Inspired by the wellness boom, this Mysore-based pharma company decided to launch a superfoods vertical amid COVID-19

Supreem Pharmaceuticals was started in 1985 by SN Rao. The B2B company, which counts Cipla, Cadilla, Sun Pharma, Dr Reddy’s, and others, among its clients, launched a B2C superfoods vertical after it saw an increase in the demand for health and wellness products.

COVID-19 has led to a large number of people focussing on their health. While several sectors suffered from lack of demand, the pandemic resulted in an unprecedented boom in the pharmaceutical industry. 

According to a report by research platform IBEF, the market is estimated to be worth $42 billion in 2021 and is slated to reach $120-130 billion by 2030. Moreover, the subsequent increase in people's interest in health and wellness products has further given an impetus to the superfoods industry, experts say. Over the last few years, India has seen the emergence of several superfoods players such as Nourish Organics, The Green Snack Co., OZiva, etc.

One of the companies that decided to venture into this category during COVID-19 is Mysore-based Supreem Pharmaceuticals. 

Founded in 1985 by SN Rao, the B2B (Business-to-Business) company has been manufacturing and selling pharmaceutical and nutraceutical products. It has more than 400 customers in India and abroad, including the likes of major pharma players such as Cipla, Cadilla, Sun Pharma, Dr Reddy’s, and more.

In a conversation with SMBStory, Rao explains entering into the new space and recalls his journey of starting the company. 

The pandemic affect

According to Rao, the pandemic has not had any negative impact on the company’s business. In fact, he claims that demand for products such as Vitamin D3 and Zinc capsules skyrocketed by almost 100 percent during the pandemic.

“It was not like we were not doing well and had to think of something else,” he says.

On the surface, everything was going well for him. However, Rao had been planning to enter into the B2C space for some time now. More than a decade ago, Supreme opened a B2C (Business-to-Customer) vertical, but had to shut shop as it “failed miserably.”

Looking back, Rao identifies the gaps because of which his products failed to make a mark. “Honestly, the packing was not up to the mark, and we used too many conventional methods such as relying only on the distributors and not focussing much on marketing.”

Today, the tables have turned drastically, and he says the pandemic has a role to play.

As the health and wellness industry was setting the cash registers ringing, Supreem’s team realised the next major opportunity lies in the superfoods category. However, this time, Rao felt they had to have a plan in place in order to ensure a successful entry into the B2C segment.

“It was like joining the kindergarten,” he says, adding that they surveyed the market, made an omnichannel strategy, and set a marketing budget. 

They also hired experienced professionals from the industry and launched their new vertical, Supreme Super Foods, last month. It currently offers 20 products across four categories including health management, performance beverages and foods, and lifestyle management. 

With over 40 SKUs, the superfoods product line will include healthy snacks, candies, nutritional multipurpose mix, sashes and capsules to help conditions related to diabetes, obesity and high cholesterol, to greatly improve immunity, digestion, and clear blocked nose or throat. The manufacturing of these products are outsourced from units in Vapi and Mumbai. However, the R&D is done in the company's own facility in Mysore. 

The products will be present offline (through modern trade retail outlets) across Bengaluru and will get listed on ecommerce platforms such as Amazon, Bigbasket, and more. Rao says the business will also take the D2C (Direct-to-Consumer) route and also plans to launch its own website soon. 

Although it is a new vertical, Rao says they are expecting to grow the business by 30 percent month-on-month. 

How it all started?

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Rao was exploring the world to find his true calling. Having studied pharmacy, he had bagged a job in Switzerland-based healthcare company, Sandoz India. However, he felt unsatisfied with his job. 

While pursuing his job, Rao enrolled himself in an eight-week entrepreneurship course organised by the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce. As part of the course, they had to make a project on launching and sustaining a business. 

“This was the turning point of my life. I realised this is exactly what I was meant to do,” he says. However, the real struggle began after this moment of epiphany.

Rao says his parents were against him leaving the well-paying job and venturing into business. Additionally, Mumbai, where he was residing, was an expensive city and Rao did not have enough capital to start or sustain a business there, he says.

Rao invested Rs 30,000 of his money and took loans to start the business. From Mumbai, he shifted base to Mysore.

The first product he launched was a bottle of Vitamin B12. From one product, it now has hundreds of products in its portfolio today. The company also entered the international market in 2002 with the UK, the US and Canada.

The company clocked Rs 68 crore in revenue in FY21. 

Going forward, Rao says he wants to focus completely on the superfoods business in the next 12-18 months. The company also plans to expand its presence beyond Bengaluru to other southern and then northern states like Delhi. 

Edited by Megha Reddy


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