AKSHALI SHAH, Sr VP-Strategy, Sales & Marketing, Parag Milk Foods Limited, is not just the Chairman’s daughter, but a professional who has earned her stripes with hard work.
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Akshali Shah

Here, she talks of growth driven by the ‘Pride of Cows’ premium milk brand and ‘Avvatar’ whey protein, and her wish to build a tech-led company

You did an MBA in Family Business Management and joined your father’s company Parag Milk Foods in 2010. Take us through your journey since then and the challenges that came your way.

I started my career in 2010, but I have always grown up around the business. My journey has been a mixed bag, starting from handling a small business unit like yogurt to managing the marketing strategy for the entire business. We launched Pride of Cows, a premium brand of milk, humanly untouched from milking to packaging. Our main aim was implementing the concept of farm to table milk through this launch along with providing our customer with healthy and nutritious options of milk. The brand stands for premium quality milk, ghee and curd. It started with a mere 172 consumers in 2011; today it has reached the national level. There is a story about the launch of Pride of Cows, which is also a great learning. On the first day of the launch, the delivery logistics fell apart, but with the support of the larger Parag family, we managed to save the day. This reminds me that service is such a big part of a product’s success.

The primary challenge was to position myself as the business head of Pride of Cows, and not the Chairman’s daughter. Over time, we have been able to change the perception with the work I did and the responsibility I held. In the beginning, we made efforts to revamp the corporate identity of the company and bring innovation across business divisions such as branding, marketing, operations, etc. Our aim is to establish a strong footprint and continue to expand at a rapid pace throughout the length and breadth of the country. Along with that, IT infrastructure was another big change that I brought in.

What do you have to say about the premiumisation of milk as opposed to regular milk? What are your expectations from ‘Pride of Cows’ and what are the market opportunities for it?

With the diversification of consumer needs, the uses of milk have increased from traditional dairy products to packaged products with high added value. Today’s modern educated customers are taking buying decisions based on factors like good hygiene, convenience, nutritional value, etc. Also, with the outbreak of COVID-19, there has been a renewed focus on health and nutrition to remain hale and hearty. The urban consumer’s preference for convenience, healthy yet indulgent products have increased premiumization.

Today’s consumers need to know the source of their food. Pride of Cows, being a single origin farm-to-home dairy brand, has seen good acceptance as it is coming from Bhagyalakshmi Dairy Farm which is best known for cow comfort technology. ‘Pride of Cows’ is expected to reach an annual revenue of Rs 400 crore by 2027-28, following growing popularity for cow’s milk and value-added products including the newly launched fat-free milk. Besides cow milk, we have value-added products like ghee and dahi under the brand. We also plan to expand the portfolio further with the launch of a value-added product range. Pride of Cows fresh products like milk and curd are currently available in Mumbai, Delhi-NCR, Pune and Surat. With ghee, we have taken a baby step to take the brand to the national level.

Tell us about the uptake for ‘Avvatar’ whey protein in a market crowded by Indian and international brands. How do you see your brand and the overall Indian whey protein market faring?

The trigger to enter the whey protein segment was the frequent sighting of Indians carrying huge jars of imported brands at airports. Whey is the liquid part of milk that separates during cheese production. As we are the largest producer of Go Cheese in India, we have a state-of-the-art facility to build Indian whey protein brand Avvatar. Avvatar is the only ‘Made in India’ whey protein, manufactured in the state-of-the-art plant in Manchar, Pune. Milked, processed and packed within 24 hours, it ensures freshest protein with valuable biological properties retained. We have already received a lot of interest around the product. Avvatar also claims to be soy, sugar and gluten free. It is going to be one of the biggest growth drivers for us as the sports nutrition market is growing at 25% CAGR and there is no major Indian player in this segment, so there is immense headroom for growth. We are creating awareness among Indian consumers that whey protein can be consumed by young adults, adults and even senior citizens. It is especially beneficial to people who follow a vegetarian diet or look at a nutrient-packed drink on the go.

How did the brand fare in terms of growth and revenue during the last year-and-a-half of the pandemic?

The COVID-19 pandemic challenged us in many ways, however, we remained resilient throughout and lent a helping hand to our stakeholders and the society as a whole.

We continued to support our most trusted partners, the dairy farmers, and made efforts to make our supply chain hassle and interruption free. Moreover, with more milk coming in from farmers during these tough times, we ensured that our facilities ran smoothly and were utilised to full capacity, adhering to all COVID led precautions. This helped us ensure continuous supply of products to our customers. Due to extra raw material, we continued to manufacture semi-finished goods to be used to meet future demand. To keep our employees motivated during the tough time, we rewarded them with daily cash incentives, ensured home-to-plant safe mobility solutions and 100% safe working conditions. We thus had smooth availability of manpower even during the peak crisis. We provided free food to all our workers and extended the free food facility to the community around the areas affected by the pandemic.

We quickly adapted to the challenging environment for procurement of packaging material from our vendors due to the closure of many of their operations. We worked closely with local authorities as well as industry players to re-activate our regular vendors by identifying alternative sources and locations to ensure supplies. We offered our location to crucial suppliers to shift their equipment and produce material within our facility to ensure real-time availability.

Where last mile delivery and logistics was impacted, we came out stronger and left no stone unturned to ensure that our products reached the shelves on time. We took 100% care of the transporters and supply chain partners in the process.

We re-strategized our marketing channel mix and engaged our consumers via the digital drive.

Tell us about yourself. What are you looking forward to personally at this point?

My family business has meant the world to me ever since I was a child and I knew from the start that the road was not going to be easy. I had to prove my mettle and take on every challenge to earn the position that I hold today. Most of my time goes into strategizing and coming up with product innovations and solutions to enhance the brand equity of Parag Milk Foods and ensuring we stay relevant to our consumers even in the new normal. You will find me spending a lot of time at our farms. I also travel around the world and get an in-depth understanding of global trends in the dairy industry which helps design products customized for the Indian palate. My dream is to make Parag Milk Foods a technology-driven dairy FMCG company. With that aim, we are using salesforce automation, DMS to streamline our operations. On the marketing front too, we are taking a holistic approach and focusing on digital media, influencer marketing along with traditional media. Also, we are working towards betterment of livelihood of farmers, who are our extended family. We are working towards increasing per cow yield, developing research and development around that. I am hoping to see India as a bigger producer and consumer of milk, and also per cow yield to be at par with international standards.

The Bumblebee Conservation Trust has teamed up with Calon Wen, and wants other dairy farms to join in.

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