T his is a tale worthy of a movie script, so it seems more than apt that the start of the Balaji Wafers story can be traced back to a cinema in Rajkot in 1974, with three brothers trying to live up to their father’s wishes to start their own business with the INR20,000 (US$270) he had gifted them when drought forced him to sell the family’s farmland.
Their first attempt in the fertiliser industry hardly made it off the ground. As they pondered their next move, the trio – Bhikhubhai, Kanubhai and Chandubhai Virani – picked up work in the local cinema.
As they served food and drinks, the seed of a snack business was planted. From its modest beginnings, Balaji Wafers has become one of India’s leading manufacturers and distributors of snack food, with a range of more than 50 products and more than 90 stock keeping units (SKUs), spearheaded by the potato wafer.
The brothers have become poster boys for the rewards that dedication, patience and agility can deliver to startup businesses. “The commitment to work and the drive to achieve excellence are the key motivators in how we operate our business,” says Co-Founder and Managing Director Chandubhai Virani.
“This is what has helped us to become one of the top players in the wafers market. As has the creation of a healthy working environment, which has not only allowed our employees to grow, but also our suppliers, who are also very crucial to the success of the company.”
Since The CEO Magazine last spoke to Chandubhai, the company has grown at 15% per annum. “We are enjoying a constant demand for our products as the population increases and the need for better quality products at affordable prices prevails in the market,” he explains.
Today, a network of more than 950 dealers has seen its wafers and other snacks such as namkeen and noodles appear on shelves across the country and in 25 international markets. Chandubhai takes many positives from the fact that this growth has been achieved organically, rather than through acquisitions or merging with other companies.
“We’ve recently indulged in various promotional and publicity activities for our product lines, but on the other hand, our management team is very qualified and experienced,” he says. “They are growing at a good pace and can perform exceptionally well once we are past these hard and challenging times.”
The CEO Magazine sits down with Chandubhai to discuss India’s lockdown, the company’s expansion strategy and what gives it the leading edge in the snack food market.
What strategies have been implemented at Balaji Wafers to cope with the current COVID-19 pandemic?
First, the safety of our employees is of the utmost priority for us. Initially, we stopped the production following the lockdown announcement, but we soon had to restart, given the increasing demand for our products.
To boost consumer confidence that the manufacturing process of our products is safe, we’ve implemented all the necessary safety measures. We are sanitising the staff bus, undertaking temperature checks and we have installed a full-body sanitiser station.
We are using facial recognition instead of biometric attendance, ensuring that there is a zero human contact process during production and adhering to all government norms on social distancing.
How are you able to continuously anticipate market trends?
Throughout my 45-year career, my focus and my mission has always been to serve our customers with better quality products at an affordable price. Balaji Wafers is a leading player in the market, and that brings both knowledge and expertise.
I believe this means that it comes very naturally to me to see how the market is evolving, what my competitors are doing, and how I can increase my company’s efficiency and ensure growth at a sustainable rate.
When we last spoke, you said your intention was to not limit yourself to specific states and expand distribution across India. How successful has this been?
Beyond India, we are now exporting to 25 countries. To increase this footprint even further, we plan to put more factories in place.
We have also launched various marketing activities, including television commercials, and we have signed our first-ever brand ambassador, the Bollywood actor Ayushmann Khurrana. These are just a few of the steps we have taken to establish ourselves as a national brand and it has resulted in higher growth for the company.
Can you tell us what strategies are behind these expansion plans?
At Balaji Wafers, we have diversified our product portfolio in order to meet ever-changing consumer needs. Not only do we produce traditional Indian products, but we have now also incorporated many Western products into our portfolio. We’ve recently launched new product lines based on corn and have ventured into noodles and nachos, just to name a few.
My focus and my mission has always been to serve our customers with better quality products at an affordable price.
These recent developments have helped to create a wider range of choice for our end consumers, as they not only have higher SKUs, but also the capacity to cater to the global demand for our products.
Can you tell us what the short- to mid-term plans for Balaji Wafers are?
Since we’ve been experiencing a growth of 15% per annum, we expect to showcase an even greater success story in the next couple of years, especially with our production facility in Indore, which commenced operations in October 2016 and will produce almost all our products by next year.
Also, there are plans to set up production facilities in both the northern and eastern regions of India over the coming years to cater to increasing demand, both domestically and internationally.
How do you differentiate Balaji Wafers from your competitors?
Firstly, I believe Balaji Wafers represents itself as a snacking option brand for people from all age groups, as we have not limited ourselves to a specific set of products. This is a key differentiation as we offer a diverse range of both Indian and Western products.
Secondly, we are not only passionate about the work we do, but we also uphold integrity, and it is one of the core values at Balaji Wafers. For example, farmers form a very crucial part in our supply chain and we respect them equally, the same as we do any other stakeholder in the company.
Also, we have launched various employee engagement activities to empower them, to make them self-reliant and confident. We believe in creating an environment where employees are nurtured and given an opportunity to take first-mover advantages instead of placing pressure on them to achieve set goals.
How would you describe the supplier relationships of Balaji Wafers?
Much of our success is thanks to our network of suppliers and dealers. Over the years, we have built very cordial relationships and trust among our suppliers and we collaborate with them like family instead of a supplier-customer relationship.
I believe we have not only created a very strong bond with these suppliers, but they are also the greatest strength of our organisation. The trust that has been created defines the success of the business. We believe that all our suppliers are important to us, irrespective of how much material they are supplying to us or whether they are a large or small enterprise.
However, we try to empower and support the small suppliers as much as possible, which helps us ensure they procure the best quality raw materials so we are able to provide quality products to consumers at an affordable price.
Proudly supported by: