In an interesting and informative interview Ashish Khandelwal, Managing Director, BL Agro, shed light on the legacy and vision of the company going forward.
BL Agro has had a long history successfully marketing mustard oil. Since 2018 it has launched a number of products by the brand name ‘Nourish’.
1. Could you tell our readers briefly about BL Agro an its legacy?
BL Agro’s growth story is an inspiring story of success. Having started as a mustard trading house in 1950s, BL Agro has come a long way today. During the course of its gruelling journey, the company transformed from a commodity trading organization to a full-fledged FMCG company. Over the years, marketers of a single mustard oil brand started rolling out multiple varieties of oil, including refined oils and then a range of food products under the brand name ‘Nourish’ – thus catering to a much wider consumer base.
2. You were born in the business family. Did you face the challenge of traditional vs modern business thinking when you joined the company?
During my growing up years, I had seen how my father built the business from scratch and took it to great heights. His journey has always inspired me. At the same time, it was a challenge to expand further and take our business to the next level as during the initial phase, my family members did not encourage me. They believed that oil gets sold as it comes, and testing for quality was unnecessary. Oil was scarce at that time and it was the era of ration permits. As a result, not much attention was paid to the quality of edible oil. From the very first day, I vowed that I will test the oil on the basis of quality and carry forward the business based on this promise. I remained firm on my word and learned the nuances of oil quality from my uncle and father through the business and the lab. I also studied The Prevention Of Food Adulteration Act, 1954 in detail, and kept a steady focus on analyzing the quality of oil according to the act.
Since joining the business, I have tried to establish myself as a growth motivator by bringing in new age marketing concepts and innovations.
3. How did Covid change the way business is done in your category? Food products were always in demand but what were the other challenges?
Food category in the FMCG sector is perhaps the one that has experienced a remarkable change in consumer behaviour. The pandemic has brought in a complete shift in people’s eating habits. People have started shifting towards healthy and immunity boosting foods. The awareness about nutritive benefits of food is much more now than ever before. This is where our brand Nourish becomes more valuable as it offers nutrition in everyday foods.
As far as our business is concerned. A lot of care had to be taken for purity, hygiene and cleanliness, due to which we had to buy very modern machines so that human contact is less and our food items can reach the customer with purity. We have also established a dedicated Hygiene Centre in our premises.
4. How has the cooking mustard oil category evolved over the years in the light of refined oil becoming popular cooking medium?
For centuries, mustard oil has been used as an edible oil, and its preference in many households across India remains intact. In fact, research has reinforced its vitamin-laden, anti-bacterial and anti-oxidant properties and has served to even enhance its popularity. Its distinctive and pungent taste lends itself rather well to most food. It was only in the last few decades that refined oil was aggressively promoted and marketed by marketers and they were able to achieve a shift in the consumption behaviour.
5. Nourish Brand was launched in 2018, since then how has been the growth?
In 2018, we decided to diversify and add food products portfolio to the existing oil business. The food products under the brand name ‘Nourish’ received immediate acceptance in the market. Based on an elaborate study of market dynamics and consumer behaviour, we carefully developed each product with higher health and nutritional values. To support this, we established top-of-the-line production capabilities that included procuring finest machineries from all over the world. The brand today has one of the largest distribution networks amongst food product players in India with over 125,000 retailers.
6. What message do you wish to communicate to consumers with your commercial featuring famous Bollywood actress?
The company has engaged with celebrity brand ambassadors like Shilpa Shetty for Nourish and Manoj Bajpayee, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Pankaj Tripathi for Bail Kolhu.
As brand ‘Nourish’ promises better nutrition to consumers in their everyday meals, the commercial urges people to choose healthy and nutritious food options instead of the regular ones.
On the other hand, ‘Bail Kolhu’ commercial celebrates its journey from a humble background to achieving an iconic status. A story shared by all three of its celebrity ambassadors.
7. How has been the outcome of automation in your manufacturing units? What has been its impact on food safety?
With the objective of providing only the best quality products with highest levels of food safety, BL Agro has equipped itself with latest automated machineries and systems. Our fully automated packaging plant is possibly the best in the country in our industry. It includes an automated racking system and other world class food processing machineries.
8. What is the present production capacity of your factory and what is the future plan for both mustard oil and Nourish brand?
BL Agro facilities are spread across various units in Parsakhera, Bareilly with following capacities:
Plant & Machinery (at B-30, 31,32 & K-5 Units)
- 1 Liter, ½ liter & 200 Ml Oil filling Sidel Machine made in France (Line 1), fully automatic packaging solution with a capacity to fill 400 bottles per minute.
- 5 Liter Oil filling Sidel Machine made in France (Line 2), fully automatic packaging solution with capacity to fill 100 bottles per minute.
- 2 Litter Oil filling Sidel Machine made in France (Line 3), fully automatic packaging solution with capacity to fill 260 bottles per minute.
- Flour Mill is made in Austria (it has cold processing), it has a capacity of grinding 8 Ton flour per day.
- We have vacuum packaging facility; with capacity of packaging 40 Zipper pouches per minute.
- 15 Litter PET Jar manufacturing machines made in Cyprus, it has a capacity to make 350 jar per hours & 15 Kg PET jar manufacturing machine made in France, it has a capacity to make 350 jar per hours.
- We have papad manufacturing machine, with capacity to manufacture 700 Kg papad per hour.
- We have Pickle manufacturing machine; with capacity to make 100 kg Pickle per hour.
- We have Mangodi manufacturing machine, with capacity to make 40 Kg Mangodi per hour.
We have a spice packaging machine, with capacity of packaging 500 pouches per hour.
- We have 200 ton Oil pouch packaging machine.
9. What is the ratio of revenue between exports and domestic market?
What growth do you foresee in coming years?
We deal only in domestic market so do not generate any revenue from Exports.
10. Your message to food start-ups?
One should try and take risk only then he can be winner. Moreover,
- Attain good knowledge of the industry before starting on your own.
- Identify few products to start, then looking at the market feedback, expand.
- Avoid venturing into many products at the same time, specially at the initial stages.
- Always be true to yourself and aim to deliver the best quality food product.