In 1987, four brothers of the Bhuva family migrated from Chavand village to the neighbouring city of Amreli in Gujarat. Sons of a farmer, siblings Dinesh, Jagdish, Bhupat and Sanjeev wanted to search for better prospects in the city.
Borrowing some money from their father, Dakubhai, they opened a pan (betel leaf) and a cold drink kiosk. However, little did they know that a small cubicle would lay the foundation of a Rs 300 crore empire.
Three decades later, their small pan counter has helped them become a company that sells hundreds of varieties of dairy and food products.
In an interview with The Better India, Bhupat shares how their story unfolded.
Began With a 5×5 Feet Shop
“Our family practised agriculture for a living. There were fewer education facilities in our hometown, and our father suggested we move base in Amreli to pursue education, get jobs and eventually improve the standard of living,” Bhupat says.
Dinesh, the eldest brother, suggested opening a pan shop near the city bus stand. “The area had good customer flow, and we saw the potential to earn a good income. Dinesh took care of the shop during the first half. While the other brothers, including me, took turns to manage operations during the remaining part of the day,” he says.
Bhupat says the income from the shop helped them earn well and covered the expenses for their education.
However, in 1989, the city underwent development and beautification, resulting in the demolition of its kiosk. The siblings then purchased a small 5×5 feet shop at the bus station.
It was in 1993, during the Janmashtami festival, that they decided to experiment with selling ice creams. “The annual festival calls for an annual fair, and the business jumps exponentially with the influx of pilgrims and tourists. So, we decided to introduce dessert to boost the business,” he says.
Bhupat says they outsourced the ice creams from a local company and sold it for a commission. “The trick worked, and it helped us improve profits. Considering the pull of consumers towards ice cream, we decided to take a step forward and set up our ice cream unit. From 1996 onwards, we learned and sold handmade ice creams,” he says.
Their products received appreciation from the market, and their customer base expanded. In 1998, they converted the company into a proprietorship of Shree Sheetal Industries. “The increasing business required us to formulate the company and set up a unit in Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC), processing 150 litres of milk into ice cream,” he says.
The company started expanding the market and selling ice creams in retail outlets within the city and eventually in other parts of the district and state.
However, their expansion spree faced challenges in a developing India.
“There was no 24 hours assured electricity in all the villages. The power fluctuations were a worry. However, the then chief minister Narendra Modi announced Gram Jyoti Yojana to deliver electricity. We took our ice-creams by charting a path following government footsteps in the villages and towns where it introduced assured electricity,” Bhupat says.
Bhupat says the company introduced new milk products, and in 2012, they rechristened the company by the name Sheetal Cool Products Pvt Ltd.
“We expanded into milk and other milk products like curd, buttermilk, lassi and others. In 2015, we entered the frozen food market selling paratha, pizza, snacks and other ready to eat food items,” Bhupat explains.
By 2016, the company diversified into market segments of namkeens (savoury snacks) and listed it as a public limited company, Sheetal Cool Products Ltd, the following year.
Today, the company processes 2 lakh litres of milk per day, with 1,500 employees out of which 800 are women. It has entered eight segments and offers over 500 products in the market.
Bhupat claims the company is the largest employment provider in the district.
Speaking about the recipe of their success, Bhupat says, “Our products, especially ice cream and lassi, are made from pure milk and cream. We did not market our products, branding them as frozen desserts under the garb of vegetable oils. We never compromised on the quality. The frozen lassi was our unique selling product and the customers received value for money.”
The entrepreneur adds they managed to reach the farthest part of Gujarat that other competitors did not. “Some villages and semi-urban places tasted ice cream for the first time after independence. Such marketing moves helped us gain better control over the market,” he says.
Yash Masarani, an entrepreneur and a frequent customer of Sheetal ice cream, says, “Traditional kulfi is my all-time favourite dessert, while the triple sundae is always a great way to end the dinner for my family. Besides, dry fruit basundi and other milk products are bought by our family during festive occasions for years,” he says.
Bhupat says that the goodwill earned by the brand and quality products helped the company achieve the success they see today.
A Bond of Brothers
The four siblings have travelled rough roads before cruising into a smooth road.
“We had no team in the beginning and worked without support. All the brothers visited the retail shops personally and connected with customers to improve the products. Repeated visits were a must to convince the retailers to ensure they allowed us to keep our products on shelves. Such a move was necessary as we were competing with national dessert brands. We put in at least 15-18 hours a day,” he notes.
Elaborating further, Bhupat says they did not have personal vehicles, making transport difficult. “Procuring raw material and electricity was also a challenge. The majority of our raw material came from the neighbouring state of Maharashtra, which meant a trip of 200 km, incurring additional transport costs,” he says.
The siblings distributed responsibilities in handling the business. Bhupat is glad that the enterprise helped the family live better lives and generate employment for the masses. “Earlier, we did not see the clarity on how the business would evolve. But a few years later, we realised the potential and felt that if we put enough hard work and sincerity in the business, we could scale new heights,” he says.
The company has new blood in its operations. Yash Bhuva, Bhupat’s son, has joined as an executive head of the company. “I have taken responsibility to continue the legacy and expand it overseas. We have 30,000 outlets and 50 business partners across India and wish to expand it further,” he says.
The 21-year-old says he has seen how the company has undergone ups and downs during his growing years. “I have learned that running a company is not a single person’s game. The four brothers have toiled equally hard to bring the company to this stature. Our brotherhood and sharing a common vision and mission have helped the family succeed. I feel confident to continue the business and scale it to newer heights,” he adds.
Edited by Yoshita Rao