Our focus is on creating categories that will be important for the future: Sanjana Desai
Our focus is on creating categories that will be important for the future: Sanjana Desai

SANJANA DESAI, Executive Director, Mother’s Recipe - Desai Foods Private Limited, talks of the brand’s transformation in terms of imagery and product portfolio, spike in demand during the pandemic and future plans

Tell us about your entry into the family business and how you have seen it evolve.

I joined our family business in 2010, when I was 23 years old. My Dad had always been very encouraging of my choices, but he gave me one important piece of advice: ‘First learn how to read your accounts’. His advice struck a chord, and I went on to pursue a business degree with a double major in Finance, Economics with a minor in International Business from Bryant University, USA. After business school, I learnt everything about the business that I could from my Dad. I work hard every day on becoming a better leader. They say ‘lack of listening’ is like the common cold among leaders. It is important to be observant at all times, listening to your stakeholders, both internal and external. It helps you gain respect and loyalty from your team.

What has been the impact of COVID-19 on your business operations in terms of consumer behaviour, demand and sales, and how are you dealing with it?

Though demand has increased, our factories are only partially functional as raw material, packaging material and labour availability are limited. The biggest challenge at the moment is the supply chain - transport, logistic issues and manpower. We have seen a significant rise in consumption of our packaged ethnic food products as most people prefer to cook at home during the pandemic. Also, online sales from last year have gone up to about 7% of the total sales from 2% before the COVID-19 period. Apart from our shopping website www.mothersrecipe.com, we have partnered with all major e-commerce players, including Flipkart, Big Basket, Milkbasket, Grofers and others. We are focusing on our key SKUs for production, sales and marketing.

An important lesson learnt from the pandemic is that work from home, despite its benefits, tends to become tedious after a while. Maintaining the same degree of dedication is challenging in the home environment. We have organised live sessions to keep our employees motivated and allow them to showcase their talent.

What are the challenges before the packaged instant food products industry, and 'ready-to-cook’ (RTC) segment?

People perceive Ready to Cook foods as having preservatives and being unhealthy; however, none of our RTC gravy mixes have any preservative, artificial colours or MSG. We make them using the best recipes, high quality spices and sautéed onions, tomatoes, etc. We have over 15 variants of RTC dishes including egg curry (just add boiled eggs), shahi paneer (just add paneer) and paneer tikka masala (just add paneer). The biggest challenge and struggle for the RTC category is masalas – how do you prove the value of biryani RTC over biryani masala, for example? People compare the price of masala to RTC, without understanding that RTC is a complete mix. Another competitor is ‘outside food’, the whole Swiggy-Zomato option that people have, over making the same dish themselves at home, using RTC products.

What next from Mother’s Recipe in terms of new products and expansion plans?

In 2021, we will be focusing on strengthening our paste category by introducing a new and innovative variant. Also, we will launch hand-made papads with more varieties. We also have plans to introduce complementary products in the chutney category to ensure that our customers use safer products made with quality ingredients in the most hygienic way and continue to cook at home. We recently launched Szechwan chutney which marks the foray into sauces under our Recipe brand. Growth for the branded, packaged food business has been huge across channels; our biggest spike was in general trade, followed by e-commerce. The brand has transformed both in terms of imagery and product portfolio. Mother’s Recipe as a brand was synonymous with pickle. Over the years, we have expanded our product portfolio to meet changing consumer tastes and demands. Our focus is on creating categories that will be important for the future. We are focusing our upcoming new launches on millennials.

Tell us about yourself beyond the ambit of work – what are you looking forward to personally at this point?

Beyond the realm of work, I am quite a fitness freak. I strongly believe that a healthy work-life balance helps one to be more productive. No matter how long the day has been, I make it a point to dig out some ‘me’ time by practising martial arts and yoga every day. When I’m not working, I enjoy travelling; there’s a lot we can learn in each new city or country of travel. It’s very inspiring.

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