The session started with a welcome introduction by Ms Vidya Hareendran of EPGP-04 batch. Prof Abhilash S Nair, Chairperson IIMK Kochi Campus gave an introduction about Kochi Campus, presented the initial address and emphasized the importance of hosting knowledge sessions.
Mr Mohanlal Menon started by recollecting his childhood days in Thammanam, Cochin, forming a local cricket club by the name 'Chettichira Cricket club', famous for their unorthodox playing style, power hitting batsmen as well as unpredictability of performance. Later he moved to Pune for pursuing MBA and worked at different locations in India and abroad in connection with his stint at Eicher, DuPont, APC, Dell etc. Currently he is a consultant advising many enterprises in FMCG, Consumer durables, Information technology, Biotechnology, Infrastructure and Private Equity. He is also an advisor to the Board of Eastern and was accompanied to the session by Mr. Firoz Meeran, Managing Director of Eastern Condiments Pvt Ltd.
Mr Menon mainly focused on the journey of Eastern Condiments, starting with how it was started in Adimali as a small shop business in 1960s to spread across Kerala as a most preferred brand in 1980s with 6 manufacturing facilities in India and 1 in the Middle East, processing about 47 tonne of spices, sending out about 16 lakh packets per day. He talked about how Eastern took a bold stance way back in 1980's in revamping their supply chain strategy, by deciding to distribute products directly to shop keepers, deviating from the conventional method of reaching through regional distributors. This was primarily to avoid stocks being held up for long in the supply chain. The challenge to convince the shopkeepers to move from credit purchase to buy and stock on cash and carry basis was overcome by creating a reverse pressure from customers who demanded Eastern products, which gave confidence to shopkeepers.
They encouraged entrepreneurship by giving vehicles to employees in the direct distribution channel, who eventually gets the ownership of vehicles after certain period. They were also given an Android phone with Eastern mobile app installed, that gave the sales team that track critical statistics about each shop keeper, which generated better sales and realisation.
Over the past few years, since the sales in Kerala have been steady, Eastern has been spreading over to other regions. This includes Maharashtra, U.P and Karnataka and Ras-Al- Khaimah, U.A.E. In the Karnataka market, Eastern implemented a hybrid model that succeeded against MTR, the home brand. In U.P, the sales model pioneered in 1982 of direct distribution and drew a starting monthly sale of 5 crore. They have been growing at a rate of 30%every year in these states over the past few years. The Eastern Puliogare masala they developed with real groundnut captured the real local flavour of Karnataka palate and became a great success.
Mohan Lal kept the entire session interactive allowing the participants to raise questions during the session, to ensure better participation. Some of the most interesting questions and his responses are enumerated below.
How he evaluates new ideas and ventures for investment as a venture capitalist, he hinted how Warren Buffet does it and said they specifically look for 1) the idea, 2) Energy of the founder, and 3) Integrity of the founder. He illustrated this with the example of CloudSek, an IT based firm into Artificial intelligence based risk management in which they have invested. He also pointed out the same characteristics of the idea founder made them associate with JackFruit-365, a venture for processing and distributing ready to consume products made from jack fruit.
About how he hire the right employees, he said that integrity was the most important quality that he looks for. He felt that high energy levels are essential to succeed in profession, Business or being an entrepreneur. He also stressed that, among many challenges they face in business, the right talent is the hardest to come by.
Asked about failure stories, he said that during the journey they failed more number of times than succeed. Had they failed less number of times, Eastern would have been doing much better than what it is doing now in terms of sales.
On product differentiation, he said even though marketing is important, it is not sustainable unless there is product differentiation and innovation. For instance, the packaging innovation of biodegradable packs by Eastern is now being followed by others. About challenges in sourcing raw material, Eastern is a net importer and he feels this is because of the show pace of growth in agricultural production especially in spices, against rapid increase in demand due to changing food habits and consumption pattern. Mr. Feroz, the MD of Eastern, added that sourcing was a big challenge and that they achieve this by means of contract farming and constant monitoring of the farms and processes. The session concluded with a session summing up by Sambhu Sasikumar of EPGP-04 batch.