“Mass volume satisfies hunger pangs with non brand outlets…”

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At a time when financial slowdown has caused most of the retailers to go cautious in their expansion plans, India’s leading food retail chain Comesum Food Junction plans to add 10 more outlets to its existing 20 outlets. Further the company is also considering the possibility of exploring the overseas market. In an interview with IndiaRetailing, Abhishek Agrawal, executive director, Comesum Food Junction discusses more about the food industry scenario and the impact of slowdown on the industry.

IndiaRetailing (IR): Food chain is the industry that suffered the least from ongoing financial Slowdown. Do you agree?
Abhishek Agrawal (AA): Economic slow down obviously has effected the globe but as compared to the other industries and walks of life, food industry is less affected because every one is fond of good food and yes, food is everybody’s requirement. Comesum Food Junction is placed on the entire major railway junction serving the fellow passengers with good nominal food with quality and hygiene. As spending money in food outlets are low, we do not see the financial crisis affecting the food industry.

IR: How do you analyse the food chain market in India? Clearly dominated by the unorganised sector, where do you put the organised players in the current situation?
AA: The Indian food industry is estimated to be worth over USD 200 billion and according to the case study taken by several research organisations, the market is expected to grow to USD 310 billion by 2015. India is one of the world’s major food producers but accounts for less than 1.5 per cent of international food trade. This indicates vast scope for the investors. India is the world’s second largest producer of food next to China, and has the potential of being the biggest.

In this respect, the country is endowed with a large production base for a variety of raw materials covering food crops, commercial crops and fibers due to its varied agro-climatic conditions.

As seeing the huge potential in food trade people are more concentrating in opening up food outlets either it may be a small dhabba, or a take away unit or any form of eatery. More than 70 per cent of people have unlicensed food outlet or street foodings. The organised players are for sure fighting with the huge mass of street food business as they put in lots of effort building the brand, customer satisfaction, ambience and hygiene. No doubt we have valued customers but still a mass volume is still satisfying his hunger pangs with the non brand outlets.

IR: A lot of risk is involved in the segment with food involving risk to perish. How do you cope up with this?
AA: Yes, there is high risk in the preservation of food and we have to be very calculative. A good index needs to be working on the food line. We have to see every minor details of a food item — its shelf life, the preservation methodologies, temperature, and many other things to maintain the utmost taste and health. We got to have a perfect idea about the menu as to what will be the quantity of items which has a short shelf life and by any means has to be consumed within the stipulated period. We involve a good number of experienced cooks, chefs, assistants, and managers to run the show. We do keep health and hygiene officers who only keep an eagle eye on the entire kitchen management. A good coordination and index working is the best way to cope up with the risks involved.

IR: With you food chain spread across India, how do you stick to your benchmarks in terms of quality, hygiene and taste?
AA: Quality and customer satisfaction is the main jewel in food trade. We have a dedicated team responsible for quality, hygiene and taste which allows us to retain same taste and quality of food at all the outlets across India. Our cooks are specialised in their own cuisine and to maintain the taste of India. We hire cooks from different part of India, as for south Indian food we have cooks from south India who specialises in their food and taste found in South.

IR: Sourcing of manpower is also termed as a difficult task for food chain operators. Your comments.
AA: Yes, sourcing of manpower is indeed a difficult task for food chain operators but we have our team managing the same with their expertise and planning in recruitment. Sourcing manpower’s is a tough job but when you are running a multicuisine chain which has a pan India presence it becomes quite easy to acquire a good traditional cooks specialised in their own part. We appoint the cooks locally from the location and place them in different units.

IR: For organised food chain, which market is best suited: metros, tier II or ties III?
AA: For Comesum, it does not matters much as our products are very nominally priced. The customers are satisfied by our services.

IR: Home delivery is again an area where there is huge potential. How do you ensure swift home delivery orders thus placed? What mechanism do you follow?
AA: Home delivery has a huge potential but we do not practice it as we still have a huge mass at our restaurants and it does not suite us as we are placed at the railway stations and we have less residential populace to cater. However, we have something unique to offer, instead of home delivery we do train delivery. A person traveling in train can order his lunch or dinner right delivered at his train and seat number no matter from where he is traveling keeping in mind that his destination should pass any of our comesum outlets pan India. This is something unique but has more potential than home deliveries. Every body is net savvy and can easily get the phone numbers of any outlets in pan India. There are other fast services like Just dial, Yellow pages on line where you can easily get the numbers and order your concern. To plan it aggressively, we need to have a dedicated call center to fulfill the requirement but at presently we are satisfied by the number of services rendered as dial a meal.

IR: How many stores you have currently across India? Which outlet do you prefer: company owned or franchisee based?
AA: We have 20 outlets all owned and operated by company across India and more than 10 outlets are in the pipeline. We always preferred company owned outlets. We Franchise our concept but we keep the total management rights with us.

IR: What are you expansion plans? Do you plan to foray into overseas market?
AA: We do have expansion plans of opening more outlets. We are not aiming at huge number of outlets because our aim is quality over quantity. Yes, we are planning to open our outlets in overseas market but that is still in the pipeline. Nothing as of now is decided on the same notes. As the love and need of Indian food is increasing day by day and we are preparing ourselves to explore in the foreign market also.

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