THE FOOD TRAIL

A veg­e­tar­ian own­ing prawn hatch­eries might sound like a con­tra­dic­tion in terms, but Kam­lesh Gupta, a veg­e­tar­ian, and his suc­cess­ful frozen food busi­ness have been hap­pily sail­ing in the same boat. We bring you the story of how the West­Coast Group and the

Marwar - - Contents - Text Meera Acharekar

A veg­e­tar­ian own­ing prawn hatch­eries might sound like a con­tra­dic­tion in terms, but Kam­lesh Gupta, a veg­e­tar­ian, and his suc­cess­ful frozen food busi­ness have been hap­pily sail­ing in the same boat. We bring you the story of how the West­Coast Group and the man be­hind it has rev­o­lu­tionised the frozen food in­dus­try.

KAM­LESH GUPTA BE­LONGS TO A fam­ily of Mar­wari en­trepreneurs hail­ing from the Nakipur vil­lage, in the Bhi­wani district of Haryana. Gupta, how­ever, has spent most of his life in Mum­bai, af­ter his fa­ther came to the city in the 1960s and set up a trans­port busi­ness, of which he too be­came a part rather early in life. “To avoid any mis­chief from us, we Mar­wari boys would be ini­ti­ated into the fam­ily busi­ness right af­ter school. Hence, I worked with my el­der uncle who was han­dling our trans­port busi­ness along with my fa­ther,” says Gupta.

Gupta’s work mainly in­volved ob­serv­ing his uncle at work and tak­ing note of the var­i­ous el­e­ments that con­sti­tuted the busi­ness. But even­tu­ally he veered off and be­came the first from his fam­ily to re­ceive education abroad—from the Tem­ple Univer­sity in Philadelphia, USA.

The Ini­ti­a­tion

Af­ter re­turn­ing from USA, Gupta joined his fa­ther’s busi­ness. How­ever, soon enough he found his call­ing in a field where his coun­ter­parts rarely ven­tured. His stay in USA had ex­posed him to the rev­o­lu­tion that was chang­ing the way peo­ple ap­proached food. USA was al­ready ahead in frozen food prod­ucts, whereas In­dia had not yet given it much thought. Sens­ing a busi­ness op­por­tu­nity and given his in­cli­na­tion to­wards the food in­dus­try, Gupta took a break from his fam­ily busi­ness to carve his own path.

His main area of in­ter­est was prawns. For a veg­e­tar­ian Mar­wari fam­ily, that was a dif­fi­cult propo­si­tion and his fa­ther took time to come to terms with it. But given Gupta’s conviction, he soon per­suaded his fam­ily to give him a chance to re­alise his dream.

So how did he find it com­fort­able deal­ing with non-veg­e­tar­ian food? “As a stu­dent, I worked in restau­rants in USA, where I reg­u­larly dealt with meat prepa­ra­tions. Grad­u­ally I be­came ac­cus­tomed to it, even though I still ad­here to veg­e­tar­i­an­ism and have never tasted meat or fish,” re­veals Gupta.

Re­search and de­vel­op­ment

As an as­tute en­tre­pre­neur, his first step was to delve into the field of aqua­cul­ture and get ac­quainted with the pro­cesses es­sen­tial to run his busi­ness. At that time, the Marine Prod­ucts Exports De­vel­op­ment Au­thor­ity (MPEDA), a gov­ern­ment body, was pro­vid­ing train­ing in aqua­cul­ture in Cochin, where he be­came ac­quainted with Lak­shmi Narayan, with whom he now shares a bond of friend­ship. Along with Lak­shmi Narayan, who was work­ing for the Cen­tral In­sti­tute of Brack­ish­wa­ter Aqua­cul­ture, Gupta de­signed prawn hatch­eries, thus lay­ing the foun­da­tions of

the West­Coast Group. He also toured shrimp hatch­eries in Be­naulim (Goa) to gain in­sight into the field.

With am­ple re­search and the re­quired help, Gupta started his first shrimp hatch­ery in the port town of Ver­awal in Gu­jarat, a pre­dom­i­nantly veg­e­tar­ian state. He tested his first batch of shrimp eggs here, which gave suc­cess­ful re­sults, lead­ing him to hire more labour­ers. Hir­ing re­quired train­ing farm­ers to ac­quaint them with the ar­ti­fi­cial sys­tem of breed­ing. The fish­ing in­dus­try was strug­gling with the ef­fects of pol­lu­tion and over­fish­ing at the time, which spelt trou­ble for fish­er­men and their fam­i­lies. Gupta’s hatch­ery came as an op­por­tu­nity at this junc­ture, pro­vid­ing em­ploy­ment to nu­mer­ous fish­er­men.

As the shrimps grew and it was har­vest time, Gupta’s fish farm took shape. It went on to earn the dis­tinc­tion of be­ing the first com­mer­cial hatch­ery in In­dia. But that was in 1997. Even­tu­ally, these farms led to the es­tab­lish­ment of their fac­tory in Su­rat, where shrimps were pro­cessed, packed and shipped un­der the brand name ‘Cam­bay Tiger’. By 2007, Cam­bay Tiger was avail­able in In­dian as well as in­ter­na­tional mar­kets. In ad­di­tion, Gupta started cage cul­ture in 2015—for farm­ing shrimp and fishes such as tilapia and basa—over an area of 1,200 hectares at the Varas­gaon reser­voir and an­other 800 hectares at the Pan­shet reser­voir, both in Ma­ha­rash­tra.

Over­com­ing hur­dles

Chal­lenges are a part and par­cel of any busi­ness, and Gupta too faced a few hur­dles. The ini­tial chal­lenge was that of lo­ca­tion. As his farm was sit­u­ated in a ru­ral area, it lacked ad­e­quate fa­cil­i­ties. Also, the busi­ness de­manded travel from Mum­bai to Gu­jarat on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.

Fur­ther, the con­cept of aqua­cul­ture was new to In­dia and the bank­ing sec­tor lacked knowl­edge of it in the 1990s. Hence, Gupta had to spend a lot of time per­suad­ing banks to fi­nance his busi­ness. Also, lack of trained staff meant he spent most of the ini­tial pe­riod in train­ing per­son­nel. How­ever, his fam­ily al­ways sup­ported him. “Dur­ing these dif­fi­cult times, I would al­ways re­mem­ber my grand­fa­ther’s words: ‘If you want to be even a cob­bler, make sure you’re the best cob­bler.’ These words mo­ti­vated me to strive for my goals.”

In the mar­ket

West­Coast has con­sumers not just in In­dia but also over­seas. In fact, the very first cus­tomer for Cam­bay Tiger was a French com­pany called Gel­teche Ltd. To­day, their part­ners abroad in­clude Auchan in France, Tesco in the UK and Metro in Ger­many. West­Coast’s high qual­ity prod­ucts have at­tracted clients from around the world, al­low­ing the com­pany to ex­port around 90% of its pro­duce, es­pe­cially Cam­bay Prawns, which are now ex­ported to over 30 coun­tries.

The com­pany has had fan­tas­tic re­sponse in In­dia as well, Hyper­city be­ing the first to store Cam­bay Tiger. How­ever, as the In­dian con­sumer prefers fresh pro­duce to frozen food, the mar­ket is still in its nascent stage. But Gupta is cer­tain it will grow ex­po­nen­tially in the next

2-3 years. In 2015, the com­pany launched Cam­bay Tiger Seafood Mart, In­dia’s first live and fresh seafood mart in Ban­dra, Mum­bai. It had in­stalled fresh fish tanks from which cus­tomers could choose their fish and buy it over the counter and also sold ready-to-cook fish (mar­i­nated or crumbed). To­day, they have three more out­lets: one at Lokhand­wala, Mum­bai; one at De­fence Colony, Delhi; and one at Vi­man Na­gar, Pune. There are plans to open more such re­tail shops in var­i­ous In­dian cities.

Last year Cam­bay Tiger was named ‘The Most Promis­ing Brand’ by the As­so­ci­ated Cham­bers of Com­merce of In­dia, at their Ex­cel­lence Awards. It also bagged ‘The Best Seafood Com­pany of the Year’ award at the sev­enth CMO Asia Food & Grocery Ex­cel­lence Awards, held in Sin­ga­pore, the same year.

Like fa­ther, like son

With Gupta’s son, Shivam, hav­ing joined hands with him re­cently, West­Coast has di­ver­si­fied by in­tro­duc­ing frozen veg­e­tar­ian de­lights as well. Among these in­clude ‘Tawa Pizza’, which is one of their more pop­u­lar of­fer­ings, and an ar­ray of veg­e­tar­ian prod­ucts and ready-to-make snacks, un­der the brand name ‘Fr­ish’.

Shivam is an alum­nus of Brunel Univer­sity, Lon­don, where he stud­ied In­ter­na­tional Busi­ness & Mar­ket­ing. He is the di­rec­tor of the West­Coast Group now and heads do­mes­tic op­er­a­tions. Be­yond busi­ness, he en­joys deep-sea div­ing, sky div­ing and polo. Talk­ing about his fa­ther, Shivam says, “I have seen him per­se­vere to reach his goals. He is a vi­sion­ary—al­ways sure about his goals and has in­cul­cated the prin­ci­ple of think­ing of fu­ture re­sults. He al­ways ad­vises me, while giv­ing me enough in­de­pen­dence to make my de­ci­sions for our com­pany. He is so pas­sion­ate about his work that he has made a mini menu of dif­fer­ent types of tea—be­cause we are a gourmet com­pany—which our guests can choose from.”

He ( Kam­lesh Gupta) is a vi­sion­ary— sure about his goals and has in­cul­cated the prin­ci­ple of think­ing of fu­ture re­sults. He al­ways ad­vises me, while giv­ing me enough in­de­pen­dence to make my de­ci­sions.

A fam­ily man

A food lover, Kam­lesh Gupta’s hob­bies are not hard to guess. He rel­ishes del­i­ca­cies from dif­fer­ent re­gions. He also en­joys cook­ing, a skill he picked up partly dur­ing his stay in USA and partly while work­ing at the shrimp farms in Gu­jarat. He also loves to spend time with his fam­ily. “As my busi­ness was just tak­ing off when I was mar­ried, I couldn’t pay all my at­ten­tion to fam­ily. Half a month I was in Gu­jarat and half a month sort­ing out all the man­age­ment pro­to­cols. Now I en­sure that my week­ends are spent with them,” he says. To do this, he goes to the ex­tent of dis­al­low­ing phones on the ta­ble while eat­ing meals with his fam­ily.

For Gupta, wife Mridula has been a source of strength in all his en­deav­ours. She has been sup­port­ing him and look­ing to the smooth func­tion­ing of the house­hold, and look­ing af­ter their daugh­ter, Sim­ran, who is a stu­dent of fine arts in Chicago.

Help­ing hands

Busi­ness apart, the West­Coast Group is also com­mit­ted to so­cial wel­fare, help­ing farm­ers to open bank ac­counts, pro­vid­ing in­sur­ance and en­sur­ing easy avail­abil­ity of loans. The shrimp farm­ers are taken to dif­fer­ent coun­tries to ob­serve the farm­ing prac­tices. They also par­tic­i­pate in meet­ings held by West­Coast to dis­cuss cur­rent prac­tices and is­sues in aqua­cul­ture. To help vil­lagers work­ing along the coast­line, the group pro­vides ba­sic ameni­ties to lo­cal schools such as free note­books, com­put­ers and air con­di­tion­ers. These ini­tia­tives have bagged them the ‘Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment’ award at the pres­ti­gious Asia Pa­cific HRM Congress Awards. In ad­di­tion, West­Coast has schools at the Ve­lan, Kotda and Orma vil­lages, among oth­ers, in Gu­jarat.

Be­sides, the com­pany runs an NGO called ‘Have a Heart Foun­da­tion’, un­der the lead­er­ship of Mridula Gupta. Chil­dren with con­gen­i­tal heart de­fects from ru­ral Ma­ha­rash­tra are pro­vided med­i­ca­tion and are op­er­ated upon at a sub­sidised rate here. Re­cently, the foun­da­tion has tied up with Jupiter Hospi­tal and Kok­i­l­aben Hospi­tal.

The road ahead

Kam­lesh Gupta plans to pro­vide af­ford­able pro­tein to ru­ral In­dia and has started cage cul­ture in five lakes in 2016. These projects have been ini­ti­ated in Ma­ha­rash­tra, Ra­jasthan and Kar­nataka. His plans in­clude ob­tain­ing leases for more lakes from the gov­ern­ment—a move that should not just en­sure West­Coast’s growth, but also that of a pro­tein-starved and un­der­em­ployed ru­ral In­dia.

Right: A Cam­bay Tiger Seafood Mart in Ban­dra, Mum­bai Fac­ing page: Kam­lesh Gupta, chair­man and MD of the West­Coast Group

Clock­wise from top left: Shivam Gupta re­ceiv­ing the Most Promis­ing Brand Award for Cam­bay Tiger at the 4th As­socham SME Ex­cel­lence Award in 2016; Cam­bay Tiger prod­ucts on dis­play at a re­tail out­let; Kam­lesh Gupta re­ceiv­ing the Best CEO in Aqua­cul­ture Sec­tor Award at the AI Awards in 2016

Top left: West­Coast’s seafood pro­cess­ing plant in Su­rat, Gu­jarat Top right: (Clock­wise from top left) Sim­ran Gupta, Shivam Gupta, Mridula Gupta and Kam­lesh Gupta

Clock­wise from top left: An aer­a­tor at a West­Coast shrimp farm in Navsari, Gu­jarat; The cage cul­ture site in Varas­gaon; A worker feed­ing shrimps at a West­Coast farm near Su­rat, Gu­jarat

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