Your eight-minute hot meal!

Your eight-minute hot meal!

At 73, Radha Daga, founder of Triguni Foods which supplies Magic Upma to Indigo Airlines has shown that age is just a number. With her conviction, passion and courage, she has grown her business to a Rs. 8 crore company, which operates in full capacity. By FY16 she plans to double this capacity and come up with new recipes that will cater to housewives

Poornima Kavlekar

RADHA DAGA, FOUNDER, TRIGUNI FOODS

My meeting with Radha Daga is something I’d cherish for a long time. She started her entrepreneurial journey after her kids were considerably grown up. What started as an export garment business eventually led to a food business. What is inspirational about her is the fact that she impacted the lives of 100s of underprivileged women by giving them livelihood and dignity of labour. Her desire to achieve something and the clarity with which she led her organisation won her the startup entrepreneur of the year award from TiECON Chennai, last year. She is also a stickler to quality and consistency, which has been one of the key reasons for her entrepreneurial success.

Now, let’s delve into her journey. Daga entered the food business in 2012 with Triguni Foods, which owns and markets ready-to-eat meals under the brand name, Eze Eats. In fact, if you’re a frequent traveller in Indigo Airlines, you might have come across the brand Magic Upma! Sound familiar? It belongs to Triguni, except that on Indigo flights it has been positioned under this name (and as Eze Eats across retail outlets).

Since founding, the company has grown from Rs. one crore in revenues to around Rs. 8 crore (expected turnover) in FY15. Today, at 73 years of age, Daga has built the company with an employee base of around 100 and its clients include Indigo, Air Costa and institutions like Fun Cinema. The company also sells Eze Eats to some individuals abroad and in some retail outlets in Chennai, including Chennai airport.

Finding her footing

Daga always wanted do something on her own and started by assisting a friend with silk garment exports. Here, she learnt the nitty gritties of running a business and was proud of having zero rejects out of her factory.  Eventually, from her Aminjikarai factory she shifted to Tiruverkadu, Chennai in 2003. This factory was going strong till the European crisis happened. “One fine day, I realised that if I don’t enter the food business, I will go away from this world without having one of my dreams fulfilled,” recalls Daga. She wanted to enter jams business and even took up a course in Paris to learn the art of making jams. However, she understood the non-feasibility of the venture and gave up the idea. Then, she chanced upon dehydrated foods business in 2011 and hence, Triguni Foods was born. “I was a successful exporter. My balance sheet was always good. But still no one was willing to give the money. I put in the reserves from my garments business. Finally in 2013, May, Barclays Bank gave me money for plant and machinery. My family also invested some money,” says Daga, about her fund raising experience.

“I am not a food technologist but every product in the market has been created by me, of course my technical people fine tune it further,” says she. The company started with lemon rice, poha and rava kichdi and today it offers two categories of dehydrated foods; rice variety and mithai variety.  Its recipes for biriyai, bisibelabhath, pongal, tamarind rice, cheese rice, rava kesari, rice kheer, moong dal halwa and carrot halwa are from Daga herself. The products are dehydrated and then packed. “The process is different. The challenge is to get it absolutely right without it losing its aroma,” states Daga.

Hot water poured up to a certain point in the tub will make the product edible. “During the early days, our biggest issue was how to have the water marking. We cannot print it on plastic tubs. Then we decided to use paper tubs with a clip which will show the marking up to which the water has to be poured,” recalls Daga.  In December 2011, Daga identified a paper tub supplier in Mumbai who had a Chinese machine, which would print the artwork onto the tub.

The Indigo Magic

“Incidentally, this supplier, who had started working with us, sent our sample to Indigo. When they saw “hot food in 8 minutes” printed on the tub, they wanted to see our products,” recalls Daga. She continues, “They tasted the samples and liked our products. But the problem was in the marking inside the tub. They wanted us to remove the clip.” Daga changed the marking option on the tub and eventually, in April 2012, Indigo ordered 2,500 tubs of Biriyani and tamarind rice each. “I never pitched for it. It just happened,” reminisces she. Currently, almost 85 per cent to 90 per cent of the company’s turnover comes from Indigo.

With Indigo, the magic upma is a co-branding exercise. “When we launched this product, many food companies wanted us to do jobbing for them. But we were not interested in doing so,” says Daga.

Initially, her target audience were the students and housewives, but that never happened. “I thought my market was big. We used to go to campuses and dental colleges. People would taste and like it. Finally, we realised that it was expensive and not with in their reach,” says Daga.

A keen eye on quality 

“Quality has to be in the system at every step. More importantly, quality has to be with the person who is running the business. You demand quality, people will give you quality. If you are not interested, why will they do it?” opines Daga. The company has quality systems in place at every step; as a result everything is controlled, measured and certified. The company also has hygiene standards for people working for them and every department has certain quality standards that have to be adhered to.

The food (they pack) is tested at all times since there is a 48-hour gap between cooking and packaging it. First, it is tasted when it is cooked. Then, after dehydration, it goes through another check to determine if it cooks in eight minutes. It is particularly tested for flavour retention and to identify the dehydration standard.

Going forward

It plans to expand its capacity from the current 1.5 lakh to 3 lakh tubs by fiscal 2015 – 16. By then, Daga will also have created new recipes for her customers. The company is constantly upgrading its products and is coming out with a consumer item soon. “The housewives will soon have the Wow 2 minute vada. They need not cook and grind. They simply have to put it in normal water and make dahi, sambar or rasa vada,” says Daga.  This recipe has gone for patenting.

Going forward, given her age, Daga also wants to hand over the company to someone who can scale it to greater heights.  But, the fact remains that this is her dream company. “It is my expression, my dream. This is the business where the best of my capabilities have come out in terms of realising a dream of a quality product with highest standards and, a good investment with good set of people,” says Daga on a concluding note.


THINGS THAT AN ENTREPRENEUR SHOULD TAKE CARE OF TO MAKE HIS / HER VENTURE SUCCESSFUL: 

Have the passion. Else, you cannot succeed.

Never compromise on quality

Select a good team and be a motivator

Be prepared to work along with them. Until you do that, you can never understand their needs.

Once you know the standards you want, aim to reach that and do not compromise on that

Plan a good flow and systems to work

Have proper checks at each step

Regularly interact with staff and workers

Respect and have a good relationship with your suppliers

Product floor must have every equipment needed

Ensure that everything that goes out of your company is up to the standard that you want.


 

DOES AGE MATTER WHEN IT COMES TO ENTREPRENEURSHIP? 

“It does not matter as long as you have an inner strength and conviction to make your dream manifest. If you have a passion for something and you want to do it, you will do it. But be ready to fight things out at every stage as it is not going to be a bed of roses. But if you have clarity in your thoughts I am sure you will succeed. There will always be someone to help and guide you”

Air Costa Barclays Bank dehydrated foods Indigo Airlines ready-to-eat meals Triguni Foods

Poornima Kavlekar has been associated with The Smart CEO since the time of launch and is the Consulting Editor of the magazine. She has been writing for almost 20 years on a cross section of topics including stocks and personal finance and now, on entrepreneurship and growth enterprises. She is a trained Yoga Teacher, an avid endurance Cyclist and a Veena player.