The Managing Director of Unitas Foods Private Limited speaks about how her company had been adapting to the various challenges posed to its business, ever since the arrival of COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
Unitas Foods Private Limited is a New Delhi based manufacturer and supplier of Frozen Chinese snacks that has been running its operations since 2008. In an exclusive interview with Claus from Food Infotech, Puja Mahajan, Managing Director of Unitas Foods Private Limited opened up on her entrepreneurial journey and experiences, apart from discussing about how she decided to seize an untapped business opportunity that happened a little more than a decade ago by establishing a company that deals exclusively with the manufacture and supply of Frozen Chinese Snacks, which has continued to survive for more than a decade now, the various challenges that her business had to face in not only ensuring that the food products manufactured by her company are of a standard quality, but also reasonably priced to survive cut throat competition faced from the unorganized sector and much more.
Edited Excerpts Below:
1. Thank you for agreeing to do this interview with us. So, we’ll start off by you letting us know the reason behind starting the frozen foods business that deals exclusively with Chinese snacks.
When we had initially commenced this business, there were no businesses at that point of time who had been dealing with the manufacture and supply of frozen dimsums. Hence, we had jumped in right away at that point of time and from then onwards, we had been able to slowly expand our business over the years by manufacturing a range of products starting from dimsums to spring rolls, including many other fancy Asian snacks.
2. Can you tell us since when have you been engaged in the frozen food/ snacks business? How has the journey been so far?
Since 2008, we have been engaged in the business of manufacture and supply of Frozen Chinese Snacks. The journey has been tough all along, although it has also been rewarding for us in many ways. Manufacturing is a very tricky business in India. The F&B industry in India has all along been largely unorganized and as a result of this, running factories, maintaining quality and competing with the unorganized sector continues to be our biggest challenge even today.
3. Can you also let us know about the various frozen food products currently manufactured by your company?
Our product range currently comprises of Frozen Momos, Frozen Dimsums, Spring Rolls, Manchurian Balls, Thai Curries, including a few more Chinese snacks.
4. If you can share with us about any product/products that you’ve introduced in the recent past?
We have recently introduced for the first time in India, Frozen Thai Curries which is being made available by us currently at just half the price of what might be available in case a person happens to visit a restaurant. Moreover, we never compromise on the quality of our food products. We are also currently trying our best to focus ourselves more towards making available better solutions for the HoReCa industry.
5. Can ingredients such as Ajinomoto that are used in preparation of momos be avoided, as consumption of the same is known to create health problems for individuals?
I personally am of the opinion that adding ingredients such as Ajinomoto and other permitted preservatives and colours is acceptable, so long as addition of such ingredients don’t breach the prescribed limits.
6. Please tell us how do you manage to keep your frozen food products tasty as well as healthy?
When I talk about the taste that is involved in our frozen food products, I would only mention that it has come from the culmination of years of labour and hard work, including working towards the process of perfecting the recipe over and over again. We believe our frozen food products are healthy, mainly owing to the method of preservation that we have been following over the years, which basically has been freezing our products at a temperature of nearly -25 degrees. This helps to lock in the nutrients and prevents decay by killing the bacteria present in the food. Additionally, no artificial preservatives are being used by us.
7. How does your company ensure that your frozen food items are of a standard quality and are safe for consumption?
Our various frozen food products are subject to proper testing at our in-house labs. Apart from that, they are also subject to rigorous quality checks. The raw-materials that we procure are being subject to a proper quality check before they are being allowed to be used at our facility. We also ensure that the HACCP guidelines are strictly followed by us to ensure that the food is safe for consumption by individuals. Moreover, all our workers are subject to proper health check-ups both at the time of entering our premises as well as at frequent intervals. In this way, we try and ensure that the products manufactured by us are not only of a standard quality, but also safe for consumption by individuals.
8. Please let us know from where have you been sourcing the ingredients required for preparing your frozen food products?
We have entered into arrangements with various parties for procuring the various ingredients required by us for our operations. For instance, we have been sourcing chicken from Certified Plants, while veggies are being sourced from the mandis that are located nearer to our area of operations. We have also tied-up with a few established vendors through which we have been sourcing spices that are required for our operations.
9. Please tell us where all your products are expected to find their application?
Our products are primarily having their application at places such as delivery kitchens, restaurants, cafes, offices, educational institutions, canteens, bars and a few other places.
10. If you can let us know about any segment that you feel has enough potential for growing your business which you also plan to enter in the coming days?
We believe that there is a significant potential for growth of our business in the coming years and more particularly in the HoReCa segment. This is primarily owing to the fact that there has been a slow and steady acceptance as well as desire exhibited in the recent years by a rising number of individuals for consuming frozen foods, particularly if they are of a standard quality and if they are being made available to them at a reasonable cost. Moreover, since our frozen food products are easy to prepare for consumption by individuals, we expect to receive more orders for our wide array of frozen food products from the HoReCa segment. Additionally, we expect to receive more customized orders for our frozen food products to satisfy the tastes and requirements of different categories of consumers, which in turn is expected to help raise the sales volume of our business in the coming days.
11. Post COVID-19, what are the major challenges that your company has been facing, whether it is pertaining to production, marketing or distribution of your products in general? Can you share with us a bit on the same?
On the procurement side, factories around the world have borne the brunt of stay-at-home orders. While some are still operating, they are only doing so with limited manpower availability, thereby resulting in lengthened supply timelines. Logistics is another area which has come under severe strain in the COVID-19 affected world. As far as sales are concerned, the demand for our products has taken a severe beating after the arrival of COVID-19, particularly due to closure of recreation centers, cinema halls, banquets, hotels and the likes.
12. Since, your company deals with the preparation of Frozen Chinese Snacks, how confident are you about the Indian market and its potential for growth of your business in the coming years?
We, as a company are highly optimistic about the growth of our business in India. There are many reasons that I would attribute for believing in the same and they are as follows:
• The changing demographics that has taken place over the years, especially with more and more women joining the workforce every year and their increasing reliance on processed foods;
• The stigma that had been attached to frozen foods has been changing over the past few years;
• A huge section of population that is aged between 18-35 years and looking to consume frozen food products;
• The availability of a wide variety of Agri-Produce;
• The rising income levels and changing consumption patterns of individuals;
• The demand for fortified food such as supplements, vitamin infused water, fortified flours and biscuits;
• The arrival of new agri reforms;
• Contract farming has been made possible;
• And finally, the implementation of FSSAI.
These are some of the reasons that I strongly believe would certainly help in driving the growth of our business in the coming decade.
13. You have already established a domestic presence for your products. Do you have any plans to market your products outside India?
We have currently confined ourselves to cater only for the domestic market. As of now, we do not have any plans to market our products outside the country.
14. Lastly, can you let us know the vision behind which Unitas Foods has been working as of today and what plans does it have for the immediate future?
Unitas Foods aims to emerge as India’s foremost frozen food player in the Asian snacks category under our brand FOMO MOMO. We also want to be the pillars, based on which the HoReCa segment can rely on, for receiving high quality, well priced and need worthy food products for consumption by individuals.