North East India is a beautiful place. Whoever has visited the seven sisters, swears by its beauty. But the long history of insurgency and unrest in the region has always been stymied growth and developmental activities in the area. Even big brands that are normally looking for opportunities to expand into have shied away from NE because of the same reasons. “There is no difficulty in doing business in North East, just that people have not explored the opportunities enough,” asserts Anabil Goswami, co-founder of Arohan Foods in Guwahati.
Arohan Foods is one of the known startups from the north eastern part of India. Arohan Foods, is India's first pork integrator. They claim to be pioneers of organized pork production in India and currently produce 10 SKUs of the product in different flavours of sausages and salami. We cannot be sure if it is the only one, do let us know if you have heard of more.
Sons of the soil
Arohan Foods has three co-founders. Anabil takes care of strategy and business development and has previously worked with Tata Chemicals. Ranapratap Brahma, the second co-founder, heads research and new products at the startup. He’s an alumnus of IIM, Indore and was earlier working with Bank of Baroda. And the third co-founder is Arindom Hazarika, heads sales and marketing for the startup and has previously worked with Kotak Mahindra Bank.
These three co-founders are the lucky part of the population from NE who had good employment, unlike a majority who still struggle to get enough employment opportunities in the region. But they decided to leave it behind and come and make a difference in their place of birth. “We have always wanted to start something of our own in the NE. And we have been thinking and doing our research on the subject for a long time,” explains Anabil. Being born and brought up in the region, Anabil says they have seen the changes that the region has undergone. “I think one is most secure in the place one has been born in and there is a lot of opportunities also that you get there,” he says.
They chose the area of pork to startup, because of the fact that about 60% of the entire pork consumed in India, happens in the NE. The demand for the meat is highest and therefore was attractive for the trio. While demand and opportunity was certainly present, how easy was it to startup in such a capital and labour intensive area? “There were many fast food and momo chains here, and we didn’t want to be yet another one doing the same thing. We wanted to build something more sustainable and grow it as a brand and take it to the world,” says Anabil ambitiously.
Arohan Foods started in 2011 and currently produces their products from National Research Centre on Pigs at Guwahati. Anabil says their own factory is under construction and should be completed by the end of the year. The founding team did a lot of research and market survey to understand the pork business, before starting up. From speaking to farmers, to business chains, retailers, supply chain specialists and more – their research took almost two years to complete before they started up. Their products today are based on the insights that they gained from all the interactions and Anabil happily says they have been well accepted in the market.
Apart from NE, Anabil says they are also looking at markets like Punjab & Haryana to goto in India and even neighbouring countries like Nepal and Bhutan to expand into. Arohan is manufacturing according to highest quality standards and Anabil says they have the capability to increase production as the demand increases. “There is a lot of demand here in the NE only to fulfill. We want to be able to do that first before we look outside. The piggery sector in India is very small compared to the West and there is a lot of scope to develop and build on this,” he says ambitiously.
Arohan currently has a 30-member team which comprise of engineering, sales people, doctors, researchers and Anabil says they will reach a manpower strength of 50 in the next quarter. Thankfully Arohan, seems to be a startup not having trouble attracting talent!
Although they started with their own investment, Arohan recently got their Series A funding from Mumbai based Omnivore partners. Anabil says they are also doing well financially and should be breaking even soon.
Currently, most of the advertising for Arohan Foods is done through in-store promos where their products is being sold and Anabil says, they would look at a larger campaign once their factory is setup.
However what keeps the team going, is the motivation that they are making a difference in their native land and helping give employment to people in the region. It is very encouraging to see such initiatives, because when we say startups and entrepreneurs will take the economy forward, you need some gutsy ones like these to venture into areas where even big corporate have feared to trend.