From push carts to parlours, R.G. Chandramogan has built his ice cream empire bar by bar. Priyadarshini Paitandy meets the man behind Arun and Ibaco
Juggling an ice cream in one hand and a notebook and pen in another isn't the easiest thing to do, especially when you have to take down notes between mouthfuls of waffle cone. This is what I do when I meet R.G. Chandramogan at his office and start a conversation over an Arun ice cream as he traces the journey and growth of his company Hatsun Agro Products.
When Chandramogan was a school boy he would unfailingly put aside money for ice cream. Thirty-seven paise would be saved for an ice lolly and even though flavours weren't many except vanilla, pineapple and strawberry, that was enough to bring a blissful smile to his lips.
Little did he know then that two decades down the line he would have an ice cream empire of his own. Surely, this is how Charlie must have felt when he inherited the chocolate factory. But in Chandramogan's case he built it right from scratch, brick by brick or rather bar by bar.
“With a limited capital of Rs.13,000 I had to start something. So I started Arun ice cream in 1970. I was 21 then,” says Chandramogan. The factory was just an unassuming little place in Tondiarpet where three or four people worked and manually produced about 20 litres of ice cream per day. Ten paise candy was their first variety of ice cream and it was sold through push carts. Today of course it's a different story. The automatic equipment produces 50,000 litres to 75,000 litres of ice cream per day.
Like most success stories that are laced with phases of initial struggle, his story too saw him plough through early hardships in the business. “We struggled a lot in the first 10 years. The top three players then were Dasaprakash, Joy and Kwality. They were financially ahead and had a bigger market. I lacked knowledge about marketing. I am not a graduate. So while I was struggling I did a course in marketing management, export management and personal management from Sabari College. In the first year our turnover was Rs.1,15,000. From 1981 we started growing and in 1991 Arun recorded a turnover of Rs. 3 crore,” he says.
Chandramogan began catering to ships, messes, colleges. Slowly he branched out to Pondicherry, Madurai, Sivakasi and Kumbakonam where his ice creams were a novelty and the other brands hadn't yet tapped these markets.
While frozen dessert lovers were lapping up whatever came from the stables of Arun, Chandramogan busied himself with another venture — the dairy business. In 1995 he started Arokya milk. “We were procuring milk for our ice creams and so this idea came about. Today Arokya sees an annual turnover of Rs. 1,300 crores. We also manufacture butter, milk powder, ghee and curd. We are associated with 3,50,000 farmers and buy milk from 8,000 villages. We operate from nine different factories and our people travel 4,20,000 km to collect and distribute milk,” he adds. Hatsun dairy products are available across the country.
Hatsun has its dairy plants in Kanchipuram, Palacode, Salem, Madurai, Belgaum, Honnali. As for its ice cream, apart from Tamil Nadu they also have a plant in Seychelles. How does Arun sell in Seychelles, a market for other popular international ice cream brands? “We have a 70 per cent share of ice cream market in Seychelles. In Brunei we have a distributor who buys and sells our ice creams and there we are among the top four brands,” says the seasoned entrepreneur.
In 2012, Hatsun started yet another ice cream brand, Ibaco. This is the posh cousin of Arun ice cream and is based on the ice cream-by-scoop model. “Arun is a factory finished product and comes in cones, cups and sticks. As for Ibaco, it's the scoop variety. You walk into an Ibaco parlour, choose the flavour and get it dressed with toppings. As of now Ibaco is available in Chennai, Bengaluru and Delhi. By next year I'll be taking it to Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad and Kolkata,” says Chandramogan.
But the launch of a new brand in no way means that Arun has been ignored. This season Arun's got quite a few new flavours to pep up its range. There's Berry Storm, Vanilla with Chocolate Fudge, Lemon Bar, Cream and Cookies among others. With myriad options available his favourite still remains the classic Arun chocolate cone. “Earlier I used to eat an ice cream every day. Now I try out ice creams when I travel to get a taste of competing brands,” he smiles.
After a day of cream, dairy and deals, how does he unwind? “I go to the gym, read books. Earlier I used to play badminton. I was a fan of the game and would go to watch Prakash Padukone play at tournaments. I even like watching tennis especially when Roger Federer plays. I am going to London to watch him play in November.” Who knows maybe the Swiss player could be roped in as the brand ambassador for Hatsun? Now that's a thought!
Hatsun produces 18 lakh to 20 lakh litres of milk per day. Twelve lakh litres are used up for milk and milk products. Sixty thousand litres are used for ice cream. The remaining is used for ghee and skimmed milk.