How Danesa Raghulal is leading Elite Foods towards innovation, newer markets

As the executive director of Elite Foods, started by her father TR Raghulal in 1986, Danesa Raghulal is steering the company towards new and innovative products and a rapid market expansion.

How Danesa Raghulal is leading Elite Foods towards innovation, newer markets

Wednesday February 08, 2023,

5 min Read

When Danesa Raghulal was a young girl, she remembers writing a poem for her father, TR Raghulal, about how she envisioned herself joining his company Elite Foods. She had started visiting the factories along with him when she was as young as seven years old and grew up in the environs of the brand of Elite bread famous all over South India. When she was still in high school, she would participate in discussions on branding and marketing and be excited about new product development.


Danesa Raghulal

TR Raghulal started Elite Foods in 1986 after a long stint in the US where he had gone to study. Back home in Kerala, he found that everyone loved and enjoyed bread, but the quality he was used to abroad was missing in India.

This made him venture into the bread market and start Elite Foods by importing machinery and bringing in technology not prevalent in India during that time. Everything else Elite is known for, Danesa explains, was an integration that happened over a period of time.

“When we got into bread, we realised we needed good quality flour, so we integrated backward and set up a mill. We got into cakes and other vertical and horizontal categories, and as of now, we have 212 SKUs as part of the Elite brand of food products,” Danesa tells HerStory.

In between all this, her complete integration into the company also happened. Danesa lived in Thrissur until she was 12-13, and then moved to Ahmedabad where she stayed until she completed high school. She moved to the US to pursue her undergraduate degree in Business Administration and Management from Babson College, Boston.

“The course had a unique programme that invited you to be an entrepreneur, making you go through a rocket pitch like the one on Shark Tank, with professors on a panel judging you. You get funds to turn your pitch into a viable business. So, I was fully involved in ventures--from an event to a consumer product called Babson Honey, complete with a beehive on campus. It was a well-rounded experience in entrepreneurship,” she recollects.

Though she would spend her summer holidays at Elite Foods shadowing different heads of departments, her idea was to start up something in the food line with her father in the US. Destiny, she says, brought her back to where it all began, and she joined Elite Foods full-time six years ago.

“What my father did for the organisation, which I feel most people of his generation did not invest in, was having systems and processes in place. He also had a vision for marketing and understanding the customer and giving that prime importance. So, I did not have a difficult time fitting in,” Danesa says. Though, she did feel that the team lacked energy and first she set about getting that in place and then focusing on innovating and making the product more interesting for the younger generation.

For generations of South Indians, Elite’s Plum Cake was gold standard for a festive cake. But Danesa felt it was too dense and this led to the pudding cake range, much lighter, healthier, and fluffier, and available in several flavours.

Need to innovate

Was the evolution a given, with a lot of top brands in the market expanding its offerings as well?

Danesa points out that big brands have always been in the market, but the need was to constantly innovate.

“My father’s motto was that every Elite product should be safe for children to consume every day. We are ensuring our product is safe for everyone to consume. When we launched the pudding cakes, older people came back and told me they preferred this on a day-to-day basis over the plum cake and the latter was more about a celebratory kind of cake,” she adds.

As the executive director, Danesa overlooks strategy and development, marketing, and financing though she says the professionally run organisation ensures processes work smoothly leaving her time to focus on innovation and how to stay relevant in the market.

A major development is expanding further into Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana by increasing brand equity. “Though we are still well-known for plum cakes, we have more than a hundred other SKUs that needs to be sold,” she says. The brand offers mixes and flours as well. The brand has a presence in 15-20 countries outside India and is figuring out expansion into more international markets.

She is also upbeat about renewable energy and sustainability and hopes for Elite to achieve carbon neutrality by 2025.

Danesa also initiated the campaign wherein for every plum cake bought, a cake would be donated to a child from the underprivileged sections of the society.

“We have been fortunate to donate around 20,000 meals to those in need and are also contributing towards education by offering scholarships to underprivileged students,” she shares.

Her vision for Elite is for it to become the “food factory of India in the next five years.”

“There are very few companies that supplies such a wide range of products and I think we are at a central place where we offer bread, atta, cakes, pudding to rice-based products and others. This way, we have a base to be able to cater to a wide customer range, and through expansion in markets, and entry into new spaces, I believe Elite should be at the top of list of companies that provide the best food options to consumers,” Danesa says.

Edited by Megha Reddy