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“Major cost incurrence in developing processes to maintain quality”
Monday, 31 August, 2020, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
‘Sprig’, one of India’s top providers of gourmet products and ingredients, has witnessed a robust increase in the demand for gourmet products as lockdown and self quarantine due to Covid-19 have people prefer home cooking as opposed to ordering from restaurants. Ashok Mani, MD and CEO of Intergrow Brands Pvt. Ltd, in an email Interview with Kimberley Fernandes, expressed his views and observations on the increased appetite for home-cooked global cuisines. Excerpts:.
Tell us about your company's product portfolio. What type of research goes into the development of these products?
Intergrow Brands is a subsidiary of Synthite Industries (world’s largest exporter of Spice Oleoresins).  Established in 1972, Synthite has been a partner of choice to Global MNCs in FMCG and food manufacturing.  Intergrow’s aim is to develop a deep understanding of consumer needs in food & related products, develop the same and deliver to the customers through effective marketing practices.

Sprig is the gourmet foods brand under Intergrow. Sprig was launched 6 years back and has been the go-to brand for niche gourmet ingredients which range from Natural Bourbon Vanilla Extract from Madagascar, Imbued Honeys, Cold-crafted Green Tea, Lacto fermented sauces etc.
By virtue of legacy with Synthite, Intergrow/Sprig has been early adopter of a variety of cutting edge technology in food processing like – Supercritical Fluid- based extraction, Chemical Solvent-free extraction , Lacto-fermentation , Cold-crafting etc.

The food and beverage industry has suffered huge losses due to the global pandemic. What are your observations?
There definitely was a shock due to global pandemic, we are expecting food industry to be the first to bounce back from the shock by virtue of it being an essential purchase for the customers. Shock experienced was not in terms of reduced demand but in terms of serviceability being affected due to staffing concerns and channels going into lockdown.

How would you describe the current scenario for gourmet food products and ingredients based companies in India?
When it comes to gourmet, customers are very quality-conscious and any firm that can deliver on the promise of quality and sustain the same will be able to build a profitable business in gourmet space. Having said that, category is still in its early days and will take more time to evolve.
What kind of action plan do you have in place for sourcing raw materials, in light of Covid-19?
Thanks to global supply-chain infrastructure which was developed over 48 years, there are enough alternatives in place for any sudden changes in the ecosystem. Flow of materials definitely got affected but alternatives which were planned early enough helped us tide through the crisis.
What are the key factors that would differentiate your brand from the existing brands in the market?
Our aim with Sprig was to leverage synergies with our parent company – Synthite. Synergies range from R&D capability, ability to source fine ingredients from across the globe, ability to maintain high levels of product quality (virtue with which Synthite is a partner of choice for global MNCs).

At Sprig, we work very closely with customers to understand their need-gaps before the industry does. Most of our offerings were very niche when we started but have matured to mainstream due to quick adoption over years.

Another key differentiator with brand is that, we do not produce products in large batches. Flavour delivery in key applications is highly emphasised on and each batch goes through extensive application trials before we release the same. Some of the processes that we follow are very intricate like for example, in Habanero sauce we mature Chile-mash in an Oak wood-barrel – emphasis on such processes which create delicate balances in flavour and aroma differentiates us in all products that we offer.

What are the challenges you see your brand facing in the country, post-Covid-19?
Customers need to be educated on our range of products and its capabilities for them to understand and appreciate it better. We have been using a large network of sales promoters in having personal touch in explaining range to customers, in post-Covid world – this method will be hard to continue on.

What are the types of costs involved in setting up a gourmet food products and ingredients based company in India?
With enough government intervention in developing food manufacturing, basic infrastructure required are available with industrial parks set up by government. Major cost incurrence is in developing processes to maintain quality and having enough working capital to invest in sourcing right ingredients to create products.

How has your company fared in the Indian market, since its debut in 2014?
We have developed 45 SKUs over last 6 years and each of it has been very received in market and a testament to our success is in the high retention base of customers whom we have.

Do you plan on launching new products in light of the changing trends in the industry post-Covid-19?
We were early movers in developing products that help in general wellness and in building immunity. Our curcumin imbued honey, helps in developing immunity – Curcumin is active ingredient in turmeric. 1 Kg of curcumin gets extracted from 50Kg of turmeric.

Similarly our cold-crafted green-teas range is the only fully soluble green-tea available in Indian market. By virtue of green tea being soluble, one can ingest all the goodness in green tea unlike tea bags where we dip and throw away 90 percentage of tea.

Any plans on collaboration with leading food delivery platforms in India and abroad for the distribution of your products?
We have been working with all the major e-commerce platforms in India – Amazon, Bigbasket, Flipkart etc.
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