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How the 112-year old Balwa Group is reinventing itself in the food processing industry

Vallabh Rao
23rd Jan 2018
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YourStory caught up with Mohammed A Selia, Executive Director, Balwa Group and CEO, Panetteria, to learn more about Balwa Group’s bet on food processing industry and lessons for startups from a 112-year old company ‘starting up’.

The foundations of the Balwa Group were laid in the year 1905. The group today has interests in the fields of hospitality, realty, and engineering. Starting with a single restaurant in 1905, the company has delivered residential complexes and high-tech commercial parks, star category hotels and convention centres. The group's real-estate portfolio includes a current development of about 1.5 million sqft property in Mumbai. The engineering division of the group designs and manufactures high precision mechanical seals and hydraulic valves for industrial application, with deliveries across the globe.

The century-old, family-run business launched a foray into the food processing industry, with production of frozen pastries, high-quality breads, and bakery products. Panetteria has developed 24 different products, both savoury and sweet, and they have started with four savoury products - Crunch, Oriental Surprise, Peri Peri Munch and Thyme Roll. The products are available at Hypercity, Big Bazaar, Dmart, Star Bazaar and prominent general trade retail outlets. They plan to export in first quarter of 2018 to the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and Europe as part of their Phase 1 expansion.

YourStory caught up with Mohammed A Selia, Executive Director, Balwa Group and CEO, Panetteria, to learn more about the company’s bet on food processing industry and lessons for startups from a 112-year old company ‘starting up’. Mohammed holds a BBA degree in Business Management from the Kingston University, London, UK, and has received training in bakery technology and has acquired food processing skills in Belgium, France, and at the American Institute of Baking in the US. 

Mohammed A. Selia, Executive Director, Balwa Group

YourStory: Why did the Balwa Group decide to get into frozen foods?

Mohammed A. Selia: Our research shows that the frozen food market has great potential to grow and we have a revolutionary technology to share with the consumer. The global market for Frozen Baked Items is $20 billion and growing at CAGR of 8.5 percent. The products that we are launching in the market are one of their kind; there is no category of the products in the market to compete with Panetteria. The consumer is deprived of high-quality baked items and have to live with the same old deep fried products without any innovation. We were travelling abroad to various food exhibitions and came across frozen bakery and envisaged that India is in need of such a technology, looking at the current socio-economic environment.

YS: How does a 112-year-old company get into a new area?

MAS: Sheer innovation is the need of the hour. From time to time businesses need to have a holistic view of their current business and where they want to be in the future. Hence, with the growth of country, we decided to launch a new an innovative product, which is in conjunction with the growth story of the country. 

YS: How big is the market for frozen foods, in India and abroad?

MAS: There is always space for a good product. Also, everyone these days is health conscious and too busy to spend time in the kitchen. The products that we have designed for our discerning consumers is unique, it gives the convenience and freedom to the consumer to bake the products in the convenience of their kitchen without any fuss or stress. Overseas, frozen food forms a part of staple diet. People do not have time to cook and clean, hence from a convenience perspective frozen works out the best for all young and old alike. 

One of Panetteria's product

YS: As an old business company what advice do you have for startups looking at the food processing space?

MAS: It all boils down to innovation, passion and perseverance. Any new business requires dedication and commitment, which must be possessed by the promoters themselves. And with time you will reap the rewards of your hard work. With the growing needs of our country, we need to look beyond traditional methods of consuming and preparing food and beverage at the same time we need to ensure that our focus remains on ever important parameters of food production such as quality, health & hygiene. 

According to India Frozen Food Market Outlook 2022, by Research and Markets, major factors driving the frozen food industry in India are growing customer craving, rising awareness and acceptance, increase in selling points, rise in number of working women, changing lifestyle, deeper penetration by organized retail players and increase in available freezer space at the retail domain. With changing lifestyles and increasing labour costs, the retail market for frozen foods in India is expected to see rapid growth, with corporates and startups vying for the market.

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