Showing posts with label coffee. Show all posts
Showing posts with label coffee. Show all posts

26 April, 2021

Moving on... #Miles2Go

The past 12 months have been the most unfortunate and unhappy for millions of people worldwide. The Covid-19 pandemic was beyond comprehension in its new form since Mar. 2020 onwards and took epic proportions over the next few months. 

As they say, there is always calm before storm and in my case, it worked exactly this way on the professional front. Just that the lockdown period was the calm and what followed was storm, quite literally. I consider myself a lot luckier than the unlucky millions because I not only had a job to feed my family – my parents, wife and both kids tested Covid-19 positive (and I was the sole negative member in the home!) in May ’20 but each of them fought bravely and bounced back in full form in less than 45 days; I managed to ensure my team – starting from 100 around June ’20 growing all the way to 175+ around Mar. ’21 remained cautious of the dreaded infection and less than 10% of my workforce & their immediate family tested positive for the virus; increased point of sales presence for Levista Coffee across Tamil Nadu and Karnataka from 26,000+ in Mar. ’20 to over 79,000+ by Mar. ’21 – completely led by my brave boys in the field; which eventually led to a whopping 42% growth in the Brand’s top line over the past Financial Year; and finally – painstakingly have built a “solid team” of sorts which would work cohesively (and I sincerely hope) in my absence as I step down from Levista Coffee as Vice President - Sales & Marketing after joining in Jan. ‘20. 



It’s not been an easy decision for me to step down, honestly. It was unprecedented that I had to move on, even though things were looking bright for the Brand. Sometimes in life, we need to do what is right, rather than continuing to do what works well – for us and for others. More than this, I restrain from saying here or elsewhere the whys and whats of my decision – life moves on.



I wanted to summarise my learning through this tumultuous period even as thousands lost lives and livelihood, and here I was – making history by the day and night with unheard of and unseen types of marketing strategy coupled with fabulous execution by my team. By the way, these accolades have been showered by well-wishers around me – which I have openly declared as not mine and solely belong to my team, though there have been some black sheep around me. 


I credit the success of the Brand with the quote “Due to Corona or Despite Corona” but for the first time, I must confess that I kept moving on all these months “despite the black sheep or due to them”. At one point, you give in - for you need to do the "right thing". No blames, Peace. 



My single biggest learning during this period is to nurture people in the team and believe in them – as the adage goes, take care of your people and they would take care of the business. The moment it was formally informed of my leaving, many people within and outside my team reached out to me and expressed their disappointment over my decision. Goes to show that though I could have been harsh on them sometimes, they have perhaps realised and seen the  benefit for them – the larger view, perhaps. Another learning has been that I have maintained a healthy space between those around me and myself. This measured space ensured that we all had the much required time and thought process to ourselves. 



The fact that I have never called or summoned anyone on weekends or after office hours – not once in the past 12 months – is a simple edifice that appreciating everyone’s time works well. Keeping the interest of the staff and their families in each act and activity of the Organisation and staying on it genuinely works in the larger interest thereby delivering positive results. 



And lastly, never to antagonise those who are closer to the people who matter and speak behind you – it probably gives them more ammunition to pull us down. I had a choice – not to antagonise people and keep moving for the sake of money and a steady career; or to do the "right thing". I chose the latter. 


Obviously. When you are brought up with the right kind of “values” from childhood, that’s what you do. Works best for all of us, isn’t it. Adios, Amigos. Moving on and moving ahead in life. 


I have miles to go, after all. 




05 March, 2021

Upwards & Northwards! Finally


On Thursday, Fitch Solutions, one of the world’s top rating agency estimated that India’s HHS – Household spending would grow 7.9% y-o-y in 2021 after 14% contraction in the year 2020 due to the Corona pandemic. In nominal terms, the HHS is estimated to be Rs. 125 lakh crores (whatever number of Zeroes, that is!), a 3.3% growth over 2019. Not bad at all, huh. Food & non-alcoholic drinks is expected to grow the highest among all other consumption categories and this, in my humble opinion is perhaps the biggest good news of the year! 


Here’s why I feel that this will propel the economy to a large extent.


India has an estimated 14 million kiranas and retail touch points – who sell anything from cigarettes, biscuits, tea, coffee, grocery all the way to other household items including consumer durables, fashion, footwear among others. This segment drives India’s consumption opportunity, a key reason why the Amazons, the Walmarts, the Wall street Investors all the way to the Chinese & Japanese billionaires and everyone in between are eyeing a small pie in the Great Indian Retail Story which is yet to unfold. The world has been witnessing an ugly battle in the public involving some of the most reputed businessmen and their companies, thanks to a hostile take over which has seen stiff resistance from the other. Meanwhile, Indians are jolly well shopping their home needs and personal requirements through gadgets – apps as well as a simple phone call to order their roti, kapda and makaan – quite literally. 



I started working in the retail Industry 24 years back scooping ice-cream and later with one of the pioneers of Grocery Retail, Foodworld Supermarkets two decades back. Even back then, most Indians in bigger cities had to travel not more than 2 kms to buy their food and grocery. Every locality and neighborhood had a kirana store who offered personalised and tailor-made solution for her / his customers. From topping the shopping bag with FMCG freebies (what we call as Loyalty points these days) to offering a chocolate to the kid (instant gratification in today’s terms) all the way to a speedy home delivery (some Start-Ups who never made a transaction level profit over 10 years are now Unicorns!) and so on. The Kirana offered credit at a time when a “Credit Card” was a western phenomenon and raised capital – through internal accruals and market offering, rather than the obnoxious Equity based Investments.


Cut to 2021, my excitement with the latest Fitch report is simple. Though the Kiranas have dwindled in real numbers – not because the Modern Retailers or E-Commerce companies replaced them – rather than many of them did not have second-gen successors to run their businesses, they have simply been replaced by “Convenience Stores” – family owned as well as Corporates who vie for the consumer’s spends. And daily shopping for Food & Grocery shall never go out of fashion in the India’s consumption story. As most Indian households are small and barely have refridgerators, and even if they do, no more than 165 – 200 litres that cannot hold over 2-3 days’ needs; the kitchens of India are big enough to accommodate one adult to stand and cook with a provision to carry 3-4 weeks dry grocery requirements. Daily use items like Milk, Biscuits and snacks are almost bought every other day, rather than the large packs of colas, juices and nachos which are more the western phenomenon. Small is Beautiful and India’s sachet revolution is a glaring example of how and what India consumes.



If you are unable to relate to most of the above, I can understand as yours and my house are perhaps a lot bigger than the majority of consumers in India, for you are reading this on a digital gadget which is a privilege for a few of us Indians. The majority still read physical newspapers, watch sops and news on TV sets and shop from their neighborhood stores as they walk back home after work or leisure. In fact, shopping is a form of entertainment in India, isn’t it, for we make-up and dress up for buying groceries or eat at a restaurant.


I have always reckoned that “Consumption is Growth” compared to “Consumption leads to growth”. The moment, we are consuming, there is a need to repurchase and the cycle continues. The Covid-19 pandemic has pushed us behind, but not by light years. The recovery across segments, from automobiles to entry level smart phones, consumer durables to even the more discretionary types, is a confidence boosting measure that things are back on track, slowly but surely.




As Indians, what we can do to boost our economy is to consume. And consume a tad more than the previous one. Be it our daily dose of coffee & tea to household needs or fashion, every rupee that we spend will go in to building back India, one step at a time. But where’s the money to spend, one may ask. I have eternally believed that India is one country where no Indian can sleep hungry – if they choose to work and earn their meal. Such is the opportunity in this country. While lakhs of people have been displaced of their daily jobs, we have seen a resurgence in our mental strengths, especially from the marginally placed and the lower strata of the society. One will find enough work in this country, if they choose to. And the entire ecosystem has to work together. Am I living and writing this from Utopia, No. Am I sure that we shall survive this crisis? Well, we have always created history with our resilience over the centuries and this pandemic is also one which shall pass by. 


Back to the Fitch estimates, Food and Grocery are the real propellers to the Economy’s consumption pattern. We earn our dough, spend at the neighborhood stores which employ people and provide them a livelihood; they in turn spend on their basic necessities and slowly but surely increase their non-discretionary spends and the cycle continues. Daravi in Mumbai has more set-top boxes than many urban clusters in India, remember. 



At Levista, where we sell Instant and Filter Coffee across Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, we have grown 50% in our sales over last year (and we have 1 more calendar month to finish). I added 70% more manpower this year over last and increased retail touch points by 3 times to 79,000 as of 1 Mar. 2021. And we still occupy less than 2% of the Rs. 2,200 Crores pa packaged Coffee market in India which excludes B2B / Restaurant & Café consumption business. We have just begun, I believe. With a 98% headroom to grow and such confidence building measures – our real growth as well as estimates like that of Fitch solutions, I guess we are headed upwards and northwards, even as we should remain grounded to reality with a eye and ear on the consumer who’s always sending us notes, thoughts and reactions. If only we listen… more!

 

15 January, 2021

Uttarayan and my Professional Life


On 13 Jan. 2021, I was driving back yet again to Chennai from Bangalore on my XUV500. Even as my playlist kept jumping from 90s Tamil film songs to the latest tunes, spiritual discourses to FM Radio, my thoughts kept wandering from one to another to another. I was driving back in a spacious SUV, all alone and reasonably well placed in life than what I had imagined for myself 24 years back when I first joined the Retail Industry scooping Ice-Cream at Baskin Robbins as a part time salesman during the day, learning computer languages in the morning at NIIT and studying B. Com in the Evening College. I am ever thankful for my Stars, the Creator’s benevolence, blessings of Elders and good wishes of my close friends for where I am today in life. Professionally, Socially, personally and of course, most recently on the spiritual lane. 


It was a Makara Sankrathi / Pongal day that I landed up at Bangalore in 2004 to be part of a revolution in the making, little which I knew when I was interviewed in Oct. 2003. Even on the inaugural day of Bangalore Central in May 2004, none of us back then knew how big the Indian Retail Consumption story would grow to and that some of us would be a strategic part of it with our own tales of success, failure and most importantly, that of abundant learning.



As the playlist kept changing every few hours during my recent drive, I couldn’t help but realise how my life has been such a roller-coaster drive and that I have enjoyed, messed up and have overcome many such moments all along. The morning chills of my bike rides from my temporary stay at a cousin’s house in RT Nagar, Bangalore back in 2004 all the way to MG Road (where the Mall was located) and getting lost every now and then on my way to Jayanagar 4th block where the Regional Office of the erstwhile Pantaloon Retail was once located gives me the chills in the spine till date. Honestly, I never thought I will come this far in my professional life, that I would write about the last 20 years every now and then and fondly recollect the moments that has made me an eternal Student of Retailing for the rest of my life.



Last Sunday, I had met a former colleague for Lunch at a posh Restobar which was once upon a time a suburban hamlet that was Sahakar Nagar. I was sharing how I could never feel “belonged” at “Bengaluru” although the city has given me so much. My retail resurrection has happened multiple times and Bangalore has lifted me up multiple times. A few other cities hold as much or more importance to me – of course Madras being my hometown is always the dearest. Every time, I enter or exit Bangalore city - the iconic arch at Attibele, the retail library that is Brigade Road / MG Road, the eponymous UB City, the wet markets of Malleswaram or Basavangudi, the Windsor Manor underpass, Mekhri Circle, the new Airport Road towards KGIA and so on – each one of them have a deep meaning and a related anecdote in my life. But the attachment is always temporary. Just that this temporary attachment turns 17 this Uttarayan season and remains an undetachable part of me forever. 


Yet again, I moved to Bangalore during Uttarayan 2020, bag and baggage for my current role at Levista. What was once supposedly a guest accommodation at my current abode in the Western suburb of Bangalore, Peenya and “the so-called home” at Chennai has now been reversed, with me spending more time at my own Bangalore Headquarters even as we march against an insurmountable business target of achieving Rs. 100 Crores of turnover for the 4 year young brand in the next 12-18 months. Am I dreaming, yes. Are dreams good, yes. Do they get achieved, sometimes yes. And how about this one, I am working harder than ever for it. 


I am once again grateful to this once-upon-a-time quaint town which has given me so much yet remains detached from my life and expects nothing from me, other than gratitude and thankfulness in my thoughts. But I vow to make this city proud of an outsider like me, in one way or another and give her the due recognition as I share a great part of my professionally somewhat-successful career to this place. 

I won’t get attached to her ever. But would always ensure that this city is always a part of me and My Retail Journey in the making. Forever.

28 July, 2020

A lot happened to Coffee


I was taking an 8.30am flight that morning when News channels at the Chennai Airport flashed that Mr. VG Siddhartha had gone missing the previous night at Mangalore. He had asked his driver to stop the car and walked along the now infamous bridge along Nethravathi River near Ullala town only to never return. His dead body was found two days later along the coast and was cremated the same day at his native town, Chikmagalur. Those unfortunate three days, I happened to be in Bangalore on work. I was restless right from the moment I heard the news, the two days of suspense and finally watching the last rites on a TV App on my mobile even as my Cab was passing by Coffee Day Square on Vittal Mallya Road. I was breathless for a few hours even after reaching my hotel room that night. Sometimes, I still get nightmares.



Although I was never too close to “Chairman” as we called him, I had the rare opportunity to work closely with him between 2009 – 2011 when I was General Manager – Business Development at Café Coffee Day setting up 140 new cafés within the confines of retail precincts including Airports, Metros, Hypermarkets, Supermarkets, Apparel Department Stores, Cinemas, College and University Campuses and so on. We would meet twice a month or so to go through the potential sites that were on offer and he would share his wise views whether to proceed or not, given his global experience in the Coffee business. 




He always wanted to make Café Coffee Day one of the most loved homegrown Indian consumer brands. Legend has it that the farmer’s son was fascinated how Coffee was brewed, served and enjoyed at cafés in Europe, the US and the world over when he would travel on work in the 90’s across continents. Initially, CCD as it is known lovingly was stated off as an Internet Parlor on Bangalore’s Iconic Brigade Road. However, VGS as he was addressed affectionately decided to sell Coffee for a fee and offer the Internet for free even as he would sip his coffee slowly and see the future of coffee cafés all over India. 


The company started off expanding in Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad and quickly moved to Bombay and Delhi. There would be constant comparisons in the early part of the new Millennium between CCD and Barista, though CCD evolved & grew sooner than Barista and others, thanks to a very strong team that focused their strengths on F&B, Café Operations, Marketing and of course, a very well laid HR Foundation. That every cup of Coffee should be consistent was a goal that each one of us tried to achieve to the best of their abilities. 


Mr. Siddhartha gave a different “meaning” to Coffee in a predominantly tea drinking country. After all, during its hey days, CCD was serving over 2 lakh cups of Coffee through Cafés and Vending machines installed at Offices, Colleges, Canteens and so on. “Coffee?” became a buzzword in India. For friends to catch up, for asking a Date, for an informal job interview and so on. In fact, I would wonder if there is any Start-Up in India which has never had at least one of their many discussions at a CCD nearby. VGS made Coffee the unofficial beverage of Indians who are on the move – from Airports to Colleges, Malls to Multiplexes and beyond. Today, if Coffee is a popular drink across the span of the country and is a preferred ice breaker, the credit solely goes to Café Coffee Day and the visionary Late Shri. VG Siddhartha. In fact, in my current role at Levista Coffee, one of the audacious mission statements I have been crafting is how to replace the first beverage of the day, being Tea to Coffee across millions of Indian households. Among the erudite and the educated, this would be a relatively easier task because VGS & CCD have already built much familiarity to this fascinating hot beverage across the predominantly Tea consumers even within Tier 2/3/4 towns in India. 


Over the past 12 months, so many people have asked me why he committed suicide – such a successful Entrepreneur who build a fledgling empire, with one bean at a time. Almost. And my reply has always been the same. Neither I nor anyone else was standing next to him when he fell off the bridge. No one other than him would know what was running in his mind on that fateful evening of 29th July 2019 or the few days and weeks ahead of that. Was it political? Business? Debts? Societal Pressure? No one knows and will ever know. 


Law has taken its due course, so have scrutiny by the authorities. But this is all post-mortem. The world lost another soul to suicide. As we always say, one is driven to this malaise called suicide. It’s sometimes a meticulously planned one. Like my maternal uncle did in 2014. Like many of us are pushed to the decision in a whim. Most of us, including me don’t’ end up doing it for some reason or the other, With VGS, we just don’t know. However, a lot happened to Coffee since 1997. Coffee as a product, CCD as a brand and VGS as an Entrepreneur will always have a page in the Indian Consumer & Retail book. So much to learn from this episode. May his Atma attain the Lord’s Feet and I pray to my cherished Deity that his soul attain Mukti. Om Shanthi.

Here are my Obit , RemembranceHomage articles I wrote last year. 

31 May, 2020

The Power of Scheduling

It was the second week of April 2020. Three weeks into Lockdown 1.0, a broken supply chain, employees and team members dispersed all across and most retail stores closed, it was one of the toughest moments in my professional life. That I had a roof and secure four walls, three meals to eat, a lot of snacks to munch and salaried job – the real luxuries of the Corona-crisis made me feel a lot luckier than the millions who were displaced world over. And that I was staying with my wife and kids – I had come on a work trip to Chennai on 13th March and remained here ever after through the lockdown – was the happiest thing I could enjoy in life. Honestly, we have never spent such a long time together within a single precinct all our lives!


Yet, I was beginning to crack under pressure – workwise as well as managing household chores including mopping the floor intermittently, washing vessels, drying and folding clothes among other things all day. To get a peaceful uninterrupted 7-hour sleep was becoming a challenge. I am usually a reasonably disciplined guy. I cannot fathom that my bed is not done within a few mins of waking up; a small slush on my white car and I get it cleaned as soon as I could; from rotating my shoes, watches and dresses on FIFO basis to booking darshan at Tirupati 4 months in advance, it’s been a usual rigor. After all, when you are the son of a Factory Worker whose salary gets deducted for late attendance and a schoolteacher mother who must arrive before the students come to school every day, this is just a way of life. 


Even as I was struggling to manage things better, was when I recalled I should speak to one of my professional mentors, a former boss of mine whom I’ve admired for his multi-tasking Leadership abilities. Working with a popular Promoter Entrepreneur, managing a team of a dozen high-flying direct reports and handling a Retail business spanning the length & breadth of the country, I couldn’t think of anyone better than him to seek advice and assistance in my Leadership role at Levista Coffee which I began in January this year. I too have a similar professional assignment at the moment although the complexities are quite different and a lot lesser, so a comparison may be inappropriate. 



A scheduled 60-minute call with him helped me sort out my stuff quite easily. 

To begin with, I created scheduled buckets of my time for all my key tasks – regular VCs with direct reports, allocating time for emails, for clearances & providing approvals, Meetings with external stakeholders, Interviews with Candidates & Media interaction and so much so, that I also included “Lunch” on my Calendar. Keeping my EA involved in all my day-today business activities helped immensely so he could follow up on important tasks from others and revert to me as per schedule. And most importantly, absolutely no out of turn calls or VCs unless it’s tearing urgent. All my day's activities get captured in the iWatch which my beloved wife gifted me 5 years back and the device keeps reminding me of my schedules  as well as measures my sleep patterns (through the Sleep++ App) and my daily fitness goal - how many steps I walk inside home. This is such a blessing. 


I also included slots to, don’t exclaim, Read Newspaper & Articles as well as for my Daily dose of Yoga at 6am! In exactly one month’s time, my entire day has been well sorted out and results are showing up. My Blood Sugar is well under control, I sleep and wake up on time with my 5am routine, spend enough time to read 4 Newspapers and a couple of Articles early in the morning and of course, write and share my thoughts regularly on social and other public media. I ended up doing Four Webinars each weekend too. 


And on the work front, not only have I been more efficient, my team has also done a spending job in the month of May and we have set new business standards for ourselves. I cannot thank my former Boss enough for that timely intervention and take this opportunity here to acknowledge the same. I hope this schedule gets better, so I get more efficient in June and beyond. 

How does your time management go about? What's your kind of Scheduling of Tasks? 


15 April, 2020

100 Days of Employment

It’s ironical that I am writing this article on my 100 days of Employment from home. So be it. Out of the 100 days, 25 have been Work from Home, a first of it’s kind in my 2 decades of being employed. The first day of my job and almost everyday thereafter have been on the shop floor, meeting, interacting and solving consumer challenges – from helping them to choose the right merchandise to closing a sale, somehow. But the last 25 days have been very different, thanks to Covid-19 Crisis and the ensuing lockdown. More on that later.


 

Mid-December 2019, I was lounging with my classmate who had come to India for a vacation. We were at Westminister, Crowne Plaza (though we still call it as Park Sheraton) which is our favourite hangout for the past 20 of the 24 years we have known each other since studying UG together. The Waiter who used to serve us way back then is now the F&B Manager of the Hotel, something that makes us feel happy that everyone around us has been growing. I received a call from an unknown number and the caller identified himself as an HR Consultant and spoke briefly about a Coffee brand. In the next 24 hours, my tickets were booked to Bangalore for a face-to face Interview with the Management and in the next 7 days, an Offer Letter was sent while I was on vacation at Jim Corbett National Park for Christmas holidays. Things moved very fast, to my own surprise but that’s how God’s grace has always been. He surprises us without even us realizing what He is up to. I joined the company on 3 Jan., on my Father's Birthday!

 

I completed 100 days recently at Levista Coffee as Vice President managing Sales, Marketing, Supply Chain, Logistics and everything in between. It has been a very short tenure yet, but a very fulfilling one. Be it setting up a Corporate Office from scratch (Furniture, Interiors, what not), to plan a detailed Business Plan for the next 24 months as I lead the company to greener pastures with a vision to accomplish 5% Market share of the Rs. 2,200 Crore Instant Coffee Market annually in India of which 80% is held between HUL and Nestle, who’s majority of business comes from Southern India. I have been fortunate to interact with executives and experts from the Indian Media Industry – small, big, large as well as meeting staff members along with prospective new recruits to join and grow the Sales & Marketing team meaningfully. Have also met and interacted with some very bright minds from the Indian Retail ecosystem who have been very supportive to a baby brand that we are, which is only 27 months young now.

 

After 100 days of this tenure, everything seems surreal. I was an Accidental Entrepreneur, thanks to a turn of events in the family way back in 2014. I was not prepared for running Retail Businesses or E-Commerce although Consulting was always on the cards. While all my entrepreneurial escapades went bust including a few Crores of personal savings between my wife and me, what has remained are memories and learnings. Something which I will cherish all my life and of course, am putting them to good use every day. Working for a retail company is very different than running one, for it’s easier to get paid than to pay employees. My hyperlocal ecommerce venture, which is incidentally the most utilized today during the N-Covid Crisis, where we delivered FMCG from nearby Retailers to Consumers was way ahead of time, perhaps. I received messages from a few friends over the last few days and even potential Investors who appreciated my forethought but was difficult to execute it then, due to lack of funds then.

 

Miles2Go Advisory Services, my Consulting firm worked with at least 50 Entrepreneurs on business ranging from Jewellery to Organic Bio-Manure, Agri-products to Idli-Sambar serving restaurant chains. Airports, Railways, Travel Retail Concepts were some of the areas where I worked in various consulting roles. This rich experience and exposure for over 60 months has helped me immensely as I wade my way through this complex maze of Retailing, yet again wearing a new hat (and new clothes!). I am learning every day; with a clean slate every morning – that I do not know anything about Retailing or the Retail Industry and that I get one more day to (unlearn) and learn from scratch.



I have Miles to Go. I have just begun.

25 December, 2019

The Café boom – Retail 2020 (Article #4)

When I was climbing up Vaishno Devi hills 5 years back late in the night, I saw to my pleasant surprise an outlet of Café Coffee Day midway known as “Ardh”. The café was quite popular among devotees and visitors and many regulars were savoring their favorite cuppa at this 24hr café. One can find over 1,700 such cafes across 450+ cities in India and the brand can be credited with creating as well as leading the “café culture” in India and introducing it to three generations since 1997 when the first one opened at Brigade Road, Bangalore.


A friend of mine asked me a few years back, “what’s it like to drink a cappuccino at Starbucks in India?” – I said, enjoying a great cup of coffee indeed. He replied, “No, one spends Rs. 350 to live their American dream while spending the 90-120 mins at the Café”. In hindsight, this is quite true. I had written in my article only yesterday that most Indians buy luxury products for the “Badge Value” it offers and not really for what the product stands for and the craftsmanship. Same is with eating out as well and no wonder, the café boom has been growing year on year in India. A Café (or a local F&B joint earlier) is the third most preferred place after Home and Workplace to have a social catch-up for most of us worldwide. 

The traditional tea shops in India, since the days of the Independence struggle, would play community radio and the entire neighbourhood would gather to listen to the latest updates. Later on, it was Ceylon FM and Geet Mala which attracted the locals only before independent Tea shops and local Restaurants started mushrooming across cities. The India Coffee House, stunningly still operational through a network of cooperative societies, is a glaring example of the gossip-gupshup culture of the 50s and 60s. And then came the trendier cafés which served Italian styled cappuccinos with local snacks and gourmet cuisines to attract the well-travelled as well as the aspirational customers of popular western culture. The rest as they say is History, rather, “History in the making”. For, we have a mere 4,000+ modern style cafés across 500 cities in India – for an estimated discerning customer segment of at least 30 million consumers in the age bracket of 18-45 years. 


Café Coffee Day is the largest café chain in India with over 1800+ cafes. In store count, second comes Starbucks which entered India in 2012 in a JV with Tata Group and operates around 180 outlets – approximately 10% of the market leader. Home grown café chains such as Barista and Java Green as well as Internationally acclaimed chains such as Costa, Gloria Jeans, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf and many others entered India with much fanfare a decade or so back and have already exited with huge losses since they couldn’t get the business model right. While coveted brands like Illy Coffee are available only at select star hotels, many international café chains haven’t even entered India for obvious reasons. 

Meanwhile, India has witnessed a boom in the Tea Retailing models with a number of funded start-ups ruling the roost. Market Leader Chai Point has raised US $37.5 million and has 104 operational stores across India while Chaayos has raised US $18 million and operates 65 outlets. While these investments have largely gone into brand building, the Tea-Retailing business hasn’t been profitable even at an operating level as per market sources, thanks to the low perceived value of a cup of tea, its liberal availability across the length and breadth of the Country due to abundance of supply of raw tea leaves which are grown across the country unlike the Coffee Crop which needs a special soil and shade alongside to grow with high maintenance. Incidentally, most of the premium varieties of coffee and tea are exported for a hefty price and what we get mostly is of inferior quality. The ApeeJay Group created an innovative concept by the name “Cha-Bar” as part of the eponymous Oxford Bookstore, beginning from Park Street Kolkata to Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai and across India, although neither the book retail nor the tea-retail business took off as much as many other coffee chains took the country by storm at one time. 


A few years back Hindustan Unilever experimented with Bru Café at Mumbai as a brand experience center and the Tata Group has experimented with the Brooke Bond Café at Mumbai and Tata-Cha at Bangalore, both of which haven’t expanded for reasons best known to Tata Sons. Bru Café eventually never scaled since the instant coffee was not what the consumer was willing to pay a premium for. Bru and Nescafe Sunrise are the Top 2 operators in the Rs. 2,000 Crores pa Instant Coffee Market in India with over 40% market share together with numerous others such as ITC's Sunbean, Levista, Continental Coffee, Leo Coffee, Narasus Coffee and many others are stacked up one behind the other in one of the smallest Coffee Markets (by value) in the world, disproportionate to the population size. Nescafe has been able to open Kiosks at various establishments such as Airports, Railway Stations and Corporate Tech Parks while Bru has penetrated deep in to the small and medium size offices and corporates with over 25,000 installations cumulatively across all its formats.

With 50% of India’s population under the age of 35 years, a substantial exposure among the Gen Y, Gen Z and the Millennials to global culture and higher disposable incomes than the immediate previous generations, the Café boom is yet to even begin in my opinion. But it would be fraught with challenges. Getting the right real estate is the prime challenge. Then comes standardizing the F&B assortments so the crew at café can prepare with limited OTJ training. Third, deep pockets to keep consumers coming back for repeat visits. But the good news is that the potential Consumer is not just ready but is willing to pay a premium for discerning concepts. 

As I write this article, Gloria Jeans is making a comeback, CCD is about to get a new Investor cum Owner and a few interesting brands are scaling. Exciting space ahead. So I can write more interesting stuff about my favourite beverage, more often.


04 August, 2019

Eulogising Friendship, one cup at a time!

Like so many other western concepts, Indians have been celebrating Friendship Day on the first Sunday of August for over 2 decades or more now, quite actively. It was in the late 90s when films eulogising Friendship grew and carved a niche for their attention-grabbing scenes, dialogues and songs. 


So much so that the song “Yeh bandhan to, pyar ka bandhan hai” from the film “Karan Arjun” feat. Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan went on to become a super-duper hit for the then generation which probably wouldn’t have been privy to the iconic “Yeh Dosti” song from the Hindi film Sholay. Similarly, films of all languages had their own friendship songs and AR Rahman’s “Mustafa Mustafa” was perhaps the most hummed friendship song in South India, especially in Tamil Nadu, thanks to the immense popularity of the 1999 film “Kadal Desam” which was among the first films of a three-way love story and each friend making a sacrifice for the other in a round-robin fashion. On the other hand, retailers like Landmark, Odyssey, Crossword, etc. selling greeting cards took cognisance to this fad, which was originally conceptualised by none other than the Founder of Hallmark Cards, Joyce Hall in 1930, only to promote the concept of sharing Greeting Cards for various occasions, thanks to a falling interest and demand for greeting cards in the US during the 19z. Much later in the year 1998, Nane Annan, wife of Kofi Annan, former UN General Secretary named “Winnie the Pooh” as World’s Ambassador of Friendship at the United Nations. Although the concept doesn’t have much takers worldwide over the past half-century, I guess Indian Consumers have taken this “social festival” actively, thanks to a full-pronged promotion by Films, Brands and Retailers.


In the 90s, it was quite popular in India for friends to buy greeting cards and send to each other, some by post and others passed on in person (this was when post cards and inland letters were fading off). Although it was gender agnostic, it was mostly to the opposite gender – what would later on become a dating fad to the generation in the 80s, 90s and early millennium. Those days, due to the lack of social networking Apps like Facebook or Dating Apps like Tinder, people would actually see, meet, greet and spend time with each other in person (as ironic as it sounds today!). 

And the most common meeting point was none other than a Café Coffee Day outlet (of course, temples, churches and other social places like parks were common too). As the by-line of the iconic retailer read, “A Lot can happen over Coffee”, many people took it too seriously to meet their loved ones at a café and would go on to propose their love and their intention to marry. While I do not have data to correlate how many such proposals would have been received at CCDs over the past 2 decades and how many were converted (!!!) to become marriages and how many would eventually become break-ups or even end up at divorces. But CCD played an important role in this real-life social networking.


The Greeting Cards industry was perhaps the biggest beneficiary because in the 90s, a large sized Greeting card would cost more than a Coffee at CCD (or any other equivalent such café, probably). There were variations in sizes – the shape of Alphabets, Cartoon Characters, pets and of course that of a heart. Archies, Hallmark and even UNICEF which worked closely with so many corporates for meaningful collaborations made a windfall during their peak years by encouraging patrons to buy greeting cards to wish one another. However, the proposition of exchanging cards became irrelevant over time, thanks to the advent and advancement of technology, especially with emails and early social sites like Orkut gaining popularity. Today, e-cards are a norm and there are hundreds of Apps which help users to create fantastic digital cards for various occasions and not just for Friendship Day, perhaps. However, CCD remains an icon for friendship and even their interiors / graphics inside the cafes portray young ones, what with the designs only getting more contemporary over the years.


From salons to cafes, restaurants to Malls, Friendship Day is a large and still untapped marketing opportunity. How I wish Marketeers create a larger than life consumption opportunity around this day which celebrates the spirit of Friendship & Camaraderie which traverses across professional and social boundaries. 

Wish people could discuss this over coffee – after all, A lot can happen over Coffee!

01 July, 2019

Why Coke wants Coffee...


A budding second generation Entrepreneur started an Internet café in Bangalore’s iconic Brigade Road in the mid-90s with the unprecedented boom in consumers using the World Wide Web to communicate with each other besides knowing a bit more about the world on the other side. Those days, an hour of browsing the Internet would cost ₹100 and a cup of coffee, perhaps ₹10 or so. It’s no surprise the costs have reversed today. 
 


Cut to 2019, the same Entrepreneur is expecting a valuation of $1 billion for his coveted asset, Café Coffee Day which he has patiently and painstakingly built over the past 20 years. The café has over 1,700 cafes across India now including a few outlets abroad. I was privileged to work in this team a decade back for 2 years where my team and I went ahead to set up over 140 cafes across Airports, Metros, inside large Retail formats such as Wal-Mart, Shoppers Stop, Odyssey, at Hospitals, University campuses, Cinemas and even at Cricket Stadiums at Chennai and Kolkata during IPL Matches. The bidder for CCD this time is none other than Coca Cola Company, world leader in carbonated beverages who has also been in India for 2.5 decades.

Why does Coke want coffee? Because they see an untapped opportunity to reach out to the millenials in India who are among the largest of their ilk worldwide. Pepsi, on the other hand has a majority of its business coming from snacks and food while Coca Cola Company with its wide portfolio dominates the carbonated beverages market which has seen a shy growth in India, thanks to alternative beverages, let alone a few healthier options. CCD cafes interact with over an estimated 3,50,000 patrons a day with an estimated 100,000 bills daily (assuming an average 3 persons per bill). That’s over 1.2 billion times of engagement annually, something that Coca Cola Co. can do perhaps only online with constant advertising. 


A recent report published by Euromonitor states that the Indian Coffee Market was pegged at ₹2,500 crores as of 2018 and could double in the next 5 years. With cafes becoming the third and most preferred alternative place to hang around after home and work place, Indians are embracing coffee cafes and tea bars like never before. In the immediate past half decade, chains like Chaayos and Chai Point have gained much attention from Consumers as well as deep pocketed Investors. World’s biggest café chain Starbucks entered India a decade back in a JV with Tatas and has grown to over 150 cafes till now while others like CBTL and Café Pascucci left the market even as the homegrown Barista and British chain Costa have found a small niche for themselves. Interestingly, Coca Cola Co. bought Costa Coffee last year for $5 Bn while Nestle bough the distribution rights of Starbucks across Europe for over $7 billion in 2018.

Interesting times ahead for discerning Indian consumers. Would we see us drinking Coke and Fanta along with a Cappuccino at the neighborhood café or the Mall down the road? I don’t know yet. Interestingly, Sidhartha of CCD has refrained all along from selling carbonated beverages ever since the beginning. But the brand’s future could be different. We are now seeing Spicejet logo on the erstwhile Jet Airways’ crafts. Time will tell how this story spins out. And although it’s not in my plan today, I am already fixing my Auditor’s meeting at a CCD. For the love of the brand and their coffee.

22 January, 2019

Coffee Matters (Noun & Verb)


My former Boss at BIAL, Mr. Stephan Widrig, the then Chief Commercial Officer blocked his calendar and sent me a meeting request with the Title - “Coffee with Shriram”. I was stunned and confused at the same time. I was awaiting to have my annual performance review around that time with him and instead he sends me this. Most Indian employees (excuse my bias, please) are used to sitting nervously in front of their bosses during such sessions, with sweat falling profusely and continuously for the entire duration, what with the Boss is going to gag the employee with their non-performance of metrics and expectations. But this session turned out to be different. 

Stephan had done his homework (as always) and had just a single page with pencil notes on it. He invited me warmly to his cabin and we had a 45 minute discussion on what I have contributed to that particular FY as well as the 2 years I had spent with the company which was involved in setting up the first private Greenfield Airport in India. I was more critical about my performance than him, frankly. But he calmed me down often and suggested never to be so difficult on myself. The review went well and I came out with flying colours (as cliched as it sounds) and a hefty increment + bonus, but most importantly I walked out with so much satisfaction of working for such a person!


A recent study by John Bargh of Yale University suggests that a Coffee Meeting with the Boss can do wonders and this article is the reason for my outpour of my fondest professional memories.The study suggests that the “coffee meeting” can also work wonders when one is pitching new projects to Clients, raising an Investment or even discussing with Suppliers and Business Partners.

“What we found was that there was a significant difference between the two groups, such that participants who held the hot coffee cup saw person A as being more generous, more sociable.”

It’s common to see Starbucks and CCD outlets across India (and perhaps elsewhere in the world) filled with people engaged in discussions - as we reckon from the Food Retail Industry, cafes are the most preferred third choice of location for most of us after Home and Workplace. I am told Pubs are a great place to pitch Angel Investors by Startups in the West - and we have seen and heard enough stories how many Unicorns who raised their first round of funding over beer. Back in India, alcohol is still taboo - at least in most business occasions (well, Delhi and Mumbai could still be exceptions). Even some of the largest Indian corporations and business houses do not hold official Dinners with alcohol, thanks to an inherent cultural mindset. So cafes are the “go-to” places.

I recall when I was a student 2.5 decades back, the cafe culture was still setting in. Chennai had “Hot Breads” even before Cafe Coffee Day came up and there were similar such smaller joints where young couples would turn up for a “coffee date”. Even a conservative city like Kolkata had it’s brush with “Coffee Pai”, a speciality cafe with wonderful desserts and coffee to go with run by my friend Naveen back in the millennium year. Over the years, the cafe and coffee culture has outgrown with every important road across the top 30 cities in India doting a regional, national or International coffee shops. Such is the power of Coffee.


On the same note, a number of Tea joints have also sprung up in India over the past decade, with some having raised millions of US Dollars in Investment. My favourite in Chennai is “Chai Kings” which serves a wide variety of speciality Tea and have upgraded their outlets with a swanky indoor, with the recent one opened at Ramanujam Tech Park in Chennai. However, the value proposition for Coffee over Tea (Price being a differentiator) is way too high and hence Coffee chains can afford to charge much higher than Traditional Indian Tea. 

As the Indian spring begins this January, do plan a coffee meeting soon with someone important in your career and life - from an Ex-Colleague to your current Boss, long lost friends or your spouse. And remember to go for a Warm Coffee than a cold one. You will feel the difference, trust me. And write to me, if it did make a difference. Cheers.

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