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‘We have plans to venture into the ice-cream business in the coming months’ – Sohrab Sitaram, CEO & Director, Keventers

Sohrab Sitaram is one of the most widely recognized names in the Indian hospitality industry. His talent for ideation and thorough knowledge of the business is one of the reasons behind the current Keventers brand. As Director & CEO of Keventers, he has a leadership role in all the projects and pre-operations stage of all the outlets in and outside India.

He has been instrumental in setting up some of the most exclusive and successful restaurants and bars like Tabula Rasa, TabulaBeach, The Hungry Monkey, Chi Kitchen & Bar, Zingo star etc to name a few, where he has lent his expertise and vision and has been instrumental in establishing these properties. With over 16 years of experience in the Food & Beverage Industry, Sohrab Sitaram has donned various roles from that of an investor as well as a consultant.

Sohrab Sitaram in an interview with Suman Prasad spoke in length about different aspects of Keventers and how challenging it was to carry the goodwill of Keventers and drive the transformation. He also spoke about the market strategy, its business model, future plan and other interesting details.

Excerpts from the interview:

On the idea of reinventing the iconic brand – Keventers

Keventers was first established in 1925 by a Swedish dairy entrepreneur Edward Keventer and has a legacy of over 100 years. Down the years, Keventers was brought by the Dalmia family who was manufacturing not just milkshakes but also cola, butter, ghee, and condensed milk as well. All these products were sold commercially but we also sent packages to the Indian army in the high altitude areas. Unfortunately, the area where the factory was located, Malcha Marg, was declared as a diplomatic area which meant running a factory there wasn’t allowed anymore and Keventers had to shut shop.

In 2014, Agastya Dalmia and Aman Arora decided to reinvent the company as Keventers, a brand that has a great recall value among the consumers. Agastya and Aman then approached me as they needed an experienced entrepreneur to lead and structure the growth strategy and to build the brand from scratch. I was already running a few successful restaurants of my own including Tabularasa, Chi Kitchen and Bar, The Hungry Monkey, and a few more. I joined the team as a partner and currently I am the Director & CEO of the company, and there has been no looking back since then.

Challenges in transforming a brand like Keventers

The transformation was indeed challenging. In any business, when the first product is out and runs well you know you have done something right. But as the saying goes, sharpening the saw before cutting a tree is the most difficult task. There was a lot of thought that went into it and it was quite difficult. Earlier there was a lot of debate because Keventers only had milkshakes and no other kiosk or cart that sells only milkshakes. This in itself was a very difficult decision but we were clear about what we wanted to do and we wanted people to be attached to the core of the brand i.e. the milkshakes. This was one of the big challenges. Moreover, Keventers was a very old-world brand, and it was not aspirational. Moreover the Gen Y which would be the larger base of our target market was not familiar with the brand unlike the Gen X. Hence, the first task was to make it aspirational which we did via creating architecture, design, and creatives which were appealing to the Gen Y. The idea was to make the brand Keventers “cool”. The idea was to create something which people would feel proud to be associated with and feel “cool” while consuming Keventers.

Keventers variety

We offer varied range of unique and delicious flavors at present. We have four main categories of drinks as of now which ranges from thick shakes (trendy appealing to the gen Y), classic shakes (shakes with the legendary past) fruity shakes, and the winter menu. We also have some unique milks shakes that was created for the winter. Our line of warm milk shakes has not been done anywhere in the world commercially and we have pioneered the same.

We have also introduced sugar free shakes for the health conscious customers and plans to add more of low calorie menu to our existing product portfolio. In addition, we have the finest quality of coffee, tea, and the traditional Badam doodh.

Strategy moving forward

Presently, we have the monopoly in this space as there is no other brands that specifically focuses on milkshakes. The growth strategy was first establish a formidable presence in North India where currently we have accomplished 70 percent of our targeted budgeted. The next stage involves creating presence in all the metropolitan cities followed by tier 2 cities.

The third phase involved setting up outlets abroad in all major metropolitan cities across the globe. The fourth phase will involve setting up outlets in major states of all the potential cities across the globe and tier 3 cities in India.

Local Competition

Our target audience is primarily the Gen Y – youth, followed by the Gen X who are acquainted with the brand. Milkshake shops that we see in every nook and cranny, in its entirety, is part of the unorganized sector. We don’t consider them as a competition, because we are looking at a much more upmarket and an aspirational sort brand. But for instance, if we go to a state like Gujarat, we will definitely look at what some of the local shops sell, and try and incorporate some of that for sure, from an aspirational level.

Our prices are very reasonable, and more or less the same but what the consumer gets in return is tremendous. The quality of milk that we use is top-notch, also the brand is more trendy and upmarket in comparison to what’s available in the market. We also have our own branded bottle which is the hero of our brand and can be recycled in millions of ways by the consumer. Moreover, we have a pan-India and international presence as well. These are some of the factors that help us compete in local sectors and markets.

Business Model

At present, our strategy is to expand in three different ways –

I. Company owned outlets

II. Joint ventures – with strategic local partners who can provide strategic inputs for growth and expansion in a particular region

III. Franchise model – strategic partners who can also run the business day to day

Home Delivery 

Absolutely we have a strategic tie up with Swiggy and Zomato through which we do home deliveries all across. For us it is also a great opportunity as we have presence in nearly every nook and corner which makes it deliveries far faster and efficient.

Sourcing the core ingredient

In Delhi and NCR, we have our own milk. In other states we currently do not have the size just yet which makes supplying your own milk feasible. Once we have a size large enough in other parts of India then we will have strategic tie ups with companies pricing quality milk as per our specifications.

FMCG vs Koisks

We are not ruling out the FMCG route, however at this stage we would like to focus our energies on the existing business model. When we go the FMCG way, we will do so with flavored milk, and not milkshakes. We also have plans to venture into the ice cream business in the coming months.

Expanding in other countries

We have established our presence in Nepal, and are setting up operations in Kenya as well. We have finalized expansion in Dubai, Sharjah, California and Sweden. Additionally in this year we are also in talk to establish presence in countries like Maldives, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Singapore.

Store Count

Currently we have 97 outlets. We will be opening our 100th outlet before the financial year end. All this has been achieved in a period of one year. By 2018 we will be expanding two folds – international presence in all the major cities across the globe who we are in talks with and establishing a strong network of Keventers in all the other major cities of India and not just Delhi NCR. We have budgeted 200 additional outlets by the year 2018 thereby taking the total of Keventers to around 300 by the year 2018.

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