Tamil Nadu’s masala makers spice up market

The sector is dominated by two regional brands which together have a 70%-80% market share

Published - February 04, 2022 12:19 am IST

Ready to go:  Workers doing the final check before packaging at a masala-making unit in Chennai.

Ready to go: Workers doing the final check before packaging at a masala-making unit in Chennai.

From a time when masalas would be ground at home using meticulously hand-picked spices, Tamil Nadu has emerged as one of the country’s hubs for ‘ready-to-use’ masalas. It would be no exaggeration to say households are now spoilt for choices in this segment by home-grown masala makers.

Data shared by Abha Agarwal, executive director and co-head, Consumer, Financial Institutions Group (FIG) & Business Services, Avendus Capital, show Tamil Nadu is one of the largest markets for spices at ₹2,500 crore. “The market is dominated by regional brands, Sakthi and Aachi, which together have a 70%-80% share,” she points out. There are several others in this space for decades. The unorganised masala market would be worth over ₹1,000 crore, with small players operating in each district. Traders estimate there are over 2,000-2,500 players in the unbranded market.

Players who started off with two to three variants are introducing masalas that would cater to local cuisines of each region, foraying into newer geographies. They are focussing on the e-commerce space, too.

Take Aachi Masala, which launched in 1995 with just five masala spices but today has hundreds of products. “We have a huge research and development team that studies the taste preferences of each State, each country. And we curate each masala and blend spices according to the taste buds of people in that region,” explains A.D. Padmasingh Isaac, founder, Aachi Group. “We even have over 23 variants of biryani masala for each market. The biryani made in Hyderabad is different from the one made in Tamil Nadu or other countries,” he said.

According to Mr. Isaac, there is a huge demand for spices from Tamil Nadu in Africa. His group’s business is worth around ₹1,500 crore, and he expects it to grow to ₹5,000 crore over the next five years.

The Erode-based Sakthi Masala is another popular brand whose products are exported to the U.S., the U.K., Singapore, Kuwait, Muscat and Canada. It was founded as Sakthi Trading Company in 1975 by P.C. Duraisamy, a small-time turmeric trader, who also introduced branded pure spices like chilli and coriander. During the late 1990s, he changed the company’s name to Sakthi Masala Private Limited, which now makes several variants of masala powders.

The Coimbatore-based Annapoorna Masala, also launched in 1975, is expanding its product portfolio and plans to bring in more masala products in the next two years, says a trader in the Kongu region.

A Virudhunagar brand, named Thillai’s, is building its presence across Tamil Nadu with plans to venture into new territories. “We commenced operations in 2010 in Virudhunagar. The business is part of the VPSA family, which is among the largest traders and exporters of chillies in India. We began with eight products. We shut it down in six months and recommenced operations in 2013,” said Jaisinh Vaerkar, managing partner at Peninsular Export Company, the parent firm. Thillai’s has over 30 products in its basket and claims to be the first to launch products like Chettinad chicken, Pallipalayam chicken, Virudhunagar Salna, and Marina fish fry masala powders.

“Our easy range masala products are made for today’s young urban men and women who do not have much time to cook as they try to balance work and home. Our easy range includes ginger onion and garlic so you don’t have to dice and peel onions,” Mr. Vaerkar says.

“Travel anywhere across the globe, and you will see demand for Sambhar powder from Tamil Nadu. Today not many know the exact spices that go into sambhar, they don’t know which spice has to be dried and which has to be roasted, and this is the same with all masalas. That’s why there is a huge opportunity for masala players,” explains N. Sunil Kumar, managing director of Arusuvai Masala.

Asked why there is so much demand for the masala makers, Sridhar Ramanujam, founder-CEO, Brand-Comm, says, “The television is one of the biggest influencers for the growth of these brands.”

Apart from building a strong base for themselves and expanding their manufacturing facilities, all these brands have provided employment to several women from the rural pockets. Trade sources say over one lakh women workers are involved in masala-making in the State.

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