.

IndusFood: What transformational changes has the business undergone, since its inception in terms of product portfolio/innovations, reach, brand equity, etc.
VB: The biggest transformational change has been enhancement of our product portfolio. We now have the largest range of breakfast cereals manufactured in-house, and have also expanded into other healthy food products. From a modest start with Cornflakes, today we have Muesli, Oats, Instant Porridge, Soya, a range of Nuts – Peanuts, Chickpeas, Roasted Cashews & Almonds in different flavors, Trail Mix, Roasted Seeds and the most recent is our fray into Indian breakfast products like Upma & Poha.

IndusFood: How has the brand progressed on the international front? What are the key export markets you are targeting for your products and why (domestic and international)?
VB: Yes, the brand has progressed on the international front. The key market for our products is the Middle East – our products are present in UAE, Bahrain, Doha and Qatar, as also neighboring countries like Nepal and soon will be present in South-East Asia. Going forward, we are keen to establish our product presence in Africa and East Europe.

IndusFood: How do you see the growth in the food and agro processing industry from India? How is it expected to reflect on the exports front?
VB: Well, I see a huge opportunity, as India’s agriculture production is high and therefore raw material is available at competitive prices. Apart for self-consumption, there is a huge opportunity to process agro products and export. I think we need some more support from the government in terms of export policies viz. incentives and taxation.

IndusFood: How do you plan to expand in the near future? Any new product launch planned or product innovation that you might want to share?
VB: We would like to expand with constant innovation and quality enhancement. We have been getting a lot of proposals from some top brands of the country who are now wanting to get into the cereal segment. By virtue of our quality and infrastructure we have created an Indian company; they have all shown very keen interest to partner with us for giving them quality products and manufacturing for them. So, we definitely see ourselves expanding in terms of infrastructure – plant & machinery, R&D and by providing employment to some of the best resources available in the country.

As far as new products are concerned, we are focusing on Millets. Millets have high nutrition value and energy content. Therefore, we are trying to develop millet protein shakes in multiple flavours to cater to the health conscious consumer.

IndusFood: Can you please name some products that needs shelf space and marketing attention?
VB: India is a huge consumer of snacks (namkeen), however they are not one of the healthiest options. Edible seeds and trail mixes are high on nutrition value and therefore these products should be marketed aggressively, highlighting their benefits and encouraging consumers to shift towards healthy eating.

IndusFood: Have you participated in IndusFood earlier? Please share your experience. Is there any product to be launched in IndusFood’s upcoming fixture in 2020?
VB: Yes we did participate in IndusFood. It was a great experience and I think we shall be launching our millet protein shakes in 2020.

IndusFood: What is your take on IndusFood launching IndusFood-Tech and IndusFood-Chem as brand extensions? How will it help the industry?
VB: The initiative taken by IndusFood is a welcome move.  Together with IndusFood-Tech and IndusFood-Chem, it can help drive synergies between manufacturing technologies and product innovation, under one roof. During the exhibition, one can connect with specialists in the areas of ingredients, technology and manufacturing.