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“Around October business to be closer to last year figures”
Monday, 24 August, 2020, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Being in the ice cream industry for more than 35 years, Naturals has 126 outlets across the country. They have recently launched state-of-the-art factory in Mumbai. In 1984, the company set up its first outlet at Juhu Scheme, Mumbai. The production of ice cream happened behind the shop daily till 1990. Over the years, they opened more outlets across the country. The company is India’s or probably world’s largest traditional/artisan ice cream maker with production reaching peak to 25 tonne in a day - in the course consuming over 32,000 litre of milk per day and around 15,000 tender coconuts per day. It is deeply rooted in tradition and uses conventional methods to make ice cream.

The company was also featured amongst top 10 home-grown brands in India by KPMG Consumer survey and awarded as Icons of India. Siddhant Kamath, director, Kamaths Ourtimes Ice Creams Pvt. Ltd, shares his views on the effect of the pandemic on ice cream industry, ensuring safety in their factory and products, expansion plans and so on, in an email interaction with Vijetha Iyer. Excerpts:

How has the pandemic affected the ice cream industry?
 Covid-19 has impacted a lot as 50% revenue comes from the Summer Season (3   months), which we have completely lost. Post that walk-in would drop at parlours accounting for low sales.

How is your company different from that of competitors?
The company has grown substantially due to its originality and the USP of using only three ingredients in its ice cream, which are fruits, milk and sugar. This makes us way different from any other competitor in the market.

How are you going to overcome the losses, which you faced in the first quarter?
 As per our forecasting we expect around October business to normalise or be closer to last year figures.

Since the pandemic, people have this fear of getting unwell after consuming ice cream. What is your view on the same?
Yes, there was false speculation of avoiding ice creams during lockdown which was later clarified by WHO and IICMA (Indian Ice Cream Manufacturers Association), the false news impacted sales in early days of lockdown.At present, we are getting back on track as guests have understood this was a rumour mongering all along.

How are you going to ensure safety in your products?
We started only with sealed packs, which are directly filled at our factory in a safe environment and delivered to our stores and then to our customers through contactless delivery option. We are limiting human contact as much as possible. We have also come up with a sleeve (additional layer) that shall be on our packs with one of a kind “paper soap”. We want to educate safe and hygienic opening and consummation of our ice creams as well.

How are you training your staff to work safely under the new circumstances?
We are screening our employees with fitness certificate before resuming at work at factory & outlet level. Our first priority is to ensure safety of our entire stakeholders. Hence, we are operating our manufacturing plant and retail parlours with minimum staff strength to ensure maximum safety measures with appropriate social distancing norms as per WHO guidelines. Also, we have invested in training during lockdown, we have FoSTaC certified members in each store.

What are the precautions taken while delivering the ice cream during this pandemic?  
Our mission now is “Starting Late to Start Afresh” meaning we are completely starting afresh in all our processes after the lockdown keeping safety as an utmost priority even if we are starting late. We are facing logistical hiccups at the moment due to the Covid-19 lockdown; as a result we have taken the call to reduce our overall menu to limit to 8 flavours only and also only using tubs as a product line to make it safe & convenient for our employees, franchise partners and guests. Also, we are opening our outlets in phases right now; our ice cream tubs can be delivered through contactless delivery through Swiggy & Zomato only.

How do you de-seed the fruits with the new machine which you developed?
We have proprietary machines designed specific for us and each fruit. It is fabricated in-house. We won’t be able to share specific however, all our de-seeding equipment are semi-automatic and made in small batches.

Tell us about your recently launched state-of-the-art factory in Mumbai.
We moved to our current facility in 2009 (then 25,000 sq ft) and slowly expanded by merging nearby plots. Currently our plant is operating on 34,000 sq ft plot.

How much time do you think it would take to fully recover from the impact of the lockdown and the pandemic?
We started our operations last week and we have received positive signs of recovery in the market. We expect by October we shall be back to growth mode.

What are your plans with respect to expansion, diversification, and collaboration and so on?
We are considering expansion and diversification; however it’s too early to comment. As of now we are accessing the response and work towards normalisation. We had few stores in pipeline under renovation. We shall plan to open few in phased manner soon.

Are you going to launch any new variety of ice cream?
Yes, we are planning R&D at the moment and we shall plan to launch soon. We are working on innovation in our packaging as well in order to further ensure safe and easy home consumption.
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