From selling paan to making ice cream, the journey of a small-town enterprise

Sheetal Cool Products is now the only listed SME from Amreli in Gujarat

Published - April 21, 2019 10:00 pm IST - MUMBAI

The gods weren’t silent when the Bhuva family were looking for means to make their ends meet.

The demolition of their small paan shop in Amreli district of Gujarat by the municipal authorities nearly 22 years ago forced the family to look for an alternative, and a nearby local fair on the occasion of Janmashtmi helped them try their luck with selling ice creams.

What started as a temporary stall selling ice creams of brands of other companies has now grown to become a listed small and medium enterprise (SME) — the only such listed entity from Amreli.

Today, Sheetal Cool Products boasts of its own brands of ice creams, milk and milk products, along with bakery and snack items.

The growth in a little over two decades can be gauged from the fact that the company reported revenues of nearly ₹207 crore in the financial year 2017-18, with a profit of over ₹4 crore.

The shares of the company that were issued at ₹80 are currently trading at ₹120.

Where the story begins

“My father and elder brother used to manage the paan shop. We were four brothers and all of us took turns to manage the shop, though some of us were in school then,” said Bhupatbhai Bhuva (40), managing director, Sheetal Cool Products.

The demolition of the store and the good response that they got while selling ice creams at a local fair convinced them that there is huge scope in the business.

“We started off with dairy, as our region has an abundant supply of milk and [with] national players like Amul too having many collection centres,” said Mr. Bhuva, who takes care of the marketing and distribution vertical of the family business.

In 1987, the family started their business selling milk and buttermilk. In 1992, they bought a small unit at Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC) in Amreli and started making flavoured milk and frozen lassi. Two years later, they ventured into the ice cream business.

90% automation

“We expanded in stages. First, we installed a manual plant for ice cream, then moved to a semi-automatic plant and currently we have 90% automation,” said Mr. Bhuva.

He is hopeful that the company would feature among the top players of Gujarat in terms of technology and production capacity.

Today, the company sells more than 40 flavours of ice creams and more than 50 varieties of snacks.

The overall product bouquet comprises 250 items spread across various categories. Their plant at Amreli GIDC is currently spread over 86,000 square feet.

Interestingly, the company, which started off with 30 employees now has over 1,000 staffers, with women accounting for almost 80%. “It just happened by chance but having seen the benefits we now want to take the female ratio to 85%,” he said.

“There was a lot of nuisance in our area earlier in terms of money lending and other [kinds of] social exploitation. We wanted our progress to benefit the locals as well. Women are better in terms of work culture, honesty and responsibility,” Mr. Bhuva said.

He added that the company also provided financial support to women after they completed three years of service. “We now want to take the female ratio to 85%,” he said.

The company has a strong network of more than 200 distributors and its products are available across 25,000 retail outlets in States such as Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. It soon plans to enter Madhya Pradesh.

Looking ahead, the company plans to venture into ready-to-eat frozen snacks, tetrapacks and into exports.

As part of a pilot project, it recently exported frozen samosas to the U.K. And, in its attempts to manage costs and give better margins to its distributors and retailers, the company has its own fleet of 30 specialised vehicles to transport its products that are mostly perishable in nature.

Windmill source

It also aims to cut down on its power bills, having already established a 1.5 MW windmill project in Kutch, and is working on a solar project of 1.26 MW. “We want 90% of our power consumption from such green sources,” Mr. Bhuva said.

Interestingly, the family still maintains its old store at a new location, and no more does it sell paan. It is now known as Sheetal Ice Cream Parlour and Restaurant.

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