If you, like thousands of others, have enjoyed a hot meal onboard Indigo, then you have Radha Daga to thank. How many of us would have noticed the name of the company – Triguni Foods – that manufactures the instant, filling meal? And further still, how many of us know that it was started by Radha when she was sixty-nine years old? This is the inspiring story of a woman who proves that if you have passion, then age is merely a number.
“Please call me back at 3.00 p.m. – by then I will have finished my work at the factory and my mind will be free. Right now, I am on my morning rounds and preoccupied with things at the factory,” says Radha, now 78 years old, and yet works as hard as people who are half her age and runs a tight ship.
Radha is the founder-managing director of Triguni Foods. When most people are thinking about retiring in their sixties, Radha, at 69, switched gears and went from being a successful textile exporter to following her passion and starting a food business.
Even now, when Triguni Foods’ has existed for over a decade, Radha approaches each day with the same enthusiasm she did when she started it.
Food – a childhood influence
As we begin our conversation, Radha tell me how while growing up, one of the things that she thoroughly enjoyed was going through magazines in which beautiful food and their recipes were showcased.
“My mother would get various home and gardening magazines to learn about knitting, and I would spend hours looking through recipes and home décor ideas,” she says.
Despite her keen interest in cooking, it wasn’t until after Radha was married that she actively took to cooking. “After my marriage, it was my desire to bake and make food that was not part of the daily menu that took me into the kitchen,” she says. Just as she completes this sentence, she makes a little confession. “By temperament, I am one who can create recipes, understand food, and what it should taste like. However, cooking itself is not something that I would do. In fact, if I did cook, the dish might not even turn out the way I had envisioned it.”
“If you ask me why I was so attracted to creating food, I have no answer. It has been a deep desire of mine since childhood,” she says.
Birth of an entrepreneur
She attributes her entrepreneurial mindset to the fact that she spent much of her formative years at the Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry. “It’s where I learnt to dream without attaching any boundaries to my aspirations,” she says.
In her twenties, Radha took up a job at a travel agency. She speaks about how it was important for her to have that job, mainly to prove to herself that she was capable. The financial independence that it gave her was something that Radha cherished.
It was in 1987 that Radha decided to take the plunge and become an entrepreneur. “I was in my mid-forties when I started Chimise Exports – a garment export company set up in Chennai. What came out of it was the learning – from the types of material, to what it means to assure good quality, keep up deadlines, etc. “I still pride myself in the fact that there was never even one piece of reject cloth from my factory,” she says with the hint of a smile.
What kept her motivated was also the fact that she had, in setting up the factory and the business, generated employment for several underprivileged women. “I worked hard. In those days getting a loan to build a factory was rather difficult. I persisted, worked towards it, put together the money, and finally, built the factory with my own money,” she says.
There was a time when there were almost a thousand people employed at the garment factory. “It is a labour intensive industry after all,” she says.
One Box Checked, But Food Dream Remained
Even though Radha was a fairly successful garment exporter, her passion lay in food. “There was almost this itch that I felt in wanting to pursue my passion for food in some form or the other,” she says. After toying with various ideas – from considering making jams, preserves and marmalades – Radha zeroed in on ready-to-eat food packets.
What Radha wanted to achieve was creating products, which have no preservatives and are 100 percent natural. “Making them closest to home-made food is my motto,” she says.
The seeds of the food business were sown at the garment factory and it was in 2010 that Radha’s dream started to take shape. “I didn’t want it to be just a way to pass my time. Food was always at the back of my mind, and while I knew I wanted to do something around it, I did not have the infrastructure and capital at that time to begin,” she says.
Finally, she decided to act on it. “There was an empty room at the factory, which I converted into a place where I could experiment with food. I hired a chef, and together, the journey began.”
Once Radha was sure that the food business had potential and could be done, she started hiring people. By this time, she was sixty-nine years of age, but for Radha, it was never something to think about. Thus started Triguni Eze Eats.
First Few Developments at Triguni
To be able to make good quality, nutritious, affordable meals accessible to all was the idea with which Radha started Triguni. “There were many hits and misses to begin with,” says Radha. Talking about one of the first few food products she worked on, she says, “Idli was one that did not take off, but at the same time, lemon rice turned out to be exceptionally good. And with that, it all started.”
When asked about the investment she made into this, she says, “It was all a gradual process. The equipment needed and the hires we made over the course of the year constituted our major expenditure. I would say it has been to the tune of Rs. one crore over the first year.”
When asked about her personal favourite from all the food that she had developed, she is quick to dismiss the question, saying, “Oh, that is almost impossible to answer. Let me tell you about our bestsellers.”
Bestsellers at Triguni
The Rava Upma with a very low level of spice, made especially for those at Auroville, was very well received and that is the product that Indigo rebranded as Magic Upma for their passengers. “In a way, the Magic Upma changed our fortunes,” she adds.
IndiGo Airlines is Triguni’s largest buyer, accounting for more than 80 percent of its business.
The Hyderabadi biryani, dal-chawal, poha, rajma-chawal, and even the chicken curry rice are very popular. “Everytime we feel like we should stop and concentrate on the products we have, we end up developing another one,” she says with a chuckle.
Other than being sold on flights, Radha says that these ready-to-eat food packets will soon be available on various trains. “Having good, affordable food available on train journeys is one of my dreams,” she says.
There are about fifteen products that are available at Triguni and with a shelf life of about six months, these are stocked in various retail stores pan-India. On average, these food packs cost between Rs 80 to Rs 120 and can be ordered via Amazon and the official company website here.
Radha – The True Boss Woman
“Diligent, punctual, and a stickler for quality,” are the attributes that P Krishna, Radha’s associate at Triguni for over a decade, uses to describe her. Even today, Radha makes it a point to visit the factory every single day and walks all five floors during the time she spends on her inspection rounds.
“In all these years that I have worked alongside Mrs Daga, not once have I been made to realise how old she is. She does not just keep up with the rest of us, but on many occasions, outshines us,” says Krishna.
As we near the end of our conversation, she says, “Yes, I am seventy-eight and am often asked why I do what I do – the answer to that is ‘passion’. Creating food is my passion and I am so happy that I am getting to work on it.”
“Dream as big as you can – only then can you spend your waking hours making them come true,” are Radha’s words of advice.
(Edited by Anuradha Kedia)