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By TPCI | September 24, 2019

With a grand vision, undying faith and focus on quality standards of the highest order, brand Lal Qilla has risen toi new heights and emerged as an undisputed leader in the global rice market. Established in 1901, Amar Singh Chawal Wala, the owner of Brand Lal Qilla, is one of the largest rice manufacturing companies of India today and has its products certified in 70 countries. Backed by a team of visionaries and committed professionals the company has carved a niche for itself and is set for a growth of 40-50% in the coming future. Organic products are now a major focus area, as are new markets like Yemen and Iraq.

Mr. Arvinder Pal Singh, a man with dynamic leadership abilities and strategic thinking, who joined his family business in 1986 is taking a 119 yr-old legacy ahead. In this interview with IndusFood, Mr. Arvinder Pal Singh, Owner, Amar Singh Chawal Wala (ASCW) - House of Lal Qilla, shares his journey so far and the upcoming expansions and strategies for exports.

IndusFood: Lal Qilla has attained recognition as a brand across global markets. How and when did the company originate and how has it evolved?
Arvinder Pal Singh: ASCW was born out of the vision of Late S. Amar Singh who started this company from a wholesale shop in the grain market at Amritsar. He wanted the world to taste and enjoy the Pride of India: The Original Indian Basmati Rice. With this mission in his heart, Amar Singh Chawal Wala (ASCW), a rice company was established in the early 1900’s, which has blossomed into the multi-crore enterprise that it is today.

In the early 1950’s, Mr. Kartar Singh, the eldest son of S. Amar Singh, joined him with a mission in his heart to make ASCW a leading global company. He felt the need to promote branded/packaged rice and started the business of milling, processing and marketing of branded basmati rice under the flagship of Lal Qilla.

Furthermore, Mr. Pritam Singh joined his elder brother Mr. Kartar Singh in 1956, with the vision that a triumph can be achieved with a small beginning. Undying faith and unshakable confidence are the milestones to reach the highest peak. In line with this mission, both the brothers took Lal Qilla to new heights and emerged as the undisputed market leader in Basmati rice.

It was in 1986 when I had joined my family business with the principle of serving only the best quality Basmati to the world. Backed by a team of visionaries, world-class technology and committed professionals, we started the export of the premium rice qualities and the flagship product Lal Qilla scaled new heights in the domestic as well as international market.

IndusFood: What has been the story behind the moniker “Lal Qilla”?
Arvinder Pal Singh: In 1963, we had set up our own rice mill. We processed two major brands during those days; one coated in red color and the other in orange color. So, owing to the colors of the coats, we had named the rice brand as Golden Temple. But, eventually, it was the picture of the Red Fort that we had used in the packaging of these two brands, which made the customers recognize the brand with the name “Lal Qilla” for red coated rice and “Golden Qilla” for the orange coated rice, automatically. This generated the name “Lal Qilla”.

Although, we have both the brands even today, we had focused more on Lal Qilla as a brand over the years.

IndusFood: You have a plethora of products to enrich your showcase. Can you please give us further details on your product portfolio?
Arvinder Pal Singh: Lal Qilla Basmati rice being a rich and unforgettable blend of tradition and exotic produce, optimizes the spirit of a unique and incredible India. We bring the finest of basmati rice to the global palate by bringing unbridled joy to the faces of millions of our consumers worldwide.

The world’s most relished Basmati rice is cultivated on the foothills of the Himalayas. The soil and climate of the region account for the unique aroma, taste and texture of basmati rice. The word ‘Basmati’ comes from the Hindi language, meaning ‘Queen of Fragrance’. Basmati has a fine aromatic flavour with long and slender grains. Its perfumed, nutlike flavor and its aroma can be attributed to the fact that the grain is aged to decrease its moisture content. When cooked, it swells only lengthwise, thereby resulting in long slender grains that are dry, separate and fluffy.

We are currently doing a variety of rice ranging from basmati to brown rice to organic, all under our Lal Qilla brand and we export it across the globe. Apart from that, we have also started manufacturing mustard oil, which is majorly for exports and not for domestic business. We export it to Canada, USA, Europe and Australia. Similarly, we have also come up with a very good brand known as Lal Qilla - Fried Onion. We are getting it manufactured in Holland and it is being distributed in the US, Canada and some European markets.

IndusFood: What has been the role of R&D in your business success?
Arvinder Pal Singh: Our research and development is often scientific and oriented towards reducing the cost of production as well as enhancing the quality of rice by scientific milling and ageing like wine to achieve best cooking results. So, the fact that ageing plays an important role in the quality of basmati rice is our major R&D. Therefore, as compared to other rice brands, our rice can absorb more water due to its proper aging. So, in our products, customers would get around 10-15% of higher yield after cooking.

We at Lal Qilla including our farmers have always worked hard and tried to give the best to our customers in order to live up to their expectations and go even far above that. Awareness and technical know-how is provided to the farmers in the form of workshops held for them so that they can get information on how to increase the output by using better quality seeds and new methods of cultivation.

Launching of new variants and improving the quality of existing variants has been our primary concern. Thus, we have evolved different varieties suitable for every Indian pocket as well as the overseas market. Moreover, with the years of hard work, we have developed a variety suitable for diabetes and obesity under our Lal Qilla brand.

With years of research, Amar Singh Chawal Wala feels proud to introduce specially processed parboiled rice with low G.I. Special techniques during cultivation and processing are being used to maintain the low G.I. levels. This is a remarkable research by our R&D department to help rice lovers having diabetes to maintain their low G.I. levels, when used in moderate quantities.

Further, with an efficient and hardworking Research and Development team, we are heading towards a better future by putting in immense efforts to bring something new to our systems.

IndusFood: How do you ensure maintenance of highest standards of quality of your products?
Arvinder Pal Singh: Amar Singh Chawal Wala is an ISO 22000, APEDA and HACCP certified leading manufacturer in India of the Purest and Best Quality of Basmati Rice in our various brands.

The basmati crop is grown under complete natural conditions and climate of the Himalayan foothills. Cultivation is carefully observed, and quality improvement measures are suggested, right from seed quality upgrading to application of crop protection techniques. During the milling process, it is aged for a considerable period of time to obtain the best cooking results and natural aroma.

Our procurement program is geared towards giving our farmers a ready market for their paddy and at the same time offering them a better return of investments. ASCW does the procurement of paddy in a scientific way with a lot of research work behind it. Before procurement, each and every lot is being thoroughly checked by drawing samples from different areas and is being tested in our hi-tech laboratories for various parameters to ensure that the ready product delivered to our customers fully satisfies their needs. A special identification code is given to every procured lot for maintaining full traceability of the basmati rice packed for Lal Qilla and other brands.

Located in the historical city of Amritsar, Punjab, two hi-tech rice mills of ASCW produce the best quality of basmati rice with a capacity of around 500 metric tons in a day. Both plants have the facility of producing white rice, steamed rice and parboiled rice with state-of-the-art machinery to ensure consistency in every grain. To ensure our commitment to the environment, we also use rice husk (residue of paddy milling) for producing power, which partially fulfills our energy requirements.

IndusFood: How do you plan to expand this portfolio? What are the new growth opportunities you are looking at?
Arvinder Pal Singh: In the next five years, we expect a growth of 40-50%. Worth mentioning, we are not concentrating on volumes, but are mainly focused on the quality of the rice. We are a quality producer and not a volume producer of rice and will continue focusing on the same in the near future. We strive hard and ensure that we provide the top quality of basmati in the market.

As I told you, we have also launched our other products such as mustard oil, soya chunks and fried onions, but currently we do it in a very small volume. However, we plan to expand our presence in these segments also and develop a bigger market for the same.

Another major area where we plan to take a plunge is the organic produce market. We have done a lot of research work to reduce the usage of pesticide, since the past few years. We are already doing pesticide-free rice. We find huge demand for the same in the overseas market. But in the near future, we plan to come up with Lal Qilla Organic Brand. We see a very good demand of organic rice in developed countries like Europe, USA, Canada and Australia as people are much more health conscious there.

Even in India, consumers are very food conscious. They don’t mind to pay a little higher price for organic pesticide free produces. Thus, organic is one of the upcoming premium segments of the market. Thus, we plan to launch our Organic Lal Qilla Rice in the domestic and the export market as well. We are already in the process of getting certifications from the authorities. So, once we are done with it, our organic products will be there on the boards. 

IndusFood: How has your business progressed in the international market? What are the key products/markets that have potential for you and why?
Arvinder Pal Singh: We are exclusive exporters of our Lal Qilla brand. Not a single grain other than Lal Qilla is exported by us, today. Products like Lal Qilla Silverline, Lal Qilla Whiteline, Lal Qilla Traditional, the Qilla series, the series of Golden Qilla, etc. are our star sellers in the overseas market. With our consistent efforts, we have got registered with at least 70 countries of the world today. Moreover, we are selling it to almost 85 countries across the globe. Europe, Asia, Africa, and Middle East are the major regions where we export our products.

Interestingly, we have seen great success in introducing Basmati Rice in some of the most difficult and toughest markets across the globe. Countries like Kenya in Africa, where Basmati was never even sold, have seen good demands for Lal Qilla. Thailand, which is a major rich rice producing country, also imports our Lal Qilla Basmati rice. We have also shipped orders to some remote areas of the globe. To name a few, we have exported our Lal Qilla brand to distant and non-developed areas of Mauritania and Equatorial Guinea in Africa. In the near future, we look forward to focus more on Yemen and Iraq, as we envisage these to be upcoming markets.

We have around 90% of supply of Lal Qilla in the export market and 100% in the domestic market. We have been able to register an yearly growth of around 10-15% in the export and domestic business as well. With this we have managed to incur a decent credit rating of A+ from CRISIL India.

IndusFood: How do you see organic food industry growth in the coming years? What is India’s potential in this segment and how can it be achieved?
Arvinder Pal Singh: Export of organically made products, both food and non-food, is likely to grow threefold by 2020, following the government’s relaxation on quota limits. Through a notification dated April 19, the Directorate General of Foreign Trade liberalized the quantitative restrictions on export of certified organic products. According to APEDA, the overall market of Rs 4,000 crore under the organic value chain would hit Rs. 10,000 to 12,000 crore by 2020, with similar increase in export.

With around 50% of market share, America is the biggest market for global organic produce, worth around US$ 80 billion. Area under organic certification in India is low as compared to USA.

However, you cannot convert 100% rice produced into organic, as you need the necessary amount of yield to supply also. But, yes, of-course, the organic sector is coming up like anything and this is a premium sector. Apart, from this, as it also aids in the health of the customers, organic produce and its market is set to bloom. We see a double digit growth in this segment in the near future.

IndusFood: Can you please name some products that need shelf space and marketing attention?
Arvinder Pal Singh: Brown rice is one such product, which has been ignored for so long! It has such a good combination of Thiamin, vitamins and other essential elements, which are rarely available in any food. We at Lal Qilla have also come up with a 1 kg jar packing of brown rice and also a quick-cooking version of the same. As brown rice takes time for cooking since the grains are harder, we have developed a system, where the brown rice is cooked faster because we do a special treatment to the brown rice while retaining the bran layer. This makes the rice easy-to-cook.

IndusFood: Have you participated in IndusFood earlier? Please share your experience. Is there any product you plan to launch in IndusFood’s upcoming fixture in 2020?
Arvinder Pal Singh: We had participated in the last edition of IndusFood, and are happy to mention that we are again participating in the exhibition this year. It was amazing for me to see IndusFood as such a huge and very well organized food trade fair. Organizing a show like IndusFood in India, is something which was beyond our expectations. And, in fact, that is why we are participating again this year. The way IndusFood promotes the exhibitors and motivates the buyers to engage and attend the show is just phenomenal and really appreciable. I think, this show is one of its kind in India for the food industry, which I had never heard of earlier, not even for other industries.