Anita and Prerna Gupta talk to Subha J. Rao about what it means to be mother and daughter as well as business partners

The factory is set far, far away from the crowded city, in Keeranatham, Coimbatore. Patches of sunflower dot the road on either side. Once inside the five-acre premises, a tempting, masala-rich aroma hits the nostrils. As Anita and Prerna Gupta, the mother and daughter who run Magic Foods, take you inside, you feel like Willy Wonka. Only, they make noodles.

When DK Gupta looked at expanding his flour business, Coimbatore Roller Flour Mills, he could only think of two rookies to run it — wife Anita, who was “on the wrong side of 40”, and daughter Prerna, in her early 20s. They mulled over starting a bread or biscuit unit, but finally settled on noodles.

Today, Magic Foods, begun in 2006, has an annual turnover of about Rs. 45 crore and rolls out 2,500 cartons of noodles every day — 50 per cent of which is marketed under its Insta Magic brand. The company also supplies to Hindustan Unilever (Knorr Soupy noodles) besides major chains such as Big Bazaar, Metro, Heritage Foods, Spencer's and Aditya Birla Retail.

It was not all gung-ho. What they lacked in experience, the duo made up in enthusiasm. Be it product development, new seasonings or packaging, they learnt on the job. The first couple of years were difficult, financially. They hardly made about 300 cartons a day, and the production lines were active just twice or thrice a week.

Then, Prerna, marketing head, came up with the idea of partnering with MNCs and retail giants. Once they tied up with HUL (Knorr), there was no looking back. Today, they make maida and atta noodles in 60 seasoning variants.

The day Magic Foods broke even, the Guptas, their auditors, well-wishers and friends got together to party. Noodles featured prominently on the menu! And, to think, there was a time when Prerna seriously considered a career in banking, and Anita's idea of happiness was spending time with friends. “Today, my friends can't believe how much I've grown as a person. This factory means so much to me. My friends tease me saying I had another baby real late in life,” laughs Anita, the CEO. Prerna wonders if any other job would have given her this kind of opportunity to learn, ideate and implement.

The factory is also a great place for Anita and Prerna to bond over accounts, seasoning and noodle cakes. Besides, they attend trade fairs and food festivals. “My elder sisters keep telling me I mustn't talk this casually and playfully to my mom. But, they don't understand she's also my business partner, and we share a 24x7 relationship,” laughs Prerna, who's very proud about her mother's career path. “Earlier, we thought mom would be around for us whenever we wanted her. Now, I know the kind of work she puts in at home and office,” she adds. Anita is a proud mom too. “She's so responsible at work. It's nice to see how well Prerna has taken to this.”

It helps that there is no real generation gap between the mom and daughter. “We are very open to each other's ideas. Plus, every day brings with it new challenges that we face together. There's no time to disagree. Also, we make a product targeted at the young,” says Prerna. As for DK, their support system, he's just happy to see the growth that Anita and Prerna have achieved.

Prerna is still the pampered daughter. There's a small patch of land in the factory that's “just mine”. She raises pulses and grams there. Currently, she's waiting to sample the choliya (Bengal grams) and distribute it among her cousins.

Sometimes, the factory's doors are thrown open to kids. They wear caps and gloves and feel important as they see how their favourite snack is manufactured. Anita also plans to invite schools to send students to the factory. “For them, we are simply the ‘Noodles Aunties',” smiles Anita, even as she gets into number-crunching mode and analyses the difficulties faced by small manufacturers when it comes to marketing. “We've to still grow. But, working with the big companies has been a rewarding experience. We've raised our standards so much.”

Sometimes, the best laid plans fail. For Anita and Prerna that was the day they stopped the ‘Triple Joy' line of noodles. The noodle cakes were dusted with a soup powder, and came with individual sachets of flavoured oil, chilli flakes and seasoning. You could eat it straight, make noodles or convert it into a soup. “It was a lovely, lovely product. But, we could not sustain it. Someday, we hope to bring it back again.”

Till then, Anita and Prerna are buzzing with ideas. Plans are afoot to add another line to make snacks, soup mixes, pasta, vermicelli and more, and market it under their own brand. They have to do well, not just for themselves. They have to answer someone very important — Anita's little grandson Vibhash, who inaugurated the factory with his sister. “Every now and then, he asks us how much we're selling!”

Keywords: Magic Foods