Natural Ice Cream, one of the most popular ice-cream brands among people all over the city began as a small, single store that now has a huge number of franchise outlets and the brand is a runaway success. It currently has 89 franchise outlets across West and South India: 47 in Mumbai, 29 in the neighbouring urban clusters of Navi Mumbai, Thane and Pune, and the rest scattered across select cities of Maharashtra and neighbouring states. Ten more will be opened in the current financial year. Natural's revenues have grown from Rs 14 Lakh in 1986 to Rs 40 crore in 2010/11.
Established in 1984, Natural ice cream started as a 300-sq-ft ice cream parlour at Juhu, in Mumbai. This idea was conceptualised by Mr. R S Kamath, CMD of Kamaths Ourtimes ice creams Pvt. Ltd. The store at Juhu has been renovated and expanded repeatedly, and is now more than three times its original size. "It is a landmark in the area," says a beaming Kamath.
It all began after Kamath broke away from his elder brother's ice cream business, Gokul Ice Cream, in 1983. "I took my share of the inheritance and set up Natural," says Kamath. From the start he was at enormous pains to keep to quality - a trait he maintains till today. "Machine-made fruit ice cream needs additional artificial flavours and colouring in the final product," says Kamath. "That is something that I fundamentally disagree with." Kamath, who from the start involved himself in every aspect of manufacture and distribution, says he has experimented with 60 different kinds of fruit.
Naturals has been the leader in manufacturing ice creams using only fruits, dry fruits, chocolates, milk and sugar without any preservatives or stabilizers. Seasonal fruits are bought in bulk daily from the market, with only the best quality ones being chosen. The extracted pulp is heated, to get rid of unwanted bacteria, and then stored in aluminium-sealed packages.
The atmosphere at the factory is taut and business like. "We handle eight hours of high pressure to produce 14 tonnes of ice cream daily so that others can cool off," says Girish Pai, who heads both retail and production. "I credit my team entirely for the brand's ever growing popularity," Pai adds.
To ensure the quality of their product they have a single manufacturing hub located in another Mumbai suburb, Kandivali. Every morning, a fleet of trucks rolls out from the factory carrying the ice cream to all the Natural outlets, thus ensuring quality is not compromised. However the measures Natural uses to enforce quality control, might be somewhat obstructing their expansion plans as Natural's trucks can cover only a finite distance. This explains why Natural's outlets are largely in Western India, and it has no outlet yet in the national capital, despite the obvious business opportunity Delhi presents. "The National Capital Region has remained an elusive destination," admits Pai.
Natural officials revealed that plans are afoot for a major change in operational strategy. The man responsible is Kamath's son, Srinivas, who was inducted into the business in 2009. Srinivas, 27, believes that since it is dealing in perishable products such as ice cream, Natural has to set up manufacturing units in other locations, if it wants to keep expanding.
Srinivas wants to set up 'mega shops' in faraway cities and towns, which will both manufacture Natural ice cream and sell it. "Raw material will be supplied from here, as well as trained workers who will make the ice cream at the mega shops," says Srinivas. "Frozen, non-perishable fruit pulp and processed milk can be stored for a maximum of four days without harm. That is enough time to transport them to wherever the mega shops are opened."
To expand further, Natural now intends to start more manufacturing hubs, the first one in Chandigarh later this financial year, Natural is in no hurry to get to Delhi, but it has big plans when it does. "Delhi is a very big market. To meet its demand, we'll have to double our existing capacity," says Pai. Natural's ambitions go even further. "Our founder wants Delhi to be the launch pad for Natural's global ventures, especially in West Asia," he adds.