This uncle-nephew duo make no song and dance about building papad, pickle Ram Bandhu brand

Empire Spices and Foods is on a mission to expand its business and recently signed Bollywood actor Madhuri Dixit-Nene to endorse its popular flagship brand Ram Bandhu.
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Empire Spices and Foods recently signed up Bollywood actor Madhuri Dixit-Nene to endorse its popular flagship brand of pickles and papads, Ram Bandhu.

This partnership with the actor, according to the company Chairman Hemant Rathi, is like adding precious kesar (saffron spice) to a glass of milk.

“Our products are like pure milk, they sell on their own merit and high quality. By bringing in Madhuriji, we are adding value, and elevating our brand to the next level,” he said in a conversation with SMBStory.

One of the fastest-growing FMCG companies, Empire Spices and Foods offers a wide range of products, including pickles, papads, spices, ketchup, sauces, pastes, and chutneys. It is on a mission to expand its business and is reaching out to new markets.

Empire Spices and Foods recently signed actor Madhuri Dixit as brand ambassador.

Started in the 1970s in Nashik, the family-managed business Empire Spices and Foods brand portfolio includes brands Ram Bandhu, RBM, Temptin’, and Zaiqa.

The company has its presence across 12 states with more than half a million retail shops, and a network of 1,000 plus distributors. The company also exports to countries like the US, the UK, Qatar, Dubai, Canada, Germany, Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Bahrain.

“Our presence is spreading across India and this endorsement will help our brand to connect better with the users in both urban and rural areas. For years, we have established our brand, but to take it to new heights we signed up Madhuriji because she has also stood the test of time in the past 30 years just like we have. Hum bhi daate rahe pacchas saal se (we have also withstood the test of time for 50 plus years). That’s the synergy we found in her to endorse our brand,” says Hemant Rathi.

Backstory

The company’s genesis was the unique Nashik chivda mix that the family-managed business would manufacture and sell in the local market. Gradually, neighbourhood women came asking for papad ingredients and senior Rathi realised the potential of having papad masala mix in varying quantities and even innovated to provide the ready-made papad dough.

“He had a vision of establishing a business that would provide high quality, convenient, and cost-efficient masala mixes and spices to take the load off of household kitchens,” states Hemant Rathi. Eventually, Hemant Rathi and his nephew Umesh Rathi, now the MD of the company, joined the family business in 1985 after their respective higher education, and by 1994, they formally registered the company as a closely held limited company.

“We had challenges with capital and struggled for nearly seven to eight years. Like the saying in Hindi, bahut papad bele humne (did a lot of hard work),” Hemant Rathi says.

To stand out in the overcrowded papad and condiments market, the team of uncle and nephew relied on their core principles of simplicity, cost, and convenience.

“There is a huge opportunity for growth in the pickle and papad market in India. Ram Bandhu is one of the leading brands in both the papad and pickle categories across India when it comes to household consumption. We have always been believers in adapting to changing tastes, trends, and technology,” says Umesh Rathi.

Today, the company sells 1,000 tons of papad and 6,000 tons of pickles yearly. It also sells 8 tons of sauces, a new edition in their product category, daily. “We are a profitable company and have seen an annual growth of 15-20 percent,” says Umesh Rathi, who looks after sales and marketing.

Keeping in mind the different food cultures in India, the company makes eight varieties of pickles mostly for the north Indian market, and has recently developed three new varieties in its new facility at Dharwad to cater to the south Indian market.

The company has nine units, mostly around Nashik, one in Aurangabad, and one in Dharwad for the manufacture of its spices, mixes, pickles, sauces, and pastes.

Condiments market

The Indian condiments market is projected to grow at a CAGR of over 13 percent to reach $1340.5 million by 2024. However, nearly 75 percent of the market is unorganised and this gap provides a huge opportunity for brands like Ram Bandhu to make their presence felt.

With competition from new-age, venture-funded brands like Veeba and other established traditional brands like Nilon’s, Empire Spices and Foods has its task cut out.

“Competition is always good. We strive to remain consistent with our quality and do not believe in shortcuts. Competition helps keep us on our toes,” says Umesh Rathi.

Hemant Rathi and Umesh Rathi with the next-gen of their family business.

Hemant Rathi adds that in the food industry, the most important aspect is distribution. “Even today, one-on-one personal relations are important. If in one district we have good relations, word spreads to four other districts. It is a long-term process. There are no short-cuts in brand building,” he adds.

Besides the recent celebrity endorsement, the brand is also focusing on its online presence and its products are available on all the online marketplaces and ecommerce stores. And to strengthen its digital presence and keep up with recent innovations in the industry, the uncle-nephew duo has brought in the next generation into the business.

"It is all about patience, learning from others, and having a healthy respect for everyone," shares Umesh Rathi about his business philosophy. "I will add to that saying, it is also about taking everyone with you," adds Hemant Rathi about his learnings from running the business for so many years.

Edited by Megha Reddy