Vikram Seth at the Kwality factory in Sharjah. Graviss moved in to acquire full stake of the Sharjah operations in 2006, and ice-cream production capacity has expanded gradually. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Dubai: A UAE based business is intent on serving up a “taste of India”, first with scoops of its branded ice-cream, and more recently, through its move into basmati rice, butter and more.

“None of our products are focused on India — they are all meant for the Indian diaspora,” said Vikram Seth, Director — Finance & Investments at Mumbai-based Graviss, which owns and sells “Kwality” ice-cream outside of India. “Our audience is the Indian diaspora anywhere — we are no longer about serving just the Gulf markets.

“Our headquarters is the UAE for everything that we do. Based in the UAE, we sold into the GCC and right now we are chasing the diaspora because the products we take to those markets are very different from what we do in the GCC.”

The Kwality ice-cream has been around in UAE supermarkets’ cold storage section since the early 1970s, and then expanded through a full-fledged plant in Sharjah later that decade. Graviss moved in to acquire the entire stake of the Sharjah operations in 2006, and since then the ice-cream production capacity has been expanded gradually. All of its other categories such as rice, butter and packaged pre-marinated paneer are sourced from third-party suppliers on a private label basis.

But what’s with the focus on the Indian diaspora and a “taste of India”? Can’t the Kwality brand target a consumer beyond demographics?

“Our strategy is that we are a hard-core Indian food company,” said Seth. “With the ice-creams, we have experimented with many versions of the kulfi (a frozen dessert hugely popular among Indians).

“Our flavours are typically Indian in origin — not for us the multinational way of creating a global food label and then adding some small tweaks to suit Indian tastes.

“In our push for markets outside of the UAE/Gulf, we don’t necessarily need to go through niche retailers to reach our target shopper. There are ethnic sections in the biggest supermarket chains out there, be it Walmart or Tesco. Our target shoppers are out there ... and we plan on reaching them.” (Graviss sold the rights to the Kwality brand to Hindustan Lever in the mid-1990s. It holds the master-franchise rights for Baskin-Robbins in India.)

But aren’t categories such as basmati rice crowded with competition? “The way we see it, basmati is a category moving from being a commodity to an FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) product. Only in the last decade has this transitioned, and being FMCG offers quality and trust.

“We are sourcing it from India, with processing and packaging under our supervision. This started last year and it’s been a slow process. But we were never trying to create a market for us overnight.”

And Graviss is already working on more additions that can tickle the Indian palate. Before the year is out, it plans to launch chilled all-day beverages, and again with an Indian twist.

“There are certain gorillas in the local market in this category and we are going to target a head-on assault,” said Seth. “Flavoured beverages are a very recent development India ... I would say less than two years ago. And data from the GCC shows a five-fold increase in daily beverage consumption in the last five years. There is space there for a new brand to occupy, because we are getting into a niche that fits in with our heritage.”

Currently, ice-cream has the biggest scoop of the Graviss revenues, and with the new product additions, its share would come down.

But there is little that the current production facility in Sharjah can accommodate. That means Graviss will need to take a decision on a second unit some time soon.

“We have a very old factory and we had this situation of moving from legacy systems and increasing capacity by automation,” said Seth. “We are finished with those phases. We touched the ceiling from a capacity point a long time back.”

Locations shortlisted for new Sharjah facility:

Two potential sites in Sharjah have been identified for Graviss’ planned second ice-cream unit. “At our current facility, we have capacity for 30 million litres of ice-cream,” said Vikram Seth of Graviss. “The new one should deliver another 50 million and with options for further expansion.

“We see the new factory ready by 2021. Investments could be between Dh15 million to Dh20 million. That’s on top of the Dh20 million invested into our existing operations in recent years.”