How Raghunandan Kamath made Natural Ice Cream a Rupees 50 crore business ?

It just goes to show how passion and perseverance pay

Raghunandan Kamath is passionate about his business, which he started 27 years ago, with a seed capital of merely Rupees 4 lakhs. From an initial turnover of  Rupees 11 lakhs in the first year his turnover in 2010-11 was a whopping  Rupees 50 crores.

Here is the story of his passion and perseverance in his own words:-

We were probably the first to mass produce natural ice cream in the traditional way. We also took the lead in experimenting with unconventional flavors like cucumber and turmeric. We were possibly the first to have an international celebrity like cricketer Vivian Richards to endorse the brand on television without being paid for it. That’s a lot of firsts for the son of a fruit vendor from Mangalore.

 It just goes to show how passion and perseverance pay.

Kamaths Our times Ice Creams, better known as Natural Ice Cream, has come a long way from the time I started it nearly 30 years ago. Perhaps my real journey began in school when I assisted my father in selling fruits and developed a fondness for them. I wasn’t a bright student-I barely managed to clear the 10th standard from a Kannada-medium school in Mumbai. So when I turned 19, my family decided that I would help out my elder brother, who operated a south Indian restaurant in the city.

It was here that I first thought of serving something unique as a dessert-a blend of fruits and ice cream. Being the youngest in the family, my suggestions were often turned down, and so was this one. But I was convinced about the concept, so when I parted ways with my brother 10 years later, I decided to open my own ice cream parlor. The timing was not entirely favorable.

I had just got married and did not have the money to start a business. But my wife Annapurna supported and encouraged me, so I borrowed around Rupees 4 lakh from friends and relatives. With this I bought and refurbished a 250-sq-ft outlet at Juhu, where most of the Bollywood and small-screen celebrities used to reside. That’s how the first outlet of Natural Ice Cream was launched in 1984.

There were no ice-cream outlets in those days and, unlike today, ordinary people didn’t go out to have desserts; only the rich did. To form a broader customer base, I decided to serve pav bhaji and followed it up with my special ice creams. The place was very small and most of the cooking had to be done at my home. My wife managed the tedious task of grinding the masalas and making the curry. We also started blending fruits such as mangoes, custard apple, jackfruit and tender coconut.

The customers lapped it up.

A year later, I stopped serving pav bhaji and dedicated all the resources to the ice cream business. The turnover in the first year was just around Rupees 1 lakh, but we did not lose hope. I employed five or six people to make ice cream in the traditional way and these staffers doubled as waiters. What worked in our favor was the word-of-mouth publicity.

From this start he never had to look back and kept expanding his business despite the presence of multinational giants like Kwality Waltz and established local competitors like Amul and Vadilal. He has kept the basic concept intact and all the products are ‘Natural’ and ‘Fruit Based’ as they were in the beginning. The quality is consistent, modern manufacturing techniques have been adopted, a cold chain has been established but the  focus of Kamath remains the same till day and he keeps adding newer flavors to his already substantial range.

An idea he was in love with and the will to execute it has taken him and his brand to exalted heights.

Arun Vedhera