A fruitful journey

28PiruzKhambatta Piruz Khambatta | Janak Patel

Piruz Khambatta, the CMD of Rasna, opens up about the brand's success story

Asha Bhosle, Hrithik Roshan, Akshay Kumar, Karishma Kapoor, Paresh Rawal, Genilia D’Souza, Kapil Dev, Vivian Richards, Virender Sehwag.... They all have something in common—advertising for India’s very own Rasna.

Times have changed and so have the models, but one thing that has remained steadfast is the love for Rasna. Millions of Indians have grown up seeing the “I Love You, Rasna” ad, right from the Doordarshan days, and even in this age of fierce competition, the brand is going strong.

Things aren’t always easy for a third-generation entrepreneur. But, Ahmedabad-based Piruz Khambatta does it with ease. Piruz joined his father’s company Pioma Industries Ltd in 1992 and became its managing director in 1997. The company was later renamed as Rasna Industries Pvt Ltd.

It all started with Piruz's grandfather, who used to sell soda water going around in bullock-carts in the 1920s. He also had a permit to sell foreign liquor. In the 1950s, Piruz’s father, Areez Khambatta, started selling flavour concentrates.

Today, Piruz, 44, is the chairman and managing director of Rasna, and he personally oversees every aspect of the brand, including production. His initial challenge was to handle people. There was a generation gap, and it was important to maintain the equations his father shared with them, says Piruz, who has degrees in biochemistry and law.

The next challenge was to sustain and expand Rasna's growth. “My father used to say qualification had nothing to do with success—'it is a jungle',” he recalls. “The company’s success is parallel to the CEO’s.”

Innovation is key, believes Piruz. It is the risk-taking ability that keeps you apart, he says.

For instance, he says, Rasna introduced 01 and 02 sachets in rural India in the early 1990s and 'Nimbupani' in 1998. Rasna, he says, is one of the few companies whose brand identity keeps changing. It helps keeping the brand fresh, akin to the Google doodles, he quips.

Entering business was destiny, says Piruz, who initially wanted to work elsewhere. “I wanted time to explore. However, due to circumstances, I did not have the luxury,” he says.

One of the biggest challenges came in early 2000, when Coca-Cola launched Sunfill to take on Rasna. It introduced a 01 pack, with which two glasses of soft drink could be made. This was to counter Rasna’s “Ek ka do (two out of one)” sachet.

The multinational giant's onslaught made Rasna stronger, says Piruz. Sunfill flopped and was withdrawn from the market. That's what gave Piruz the confidence to “politely say no” as a multinational offered to take over Rasna.

The current challenges for all the players in the natural soft drink sector are narrowing margins and changing tastes of the people. In the recent years, the price increase in the products has been just 3 per cent, but the cost inputs have gone up by 12-15 per cent, notes Piruz.

Focusing on one's core competence and flaunting that in the ads make the success mantra, he says. Thus, while the models and the campaigns have changed over the years, the thrust on fruits and vitamins has been a constant. Incidentally, Piruz’s nine-year-old daughter features with Akshay Kumar in the latest Rasna ad. It is her third one, he says.

Will Rasna enter the equity market? “We do not need the capital,” he says, proudly adding that his is a zero-debt company. Though he does not divulge the company's annual turnover, Rasna sells concentrates worth 0400 crore every year (of which nearly 20 per cent is exported).

In a recent brand equity survey, Rasna figures above brands such as Tang, Sprite, Frooti, Slice, Fanta and Coca-Cola. And, its orange flavour is the biggest hit—covering about 60 per cent of the products. “It is generic to the company,” says Piruz.

Rasna offers nearly 100 products such as juices, syrups, nectar and milkshake powder. It also exports 'Ethnic Basket', which consists pickle, jam, chutney and curry paste. Fruit Plus is another top export product. Rasna products are available in 40 countries, says Piruz.

In India, the brand caters to 1.8 million retail outlets. It has 25,000 stockists, 35 depots and a sales force of 900 people. It is available in most villages that have a population of above 5,000.

Rasna has a market share of 90 per cent in the powder concentrates segment. In other forms, too, it is ahead of brands such as Rooh Afza.

Currently, Piruz is busy promoting Vitos, a type of chocolate flakes, and planning the launch of masala and curry mixes. He is also in talks to take over a couple of companies.

Piruz works for Rasna five days a week. One day is devoted to corporate social responsibility activity. For the past couple of years, the company has been giving 10 per cent of its profit to CSR activity, with a major chunk going to a trust set up by his family. The trust's activities include sponsoring 2,500 cataract surgeries every year.

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