The basmati rice industry like many others has hit a rough patch in the last two years. On one hand competition in the export market from international companies has increased and on the other hand domestic retail has failed to generate anticipated growth. Nevertheless, exporters and rice millers continue with plans to expand capacities and are setting up their own branded boutique stores across India.
From farm to retail
Best Foods procures and produces basmati rice from Himachal, Punjab and the foothills of the Himalayas and exports it to major overseas markets in Europe, the US and the Middle East. With its biggest buyer being Iran, it exports several grades of basmati rice in various sizes of customized packing and as well as in bulk in containerized shipments. Among its top brands are Best Royal Vintage, a naturally aged rice and its super premium, premium, select and special categories of rice besides its brown basmati rice. Rice is usually a water-intensive crop with each kilogram of rice produced using a lot of ground water. (According to the Commission of Agricultural Costs and Prices Report for 2015-16, the production of each kilogram of rice consumes from 2,605 litres of water in West Bengal to a high of 5,337 litres of water in Punjab.) Nevertheless, basmati rice growth is encouraged in the Northern states and especially Punjab because there is no obligation to sell at a minimum support price to the government procurement agencies.
After winning the silver trophy for three successive years from 2007 to 2010, Best Foods won the APEDA golden trophy for being the largest Indian exporter of basmati rice in 2011. The company processes nearly 2,500 tonnes of paddy in a day in 17 modern rice mills – all equipped with modern plant machinery using the latest technology. The mills produce a net daily output of 1,500 tonnes of basmati making it among the top five basmati rice producers in the country. Rice is grown in several ways across India and there are over 4,000 varieties, so the selection of species, cropping, growth, ageing, nurturing, and processing of a premium rice brand is essentially a farm to the factory journey.
Best Foods has extended this footprint with a retail presence giving its brand a wider reach from farm to retail. Starting with the selection of the right varieties and nurturing the crop and the soil with the help of contract farming it derives large output from paddy fields that is obtained for milling, processing, packaging and shipping to reach the marketplace.
Strong branding strategy
“The key to growth in the food sector is strong branding,” says Ayushman Gupta who is sparing no efforts to turn the rice miller cum exporter into an integrated food giant by adding ready-to-eat meals, sauces as well as health and wellness food products to the portfolio. The company has received accreditation from the Indian Culinary Forum (ICF), a 600-member association of professional chefs, and is planning to target consumer segments such as housewives, working women, restaurants, clubs, and B2B markets individually to achieve better market penetration.
Apart from selling its brands in high-end retail stores, the company has its own boutique stores in shopping malls that makes it the only rice brand with a direct retail presence. It sells not only its premium basmati and brown rice in its own retail stores but also sauces and pastes. Some of its delicacies are the rogan josh sauce, tikka masala sauce, butter masala sauce, korma sauce and white pasta sauce, besides tandoori paste, garlic paste, ginger paste and Kashmiri paste. Apart from this together with culinary experts it sells its own branded ready-to-eat rice-based meals such as vegetable biryani, dal makhani, paneer butter masala, rajma masala and palak paneer.