Seventy-four-year old Balbeer Bajaj lost his father at the age of 10. Balbeer says his father’s loss gave him the drive to become self-reliant early in life. “I started my career at the age of 22. Being the sole breadwinner of the family at that age was not easy. But when I look back now, my 52-year-long journey has been very fruitful and rewarding,” he says.
Balbeer started his career in the mid-sixties with a trading business called KBB Nuts in Amritsar, Punjab, to sell imported Afghan dry fruits. As he continued his trading business for almost three decades, he realised the business had reached saturation in terms of growth. He says, “The business was consistently clocking a turnover of Rs 2-3 crore. I realised that to grow beyond, I had to venture into manufacturing.”
With already more than 30 years of experience in the wholesale trading of dry fruits, Balbeer says, “It looked more viable to establish an industry in a related business than venturing into an entirely new field.”
Hence, in 1996, Balbeer established a new unit in Amritsar to process dry fruits, and simultaneously launched a brand called 'Tulsi' to sell dry fruits. Under Tulsi, the company offers raw and flavoured almonds, cashews, pistachios, walnuts and other dry fruits.
Over the last two decades, KBB has bounced from strength to strength. Today, it has three state-of-the-art, in-house production facilities in Delhi, Haryana, and Andhra Pradesh, and a pan-India presence in all the leading retail stores.
The company currently clocks a turnover of Rs 700 crore, employs 2,500 people and exports to more than 20 countries across America, Europe, and the Middle East. Balbeer says,
“Our aim is to provide healthy and hygienic nuts and dry fruits to every Indian household. To do so, we have invested heavily in mechanisation to achieve huge volumes with high hygienic standards.”
In 2013, KBB launched another brand called Gourmia for its premium class of customers. “India is truly a diverse market. While some are price conscious, others opt for the best quality, irrespective of the price. Gourmia caters to the latter segment,” says Balbeer.
But finding success in the food industry was not easy for Balbeer. He says, “Building a business out of Punjab had inherent disadvantages.” A company cannot spread pan India by just sitting in Amritsar, adds Balbeer. According to him, no government in Punjab has considered industry a priority, and, as a result, Amritsar lacks basic infrastructure required for industries.
Adding on to his disappointment with the state of affairs in Amritsar, Balbeer says,
“How can the government not consider industry a priority? We have an impending drug addiction problem among the youth in our state. Can’t the government realise that if the industry flourishes here, there will be more employment opportunities for the youth, and the drug menace would get curbed on its own?”
With nearly 50 years of experience in the industry, Balbeer has a few suggestions for aspiring entrepreneurs. He says that times have changed drastically. “Today, multinational companies pose an immense competition, and therefore, it is much difficult for smaller players to start on their own.” To overcome this challenge, Balbeer says that individuals should venture in the business world as a group or a company, so that they can start their operations at a better scale.
In future, Balbeer sees more scope for growth within India than abroad. He says, “India is a huge market. We aspire our brands - Tulsi and Gourmia - to become a preferred choice for every Indian household.”