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Secret sauce

Capital Foods is aspiring to play a bigger role in the organised FMCG arena with its soup and noodle brands

Photographs by Soumik Kar

God was running this business for five years,” Ajay Gupta declares after a moment’s startled pause on being asked who was running Capital Foods before he took over in 2000. It’s a question the 47-year-old adman-turned-entrepreneur should have expected. He started the Mumbai-based company in 1996 with ₹2.5 crore from investor-friends but didn’t take over as managing director until 2000, by when the lack of owner involvement had left its mark: investors started backing out, revenue was just ₹3 crore, there were no clear financial statements to show where resources were allocated and no marketing and distribution strategies were in place for the company. “The company’s really started from 2001,” says Gupta. 

That’s when Capital Foods became a serious player in the Indian processed foods market and since then, there’s been no looking back. It is now a ₹150-crore company with ambitions of doubling in size in the next three years. It has three brands in the Indian market and is also a significant private label supplier in the export market. Ask Gupta, though, and he lists his biggest challenge as something a little less tangible than numbers in the balance sheet. “Changing the mindset of Indian women in the kitchen, getting them to accept processed foods and ready meals has been the toughest part.” But, as he admits, the effort has been worth it.

Chindia rules

For many urban households now, preparing Chinese food at home means stocking up on sauces and noodles from Ching’s Secret. But perhaps “Chinese” is a bit of a misnomer: no native of China makes food that tastes like this, but “Chindian” is hugely popular in India, from street vendors to fine dining restaurants. “In a country like India, the ethnic cuisine changes every 300 km. But not Chinese — people in all parts of the country eat it,” agrees Gupta. “And they do not like authentic Chinese, they like Indian Chinese. That is Hakka Chinese.” 

In keeping with that, Ching’s Secret, which sells Hakka Chinese sauces, noodles, seasonings and soups, accounts for 70% of Capital Foods’ domestic turnover; the remainder comes from Smith & Jones instant noodles and ginger-garlic paste and Raji chutneys and frozen food. Getting to this position wasn’t easy. Demon

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