Kanti Sweets has come a long way from a small six feet by six feet shop, at Kempe Gowda Circle, Bangalore, established in 1957. Over the years, the retailer has become the preferred mithai-wala (as Indian confectionery makers are popularly known as) among locals, the cosmopolitan consumers and million dollar Corporates.
Set up by Jyotiswarup Sharma, a former police officer, this local home-grown retailer is now an integral part of almost every festivity, where traditional Indian sweets are wanted. Rajendra Prasad, the second generation owner of the store, says, “My father named the store after his brother Kantiswarup to whom he was very close. He started it in order to supplement his income from a hotel, which he ran at that time.
The hotel is no longer a part of the family business, and all our energies are now concentrated on improving and expanding our chain of outlets.” Continuing further Prasad says, “The original store at Kempe Gowda still stands, albeit a little larger at 300 square feet and from a small counter it has become one of the preferred snack destinations for shoppers, students and the working professionals from the nearby stores.”
After his father’s demise in 1973, Prasad’s dream of a career in teachingwas cut short as he decided to take up the family business. Since 2002, the business is managed in partnership, by his two sons Shailendra Sharma and Mahesh Sharma. Mouth-watering Fare A look at Kanti Sweets’ wide product offerings makes one realise why in spite of the absence of glitzy packaging and high-decibel advertising, the retailer has now become synonymous with celebrations in the city. Apart from a wide range of traditional and speciality confectioneries, essentially made of milk, ghee (clarified butter) and dry fruits, their offerings also include savouries like chaats, parantha rolls and cool drinks like badam milk and milk shakes.
With approximately 280 varieties of freshly made sweets and savouries on offer, Kanti Sweets is able to cater to the different taste palates of a diverse cross-section of customers. One of the USP’s of the store is that it offers a large variety of traditional sweets, including those from West Bengal, Rajasthan, Delhi and Karnataka. Kanti Sweets is one of the few stores in the city where speciality sweets, specific to popular festivals and their celebrations, like Sankranti, Raksha Bandhan (Rakhi) and Diwali are available. “For instance, during Sankranti, (the harvest festival) which is round the corner, people looking for til-based (sesamebased) sweets will be able to get them at any of our outlets. Similarly for Raksha Bandhan we offer ghevar, for Holi we make ghujia and for Ganesh Chaturthi we make modaks,” explains Prasad.
Even though Prasad and his family hail from Uttar Pradesh, they not only make local sweets, but given the cosmopolitan make up of Bangalore, have added popular sweets from other parts of India as well. When asked how Prasad manages to maintain the authentic taste of his various offerings, he said, “I choose my staff carefully. In my 12,000 square feet production centre, in Rajajinagar Industrial Area, differentregion-speciality chefs oversee the production of the diverse varieties of sweets. For example, there is a Bengali, who supervises the Bengali sweets, one from Agra, who specialises on sweets from the North, locals who keep an eye on the manufacturing of local specialities and we also have a person dedicated for the production of the special Mysore Pak.” Most of the store managers and supervisors, in their various outlets are a mix of locals and people from different parts of the country, who have been associated with Prasad for a long time.
“I know all my key staff and their families on a personal basis and most of them have known me from before I ventured into the sweets business,” Prasad says. “We have a very warm and cordial relationship with them, unlike the more formal employeremployee relationship, which one gets to see in most other businesses.”
Sheshadri, the store manager of the Indiranagar outlet, joined Prasad when he was a young man in his late teens; he now manages the day-today operations at of the outlet. He says, “Most decisions are taken in consultation with our various employees.” Referruing to the chain’s fastest selling confectionery items, Rajeshwar Singh, who is an old friend of Prasad and now part of their advisory board, says, “Across our outlets Kaju Square (made of kaju and Khoya), Kaju Katli, Special Mysore Pak and Moti-Choor Ladoos are especially popular.”
When quizzed as to what makes Kanti a popular mithai-destination, Prasad notes, “Consistent quality, taste, freshness, variety and reasonable pricing are some of the factors that have contributed to our success. Apart from this, we try and incorporate customer suggestions, which they can give in the feedback boxes placed at each of our stores.” According to Prasad, over the years the customer profile and their tastes have undergone a dramatic transformation. “Nowadays, the younger customers have become more health-conscious and want the mithais to contain less sugar and ghee. For such customers we haveintroduced low-sweet variants of the traditional sweets, like zero-sugar barfi and zero-sugar moti-choor laddos.” Expressing his surprise and frustration over a large cross-section of consumers who perceive Indian sweets as fattening and something to be completely banished from the diet altogether, he says, “Do you know that eating a sweet at the end of a meal actually aids digestion? Traditional doctrines such as Ayurveda recommend eating a little sweet at the end of every meal. Natural ingredients like ghee, dry fruits and saffron present in our Indian sweets have medicinal properties.”
“Contrarily, I would say that chocolates, which have a longer shelf life and are made of preservatives, are not good for health. It is these – and not the freshly made mithais – that contribute to health problems like obesity, cavities etc. We seem to be moving away from our roots, especially with our food habits. A little education and awareness will make people realise that freshly-prepared food is always better than food that contains dollops of preservatives. In fact, we check all our preparations on a daily basis and return any notso- fresh or non-consumed-milkbased sweets every day, so that thereis no compromise on the quality or taste, and incur spoilage of about eight percent,” elucidates Prasad.
Apart from product innovations, like having reduced-sweet/calorie variants of confectionery and savouries, Kanti Sweets has also done away with manual-labour in many areas and mechanised a sigificant component of its processes like cutting and sizing barfis. According to Shailerndra Sharma, Prasad’s eldest son, innovations and trying out new ways of production are something they are constantly trying to do. “Since innovations and experimentations are expensive, we take the help of Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI) in Mysore for our various research and development activities,” says Sharma.
Kanti Sweets is one of the few sweetmeat makers to have an ISO certification. The management’s openness to new ideas and learning is reflected in the way their staff, though not very qualified, deals with the varied customer profile, merchandise- handling and maintenance of the various stores.
Sharma elucidates that the manner in which the chain has expanded – by opening outlets at easily accessible locations in various neighbourhoods – across Bangalore has also immensely helped in reaping benefits and profits. He says, “We always try to reach the customer by opening outlets in their own neighbourhoods. Our customers do not have to travel long distances to partake our products. We also understand one has to constantly innovate and educate themselves about the trends and sustain quality and services offered.”
As per Sharma, the consistent quality of raw materials, which it sources from various vendors, plays a significant role in maintaining the quality and taste of the offerings. He says, “We source our ingredients with care. We get our ghee from Tamil Nadu, almost 2,000 litres of milk is sourced every day from the neighbouring villages, and ingredients like saffron are brought in from Kashmir.”
One of the biggest drawbacks in the Indian confectionery-making business is the lack of trained and qualified manpower. Sharma explains, “Unlike institutes that teach how to make cakes and chocolates, there is no institute where one can learn the art of making traditional Indian sweets. Generally, all these recipes are typically handed down from the chef to family members and close associates. The hotel management institutes regrettably teach only the basic recipes. There are unfortunately no certified experts available in this field.”
Sharing his concerns, he adds, “Sadly, the younger generation appears to be leaning more towards chocolates than Indian confectionery. High-decibel advertising and marketing by chocolate brands certainly generates competition. But, people don’t realise unlike chocolates which have preservatives to increase their shelf-life, our freshly made sweets have none at all, and hence are a much healthier option.”
From one small shop in KG Circle in Gandhinagar, currently the total tally of the outlets owned by Kanti Sweets in the city stands at 24. The chain recently tied up with Smart Retail and has set up outlets in six of Smart’s premises. Prasad says, “Before we tied up with Smart Retail, we spoke to numerous other retailers too, but zeroed in on Smart as we were able to strike a balance regarding our terms and conditions with them. With Smart, we do not work on an SIS format. Our entrance is separate from that of the main store – it is just that we are next to them, so we are able to maintain our individual identity and have a control over our products and services. We are open to partnering with other hypermarkets and supermarkets in the future too.”
Sharing details on growth, Sharma says, “Our approximate turnover in 2008-09 was Rs 12 crore and we hope to reach above Rs 22 crore by the end of the financial year in March 2010. Over the years, we have been registering roughly 30-35 percent growth every year.”
On whether they will be open to franchising options, Prasad says that they are not open to the idea, even though it would mean rapid expansion, because they want to keep a control on quality and service, which unfortunately tends to get compromised in a franchised store. Summing up, he says, “Though I don’t believe in overplanning, I hope my sons will be able to expand this business, not just within the city, but also beyond the city limits.”