Neelam Foodland in Mumbai began as a small shop selling a limited range of snacks and savouries but has today grown into an iconic shop for customers looking for an excellent quality range of healthy snacks and other food products. We take you through its eventful journey of transformation and growth…
Neelam Foodland, located in Khar (west), Mumbai, has earned an enviable reputation as a store that sells high quality roasted savouries, unique pickles, chutneys, and a variety of lip-smacking snacks. The 2,000 sq. ft. store was founded by Nanji Shah in 1980, when as a young man from Kutch, Gujarat, he came down to Bombay in search of greener pastures. Before setting up Neelam Foodland, Shah spent many years running a small ration shop.
“I began with a small shop, with a small space and limited product range. Over time, as I gained experience and learnt the ropes of grocery business, I began looking for options and avenues that would give me the freedom to explore and use my creative spirit,” says Shah, whose hard work and perseverance has today transformed Neelam Foodland into a one-stop shop for the best collection of snacks, and international brands. The shop stocks everything from hummus, to lavash, to low fat munchies, and diet foods plus flax-seed chikki.
Started as a labour of love, Neelam Foodland grew from a humble beginning, selling a small assortment but quality-sharp products. The big turn for the store came in 1993, when Shah returned from a visit to some overseas countries, a trip which he describes as a ‘voyage of discovery’.
“I returned as an enlightened man, impressed with the standards of cleanliness, hygiene, discipline and practices, and decided on making some changes to my own business,” says Shah.
By sheer dint of hard work, Shah succeeded in making his store synonymous with excellent quality and services. “Today, I can proudly say that we have come a long way from being a small ration shop to a truly modern grocery and provisional store,” says Shah, with pride and modesty mixed. “We are known for selling fine Indian food products and food ingredients across categories – sweets, snacks, including healthy snacks, fine staples, bakery items, papads, pickles, masalas and mixes.”
Being passionate about the business, Shah takes special pains in selecting exclusive fine-quality foods for his store. The goods in the shop are personally checked by Shah and his staff to ensure that the freshness, standard and quality of products are consistently maintained. Over the years, the shop has striven to introduce new items on its shelves every and then so much so that its regular customers look forward to what’s coming next.
With a SKU count of 3,000, Neelam Foodland has the widest range of product offerings, particularly in the variety of snacks, which are fresh, crisp and crunchy. The quality of pulses, atta, veg products, frozen and gourmet food at the store are also talked of highly.
“We always look for the best quality of food products and supplies and stock an extensive assortment of food items. Our regular product range extends across snacks, dairy products, juices, confectionery, healthy alternatives, chocolates, groceries, etc. Moreover, we also deal in specialty products ranging from gourmet, cheese and organic, sourced from leading Indian and International brands,” says Shah.
Today, Neelam Foodland has a very loyal and committed customer base with about 250 shoppers visiting the shop on a daily basis.
“Our current sales per sq. ft. is Rs 120 per day, up by 10 per cent from last year and annual sales turnover is Rs 7 crore, which will likely increase to Rs 8 crore in the near future,” informs Shah. He says that a retailer in his kind of product segment can expect to earn a margin of about 15-18 per cent and can look to break even in five-six years on capital investment – which could typically be about Rs 3 crore – Rs 4 crore for setting up a shop the size of Neelam Foodland in a similar locality.
Shah and his team at Neelam Foodland believe that suppliers and vendors play a key role in establishing consistency of product quality in a store. The retailer has a formalised system in place to track and evaluate supplier and vendor performance and for assessing them on parameters such as their values, capabilities, comparative pricing, etc. It has established benchmarks and techniques for rating a supplier’s performance on the basis of its evaluation forms, surveys, etc.
“We work closely with our suppliers – numbering between 250 and 300 – to establish product and delivery specifications and for ensuring that suppliers stick to quality standards and efficiency norms. We perform necessary audits on the suppliers, and work with them closely to address deficiencies,” says Shah.
Besides, his team also implements adequate monitoring to drive improvement in supplier performance. While receiving goods from vendors, the team does proper due diligence for expiry dates, product packaging, purchase orders, manufacturing, etc. The retailer also has a defined criteria for the selection process of new suppliers.
“We have a process that involves members from research and development, purchasing, quality assurance, etc, whose approval is required for selecting new suppliers. For identifying new products, we work closely on certain parameters like quality, taste, category, etc. We make sure it falls under our quality management system. Before the new product moves to shelves, we personally taste the product and then provide approval for the same,” informs Shah.
In recent years, Neelam Foodland has taken several steps to improve the store’s design and ambience — by creating an inviting atmosphere where customers can enjoy their shopping at the store. Recognising that most purchase decisions happen in the store itself, Shah and his team, including 14 employees at the store, have trained their focus on key areas that are pertinent to providing an enriching and enticing shopping experience to the customers.
“Our merchandising strategy is a valuable component of our store’s success. It has been developed in a way that helps the store attract footfall traffic, induce new customers to try our brand, and build a loyal and committed customer base,” says Shah.
The store’s merchandise, display and planogram play a critical role in satisfying a greater number of its customers, in growing the various categories, and increase consumer takeaways, all of which gives Neelam Foodland the necessary mojo for beating the competition.
Engaging with Customers
Apart from merchandising, the retailer also makes use of other strategies built around a variety of other components – pricing, promotion, product placement, consumer education, etc, – together, these different components have helped the retailer achieve its goal. Also, its client-centric approach has kept the attention of the retailer focused on achieving customer engagement over the years.
“We feel our unwavering approach to ensuring authentic quality of products and their reliability has won us the trust and loyalty of our clients. Customers visiting our store have the basic belief that our product range is unique and best on quality,” says Shah.
Despite, the good fortune of enjoying a large and loyal clientele, the retailer is far from resting on its laurels. It has been nimble in moving swiftly with the times by keeping itself abreast of the changing buying pattern of customers and meeting the emerging demand for new products and categories. “By staying true to our core belief of delivering an exceptional experience to customers, we keep adapting to changing consumer needs and shifts in consumption of foods products and other categories,” reveals Shah.
As a canny retailer, Shah knows that the fuel that drives the store business is persistent demand. As such, Neelam Foodland keeps a close year to the ground for predicting trends and emerging consumer demand for new products. It tries to stock all the best brands in the food category and keeps in constant touch with its customer base to take the pulse of their eating habits and consumption patterns. “We strongly endorse the principle of offering great customer service, which means going over and above just giving the best, and relating with customers on a personal level. As customer tastes are expanding – not just in terms of depth but in width as well, we at Neelam Foodland try to be at the top of this dynamic cultural convergence through our food by constantly promoting new tastes, and pioneering culinary concepts,” states Shah.
With customers graduating in a big way in what they buy and eat, Neelam Foodland – with 35 years of experience to show for – is in a unique position to delve into the consumer psyche and develop a deep understanding of customers. “We are able to understand their needs and that helps us to identify opportunities to sell them new products in our store,” says Shah, whose store’s typical customer profile comprises high net individuals in the age bracket of 20-45 years.
In order to drive greater customer engagement, Shah is also leveraging technology to expand the product range and to roll out attractive marketing initiatives and customer engagement programmes to improving the product offerings and services at the store.
The team at Neelam Foodland has left no stone unturned in making the path-to-purchase simple and in understanding customers’ unique preferences and habits, all of which has helped the retailer build a strong relationship with its customer base. The store has installed customised software for key functions. “We have always attempted to be in step with the times as far as technology absorption is concerned. We emphasise on innovation, and understand that it is an ongoing process. The operations in the store are technology enabled,” says Shah.
With good and quality products in place accompanied by an eye-catching and alluring assortment and with the store taking various initiatives to keep ahead of the curve on consumer preferences, Neelam Foodland is encouraging customers to turn adventurous and try out new flavours of its snacks and other products in the store. A perfect recipe for making its products fly off the shelves and keep the cash register ringing.