‘I used to feel sad about how instantly people pick soft drinks or fast food.’
Parents think of retiring and taking rest when children get settled in life. But as a passionate women entrepreneur, B Latha took this opportunity to set up a business that is helpful for the society. She optimally used her time to establish Bliss Foods, a soya product manufacturing company.
She says, “I always wanted to be busy and never limit myself to household work. I used to work before marriage and my family also has a business background. All these pushed me to start my own enterprise.” “I did a lot of research on various products and their potential. I travelled a lot, even went to Singapore on this purpose and finally decided on soya because of its immense health benefits.
“We had also support from American Soybean Association in setting up the business in 2004. They estimated it would cost around Rs.1.5 lakh but the initial investments touched around Rs.4 lakh because of the overheads in packaging, labour and others,” she recalls.
The business had serious problems in the first few years. “Initially, we offered soya milk and tofu (soya paneer). Soya milk was offered in sachets, which used to get curdy in transit or while selling due to improper storage or power problems. Eventually, we are held responsible for replacement of the product even if it is the fault of retailer. We could not afford tetra packing with margins and investments that we had at the time. Hence, we discontinued production of soya milk,” she explains.
“People were unaware about the benefits of soya. At times, I used to feel sad about how instantly people pick soft drinks or fast food. We found it very hard to sell Soya products. This has forced us to educate the market through leaflets, brochures and by conducting various cookery competitions with soya as a main ingredient.
“With the awareness, market slowly picked up and the business got operational breakeven in 2008. Our soya chunks, granules, flour, snacks and cookies used to have tremendous response at exhibitions but that was temporary.
“Market is mostly driven by taste rather than the health benefits. Although, soya paneer is healthier than traditional paneer in terms of high protein and zero cholesterol, people used to complain about smell and other issues. As this was a new product, they were also unaware of cooking methods,” she says.
About market conditions, she says, “The market is volatile and there is no consistency in sales. Sometimes, the product doesn’t move from the supermarkets and at times there is huge demand for it. We find it hard to meet the demand with existing infrastructure and labour.
“Banks are also not supportive in offering loans without providing collateral security. Industrial environment is also very tough for last few years. There is huge scarcity of labour and their wages has to be increased in proportion to the inflation. Many small scale industries are shutting down with high input costs, power and labour issues. Even if we want to run the machinery, when there is power, labour do not show interest to work in night shifts,” she adds.
On future plans, she says, “We cannot continue with these thin margins in this highly volatile market. We are also looking at Chennai market and also wan to bring in ready-to-eat soya snacks. I hope these products will add revenues and nullify some of our overheads.”