The pungent smell of asafoetida is evident in many South Indian dishes, including the much-loved Sambar. Kerala is one of the major consumers of this ingredient but has fewer large scale manufacturing units of it in the state.
Asafoetida (Ferula asafoetida or ‘hing’) is the gum resin extracted from the roots of Ferula plants. It is used for culinary as well as medicinal purposes after drying. Even though it is grown extensively in Afghanistan and Iran, it mostly appears in Indian cuisine. It also plays a key role in Ayurveda.
So, when MBA graduate and Kerala-native Varsha Prasanth decided to start her business, the production of asafoetida seemed infallible. In 2019, along with her two younger sisters – Vismaya and Vrinda, launched a sole proprietorship firm called 3vees International.
“My family was already in the field of business and I was certain to start something of my own soon after completing my studies. For our food production unit idea, we screened several products that can be manufactured. Finally, we arrived at producing asafoetida,” says 26-year-old Varsha.
A Family Business
Started by manufacturing asafoetida, 3vees now sells around 30 products, including curry powders and breakfast essentials. The manufacturing unit of the company is at Kalamassery, Ernakulam. While Varsha looks after the daily activities, Chartered Accountancy student Vismaya takes care of the financial proceedings and BBA graduate Vrinda is busy with digital marketing and social media promotion. Their parents Sarala and Prasanth, the support system of the trio, are also part of this work.
“The company was set in motion as a sole proprietorship entity. But with my sisters who are full-time partners now, it was converted into a private limited company. We also have 30 employees working for production and distribution,” shares Varsha.
This two-year-old company was started by incorporating a Mudra loan and small capital of Rs 2 lakh. Before starting the company, Varsha completed a training course from Piravom Agropark and visited some manufacturing units in Tamil Nadu to understand the whole process.
“During the trial run, people complained about a change in taste/smell of asafoetida which is different from what they usually use. We swapped proportions and finally got it right. Now we have reasonably good sales directly and via e-commerce platforms like Amazon, Flipkart and Indiamart,” says digital marketing mastermind Vrinda.
Compared to other top brands, the products of 3vees come at a lesser price. The company that started running in a small room of their rented house now owns machinery worth Rs 50 lakh.
In addition, the company employs 30 women from their neighbourhood.
“Orders came in at a slow pace through direct sales in Ernakulam and other districts like Alappuzha and Pathanamthitta. By collaborating with Supplyco (Kerala State Civil Supplies Corporation), our sales soared. We started supplying products to the corporation during the floods of 2019 and continue to do so. This has helped us reach a margin of Rs 25 lakh for the last 3 to 4 months,” adds Managing Director Varsha.
Today, the brand sells masala powders like turmeric, chilli, coriander, sambar, pepper and chicken, which have a price range of Rs 32 to Rs 180 for 200g.
Their breakfast items include roasted rava, rice/wheat flours and banana fig, ranging from Rs 135 to Rs 200 per kg. The star product, asafoetida, which is sold as both cake and powder, has an average price of Rs 160 per 100g.
Even though 3vees has gained permission to provide their goods to over 2,000 Supplyco outlets in Kerala, they have limited the sales to a few and are currently finding distributors all over the state. The raw materials to manufacture asafoetida comes from Iran and Afghanistan and reaches them through dealers in Mumbai.
“We plan to make 3vees an international brand within a period of 3 to 4 years. Therefore, a major part of the profit now goes into marketing,” says Vismaya, who is currently pursuing her CA articleship.
This entrepreneur trio, just in their 20s, is building an empire by integrating responsible business practices and impeccable skills.
On a concluding note, Varsha says, “I urge all women to go forward with whatever they are passionate about. Of course, there are risks. But eventually, you will land at a place which is worth it.”
Visit their website, here.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)
Photo credits: Varsha Prasanth