In India, convenience foods have become a rage. We see juice boxes, frozen peas, cake mixes and processed/frozen chapatis and other ready-to-use food products fly off shelves. Usually classified as ready-to-eat, ready-to-cook, ready-to-serve or frozen foods, these foods are becoming popular as individuals are spending less time on cooking.
Back in the 1960s, when elaborate and time-consuming cooking practices were the norm, the convenience food segment was pioneered by Gits Food, the first company to introduce the concept of instant mixes (ready-to-cook) in India. In 1963, two friends, HZ Gilani and AK Tejani, had launched Gits Foods with the objective to ease and quicken cooking processes without compromising on health. They had decided that the brand would be named ‘Gits’, derived from ‘Gilani’ and ‘Tejani’, the founder’s last names.
A successful business journey saw the company diversify into the ready-to-eat and dairy categories as well. Now, Gits’ products are widely distributed across India and over 40 countries. Now a third-generation family business, the Mumbai-headquartered firm is still spearheaded by members from the Gilani and Tejani families.
Among these leaders is Sahil Gilani, who started his career as a sales intern in the company and used to walk the streets. Now, as Director of Sales and Marketing, he has taken a seat at the company’s head office. Sahil spearheaded Gits’ foray into the ready-to-eat category and revamped its advertising approach. He is also responsible for setting up Gits’ online shop and presence on major ecommerce retailers in India.
In an interaction with SMBStory, Sahil Gilani, Director Sales and Marketing, Gits Food, takes us through the company’s remarkable story and how it is staying relevant in the digital age.
SMBStory: How did the founders come together to launch Gits?
Sahil Gilani: HZ Gilani was an active freedom fighter and devoted most of his life to India’s independence. He later moved on to pursue a career in journalism by being the Founding Editor of India’s first business newspaper, Vyapar, which was in Gujarati. It was through this association that he met his best friend and business partner, AK Tejani, who worked as a freelancer at the newspaper.
They observed that their wives spent lot of time in the kitchen to put the family’s meals together, and thus lost out on their quality time. This led them to find a solution to ease and quicken cooking processes without compromising on their families’ health. Their hunt for a technological solution landed them at the Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI), which helped them with technical expertise to launch convenience foods for the first time in India.
They then launched Gits Foods, which was bootstrapped. After initial struggles, the company has had a sustainable and strong growth that has resulted in it being debt-free over the decades.
SMBS: What were the key milestones in Gits’ journey?
SG: One of the first products launched was a soup mix. However, the product was too ahead of its time as soups were an alien concept back them. In fact, some retailers confused soup for soap. The founders struggled to keep the company afloat since the whole concept was ahead of its time for the Indian market. The turning point came when they got their first export order from the UK in the mid 60s. The overwhelming response and the subsequent demand from export markets laid the foundation of the company.
In the second generation, Gits was able to expand production range and start distributing to over 40 countries as well as strengthen distribution in India. When the third-generation leaders, including myself, came in, we further built on the success by entering new categories such as ready meals and dairy. Changing consumer needs and availability of newer technology that enabled food preservation without the use of preservatives enabled us to diversify into more categories. From being largely an export-driven company a decade back, 65 percent of our revenue now comes from India.
SMBS: What is the market size of your sector and how are you differentiating from the competition?
SG: The market size of ready-to-eat and ready-to-cook products is around Rs 1,000 crore in India. Gits has the first mover advantage, which has helped it maintain a leadership position in most products. However, a bigger reason for Gits’ dominance is our quality that resonates well with consumers and retailers who vouch that our products are the quality benchmark in the category.
We ensure our products do not have any preservatives or any artificial additives. We also have a commitment to society. Ninety-eight percent of the Gits factory workforce is women. We go to great lengths to give them and their children regular medical care and nutrition. Our vegetable distribution programme, where we give workers vegetables and grains at the end of the work day to take care of their daily needs, has got excellent appreciation and recognition.
SMBS: How are you leveraging digital to stay relevant amidst stiff competition?
SG: Gits was an early adopter of social media as well as ecommerce. As soon as Facebook started its business pages back in 2009, our page was up, and it is running ever since. Today, we have close to four lakh people following us across all our social media platforms on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube. Among these, Facebook is the backbone of our social media.
In terms of ecommerce, we have been active for over seven years on platforms such as Big Basket, Amazon, Flipkart, etc. Three years ago, we also started our own e-store where customers can have products delivered from our factory to their homes. These digital initiatives have helped us acquire new and younger consumers.
We have also taken digitisation a step further by enabling app-based orders and increasing our sales force to over 400 people. Sales force automation (SFA) was implemented over four years ago and has greatly helped build efficiency.
SMBS: What does the future hold for your company?
SG: We want to expand further in the convenience food sector as well as dairy products. We also seek to uphold the company’s R&D motto: We will not sell what we don’t relish. Being a family business, we will ensure that only the tastiest and safest food reaches our own homes as well as our customers.
For any business like ours, there should be focus on adding value to the category and raising the bar. Focusing on creating price wars is never sustainable.