Could you give me a brief introduction about yourself?
I am Ambika Ghuge. Since my father had a transferrable job, I had travelled quiet a lot across India and I also lived a couple of years abroad. Most of my schooling was from Delhi. I completed my bachelors in Economics degree from Miranda House College, Delhi. After that, I was selected for Young India Fellowship of Ashoka University in 2012.I didn’t study further. I was always primarily interested in food industry throughout my life. During YIF, I did a consulting project for 8-months with Alchemist Food Limited which is an integrated poultry business in North-India. Simultaneously, I co-founded a poultry business in Kalanahandy district of Orissa with my husband in 2012. He was working in Delhi with the ministry of defence, but wanted to go back to his place (he hails from Orissa) and start something of his own. That is how our business started.
How did this dream start? What do you think is my inspiration?
I have been interested in food all my life. When you are in school it is all about gobbling food. Going ahead you realise that you can make out a career out of something you are obsessed with. It is also important to understand that, it a very typical mindset of people that if you are educated you should settle with a white-collar job. May be doing the white-collar job will earn you more 1 lakh rupees a month. But I have understood that if you run your own tiny bakery properly also you can earn 4-lakhs a month and you are also doing something you are passionate about; providing consumers quality products and making money out of it. I don’t have any hang-ups, in fact I am an open minded person and love to get my hands dirty. This interest in doing something of my own is my driving force. We could have started-off with anything in the food industry but I like non-vegetarian meat especially chicken. Our initial idea was to start a restaurant based on chicken but we thought first we will learn to how to produce that product.
As I have understood you have noexperience in business but high-passion. How did you gain expertise in the field of business as well as food industry?
After my stint with the Alchemist Food Limited, I was working with a restaurant consultancy company for one-and-a-half-years. I wanted an introduction to the food industry since I am new to this field; from the back-end of food production to the front-end of food retailing. I underwent a lot of business development training as well as did a lot of market research. I got a really good overview of restaurants and food services. After that, I came back and by that time the business was set up by my husband in terms of construction and infrastructure and also business had already started to roll and was in the fourth month. For the last two years we have been busy stabilising the business in terms of efficiency. Last year, we started our own retail chains and our feedinal is where we produce our own feed for chicken. Now the business is stabilised and we are looking for expansion. Our website is www.freshchick.co.in
How did you get the funding for the business?
In the poultry business we invested a lot of our own money. We needed a funding of 2.5 crores. Half of the money we got was as loan on mortgaging our lands. Rest of the money from our savings and borrowing from friends and family etc. So we put in a lot of money into the business. But the best thing about business is that you can also start-off with less money too. Our capacity was 3000 birds in one month, but you can also start with 5000 birds a month or 1000 birds a month. You will easily get loan from banks if you have land. Especially in rural areas people have lot of lands as compared to in urban areas. Then slowly you can grow your business.
Tell us about the services you provide and also how you operate?
We only produce broiler chicken and we have our own poultry feedinal where we produce our own feed. We have retail outlets across Kalahandy district. The Kalahandy district has some urban centres. We have our retail outlets there to cater to the needs of these areas. This just accounts for 20% percent of our business remaining 80% are predominantly in the rural areas. We sell across the districts we have. We have our rural distribution hub run by our network of micro-entrepreneurs. The population is predominantly the tribal groups and among them the demand for meat is high. That is how we operate.
How is your experience so far? Is your business faring well? Did you get your investment back?
The first two years we faced a lot of challenges because both of us were inexperienced and also partly because in the year 2015 the poultry market was a bit dull. But this year we are faring well. For big investment like this it will take at least 3-4 years to get your initial investment back.
What were the challenges you faced operating from a rural area?
Initially we faced a lot of technical problems. We attended so many training sessions but we didn’t have a lot year’s experience with us. Especially the veterinary services here were so pathetic because it a very rural area. We had to self-learn everything. We committed a lot of financial mistakes, in terms of planning. And also in rural areas you won’t get a lot of good service. You won’t get chartered accountants or lawyers easily. Your bankers will not give you good feed back because for them Kalahandy is a punishment posting. Lack of experience cost us a lot money in the first two years. But now we are fine.
But there is another aspect to it. My district, Kalahandy, is one of the poorest in India. People think there is not much things that you can do in these places but in fact there is a lot of potential. Consumers have also travelled and is aware that they need good products. But there is no supply of such products. For a product like food, which is everyone’s priority everywhere, there is a lot of potential even in small towns.
What are your marketing strategies?
We have different strategies for rural and urban centres. For urban centres we spread our pamphlets and hoardings. As for the pricing, we sell it Rs.20-30 less than the normal market price. These are very small towns and word spread fast. We grow our chicken very well and our retail outlets are very well maintained.
In the rural areas, we have invested in our logistics because they are not easy to access. We have our own delivery vehicles and delivery employees. We nurture our micro-entrepreneurs by giving them technical and credit support. The kinds of products we sell are very easy to sell. Even if you market it will sell by putting up a stall on the roadside. What matters is the quality and efficiency of our products and services. We keep the price low so that the consumer will get attracted. We use high-quality feed and we maintain our farm with high-standard methods. One of the best marketing and publicity feature of our product is the taste of our chicken. This is because of the high standards of production we maintain.
What are your future plans?
We are looking forward to invest in high-technology water efficient fisheries because East-India is a drought prone area and also there is lot of demand for fish. Fish comes primarily from other states like Andhra. We also want to grow the number of weekend outlets we currently have. I am also going to Delhi to intern in L’Opera for one month, which is one of the best pastry manufacturers of India and since I have a plan to open a Bakery too. And yes , we basically want to stick with food.
What do you have to say to aspire rural graduates who want to become successful business entrepreneurs like you?
I have lived in Kalahandy for three-years, which is very rural place. It is primary an area having an agricultural background. I see a lot of youth in the age group of 20-25 years who have a graduation degree but are waiting for years to land in a white-collar job. They have lot of inhibitions. Their mentality is that “we are educated, why do we do farming” “we want to sit in an A/C office” etc. But they don’t think beyond regular farming, like high-quality organic farming and earn crores of money. So they have a lot of hang-ups like we cannot do farming, we cannot open a small restaurant. It is not about opening a restaurant it is about how well you manage it. If you run it well, it will definitely become a good business. But the only thing is they should be passionate about it. Sometimes even families pull them back by saying that these are all second-grade jobs. Our family also tried to pull us back but we didn’t budge. People don’t realise it. Their mental barrier is the biggest problem and this should be overcome. People should start to think with an open mind.