TRAILBLAZER OF SOUTH INDIA’S F&B RETAIL
VENKATESHWAR KUMAR CEO, NILGIRIS
Established in 1905, Nilgiris is one of the pioneers of organised retail in India and a heritage brand with a storied legacy of delivering quality customer service. Operating under the banner of Future Group, Nilgiris spawns 215 F&G outlets across Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala with a total retail area spanning 4.45 lakh sq.ft. The supermarket chain is positioned as a neighborhood store that guarantees assortment, range and freshness. “Nilgiris operates on the foundation of personal connect that translates into quality service and continues to build on its product range in order to respond to its customer’s evolving needs,” says CEO Venkateshwar Kumar in a chat with Progressive Grocer during which he outlines his plans to propel future growth of Nilgiris by going for a more contemporary look, by building on its existing infrastructure and with the help of more updated technology.
Describe your personal journey as a retailer. How has it translated into the monumental success of Nilgiris’ retail operation?
I started my retail journey with the Future Group in 2005 and I operate on the group’s core belief that retail is our religion, stores are our temples and customers are no less than God. This philosophy has helped me spearhead Future Group’s operations in South India through an aggressive expansion initiative that encompasses all states and population strata in the southern region. While I was heading the large-format hypermarket Big Bazaar in the initial phase of my retail career, I have expanded into Future Group’s FBB (fashion format) and supermarket business through the Nilgiris brand over the past few years. While retail is my passion and has been a significant part of my career, I began my professional journey in FMCG after completing my MBA from T.A. Pai Management Institute (Manipal) in 1991. After a 12-year successful stint of working with various national and multinational FMCG and tele-com companies, I ventured into retail. As Head of the South Zone at Future Group, I am now overseeing 70 hypermarkets, 15 FBB stores and more than 200 Nilgiris supermarkets with over 5,000 employees, and am on a single-minded mission to delight millions of customers walking through the aisles of Future Group retail stores.
What are Niligiris’ marked differentiators that set it apart from other F&B retail players?
Nilgiris, a heritage brand that is one of the pioneers in organized retail in India, epitomizes excellence in ethical and professional practices. Established in 1905, this national brand firmly rests on a strong foundation of core Indian values that translate into quality customer service through personal connect and experience. Nilgiris’ loyal customers over the generations have returned to this store solely because of the great quality and freshness that the brand promises and delivers consistently. Its customer-friendly practices that are reflected in its overall operations make Nilgiris a hallmark for retail excellence. The relentless effort to provide our customers with “whatever, whenever” through a catchment-curated assortment is another feather in our cap. We are also proud of our high productive stores and their unstinted commitment to deliver on our service promise.
Nilgiris’ loyal customers over the generations have returned to this store solely because of the great quality and freshness that the brand promises and delivers consistently. Its customerfriendly practices that are reflected in its overall operations make Nilgiris a hallmark for retail excellence.
How is Nilgiris positioned in the domain of F&G retail and what is the customer proposition offered?
The customer proposition of the Nilgiris store is reflected in the voice of its customer that says: “I get everything I want every time and I know it will be fresh.” Therefore, the supermarket chain is positioned as a neighborhood store which guarantees assortment, range and freshness.
What are the major categories and range of merchandise you specialize in as a retailer?
Nilgiris stores offer a wide range of products to customers ranging from a regional, local and international variety in grocery and food segments. Our customers find a distinct variety of products like powdered flax seeds, ajinomoto, fresh yeast, palm jaggery, hill garlic, aapam mix, ragi dosa mix, frozen foods and many international food products, all under one roof. With new and emerging categories in the food, home and personal care segment, the store continues to build on its product range in order to respond to its customers’ evolving needs.
Tell us about the new and emerging categories in your stores. How do you see their market potential growing?
The emerging categories in our stores are predominantly in the ready-to-eat and ready-to-cook segments. Our customers are gradually transiting from slow to instant cooking and we are reaching out with some innovative products, which will be valued immensely for simplifying meal preparations while still being delicious. Millets, dairy beverages, value-added dry fruits and health foods are also showing disproportionate off-take trends off late. Over the past years, we have seen a rise in the awareness and aspirations of customers who are now willing to spend on healthier options and try newer food products and preparations. For instance, dry fruits is no longer regarded as a luxury snack and has occupied a more meaningful place in a consumer’s daily eating habits. A lot of people are now switching to healthier grains and new spices. Nilgiris stores cater to these evolving trends by selling items that now define ‘Centre of Plate’ for modern India.
Nilgiris is active on new-age media and is constantly engaging with the youth through spearheading campaigns during World Milk Day, Valentine’s Day and other youth centric events. Simultaneously, we are introducing several modernday products like cold coffee, greek yogurt, flavoured milk, almond shots, etc.
What is the typical customer profile of shoppers that frequent your stores?
A quintessential Nilgiris customer is someone who strongly opts for quality, range and freshness over value and discounts. Customers who yearn for a convenient shopping experience with a sense of personal touch return to this store. Shoppers from SEC B, B+ and above shop at Nilgiris stores and belong to all age groups.
While targeting newer markets, which store locations do you prefer and why?
Traditionally, we have looked at catchments and locations with a high affluence index, besides looking into locations like apartments, clubs, offices and high streets. However, our current strategy is to be present in every pin code of south India and also in metro stations. In addition to this, we are training our staff to be more intuitive in their communication with their customers so that they are able to engage with them at an emotional level