Kannur’s most famous bakers
The Venus Group is popular for its Sheen Bakery stores in Kannur, Kerala. Managing Partner Veenish Kumar talks about the business and his plans for the future.
The Venus Group is popular for its Sheen Bakery stores in Kannur, Kerala. The family-run business is now managed by the second generation of family entrepreneurs. Veenish Kumar, Managing Partner at Venus Group of Concerns, talks to Progressive Grocer about how the business has evolved over the years and his plans for the future.
Uppot Kumaran, the late founder of Venus Group of Concerns in Kannur, Kerala, learned the ropes of business while working as an apprentice in an old bakery. In 1952, he decided to launch his own business under the banner of Venus Group of Concerns. His hunger for driving his business to the next level and his determination and passion to succeed led him to open Standard Bakery in 1960. This new outlet in Kannur quickly became famous for its three trademark products – Bread, Rusk and Cake. His unbounded energy drove him to open another two Standard Bakery outlets in Kasargod and Valavatnam in Kerala, in 1965 and 1966. Not one to let the grass grow under his feet, Kumaran expanded his baking units with the launch of Sheen Bakery in 1970. This outlet was strategically located next to the busy Kannur railway station and grew to be one of Venus Group’s popular bakery destinations, a reputation it enjoys till date.
DAILY PRODUCTION OUTPUT AT VENUS GROUP Cakes: 100 Kg Bread: 2,000 pieces Samosas: 100 Kg Snacks: 500 Kg Sweets: 100 Kg
In 1974, Uppot Kumaran breathed his last as he was about to open another bakery outlet in the State. Two of his brother-in-laws – Mohan and Surendran – stepped in to complete the unfinished project and decided to name the new outlet ‘Kumars’ in memory of Kumaran. As the business required close monitoring, Kumaran’s wife Saraswati, a retired school teacher, and her brothers, joined forces to keep the concern up and running. Between them, a decision was taken to foray into the distribution game under the name Sheen Veen Trades. As of today, Venus Group’s manufacturing, distribution and retail ventures have struck solid roots and are being managed by Saraswati and her six children – Veena Sathyanath, Sheena Rathnakaran, Sheejith Kumar, Shabin Kumar, Shajin Kumar and Veenish Kumar.
Renovations and expansion
“I grew up surrounded by the family business,” says Veenish who acts as the key decision maker as well as Managing Partner at Venus Group of Concerns. “The cakes baked in those days were done the old fashioned way. There were two people who would stir a huge ladle from an urn to prepare the cake mixture. Baking was done in brick ovens and ingredients like maida, which was sold under a quota system, used to come from the Kannur port.”
Veenish, with his mother’s guidance, set about renovating and expanding the manufacturing units. He demolished the old office at Bellard Road and rebuilt it into a factory unit, which he named after his father – Kumar Towers. The multi-storied building has a total area of 8,000 square feet with a factory space of 1,500 square feet for baking fresh cream cakes and pastries.
In 1999, Veenish opened Chifonet, a multicuisine restaurant and a year later, he opened Baker Boys. Both store and restaurant are located at Kumar Towers. He also evolved the retail space by adding a seating capacity for eight customers and by stocking other branded products at the Baker Boys outlet. “The average ticket is Rs.150-200 and our fastest moving categories have been cake, bread and sweets,” he reveals.
In 2003, Vineesh opened New Sheen Confectionary. At the same time, he also expanded Sheen Bakery by opening new outlets in Talap in 2009 and at the Kannur main bus stand in 2010. Currently, Sheen bakery products also have retail presence at the Greens Hypermarket, Orange Supermarket and at the Metro in Kannur.
“I also started a factory in Talap 12 years ago for manufacturing Venus products. It was a small space, so then we bought out the adjacent properties one by one to expand the factory,” Veenish says. This unit was dedicated to producing Venus bread and snacks. Another Sheen manufacturing unit was also set up near the old Kannur bus stand for producing savoury items.
To bring his old units up to snuff with modern practices, Vineesh replaced the earlier brick ovens with gas and diesel ovens. The retail outlets have all been upgraded with cooling showcases and refrigerators.”we have also expanded our product categories,” informs Vineesh. “Our bread now comes in many varieties – wheat, brown, fruit and multigrain. The savouries and sweets categories have also new product lines. We have also started our online business, which is being managed by my nephew Nived Nath.”
The annual turnover at Venus Group is Rs. 18 crore currently. All stores are approximately 800 square feet in area and also stock other branded product such as biscuits, aerated drinks, juice and beverage.
“Attrition, of course, is a huge challenge and we have to keep training new staff. Maintaining fresh stock is also difficult in the case of perishable items. By the end of the day, we have to destroy expired items from all our outlets,” explains Veenish. “Apart from a few top retailers in Kannur, we have not started supplying our bakery products to other retail stores since they are highly perishable. Moreover, we are not sure how the retailer will handle the goods. There is no guarantee.”
Attrition is a huge challenge and we have to keep training new staff. Maintaining fresh stock is also difficult in the case of perishable items. — Veenish Kumar Managing Partner, Venus Group
Veenish has plans of expanding to another restaurant and two more bakery units by next year. “We also plan to expand through the franchise route besides opening an exclusive showroom near the railways station.” With the Union ministry of Food Processing pushing its ‘Food Park’ initiatives, the Venus Group is also mulling to take up an industrial area to start export operations once it puts in place a system of better packaging of its products.