By 2008, Rohan Mirchandani had quit a budding career in finance and had taken the GMAT with an aspiration to get into an Ivy League business school. During this period, he visited India and, along with his childhood friend Milap Shah, was contemplating starting a food venture. By chance, the duo happened to meet Chef Ganesh Krishnamoorthy, who had over two decades of experience in the food and beverage industry with a specialisation in Italian cuisine, including Italian ice cream, better known as gelato. The trio joined hands to start Drums Food International and launched a premium ice cream brand Hokey Pokey.
As a differentiator in the crowded ice cream market, Hokey Pokey had a live kitchen in its parlours, where customers could get their own ice cream flavours, created on a cold stone using different delicious ingredients. Now, a few other companies have entered this space, but Hokey Pokey was a pioneer. When Rohan was selected for the MBA programme at Wharton, both Chef Ganesh and Milap were also involved in other businesses. With everyone busy, they hired a local management team to continue running Hokey Pokey, and Rohan returned to the USA for his MBA.
While pursuing his MBA, Rohan spent a week in Mumbai for a course on marketing to the Indian consumer. One of the guest lecturers was Shripad Nadkarni, a former marketing head at Coca-Cola, India. Rohan spoke with Shripad about his plan to spread Hokey Pokey’s ice cream parlours across the country, but Shripad suggested to Rohan that he should focus on creating an FMCG brand instead of creating a retail chain. There were multiple reasons behind the preference for an FMCG model over the retail model.
Firstly, ice cream is a seasonal product, with demand peaking during the summer months. In this situation, the stores would not have significant sales during the winter and rainy seasons, but the rent would still have to be paid monthly and would increase annually. Secondly, to manage customer experience, retail stores need well-trained front-end staff. During the non-seasonal period, if good employees were underutilised, they could leave. Repeatedly hiring and training new employees would not be a feasible option. Thirdly, setting up individual stores in different areas would be a slow process. So, Rohan was able to follow a more practical approach through the FMCG model. Shripad agreed to mentor Rohan and invest in the business on the condition that Rohan move to India and run the business full-time.
After completing his MBA, Rohan had two options. He could either take up a well-paid corporate job in the USA or move to India. This was not an easy decision to make, due to the challenges faced by people in India like the lack of infrastructure, amongst others. However, Rohan decided to follow Shripad’s advice. In January 2013, at the age of 30, Rohan moved to India to focus on making Hokey Pokey a success. He, along with the team, started building the FMCG plan for Hokey Pokey. They hit the stores in 2014 and, within a short period, Hokey Pokey became a famous ice cream brand known for its unique flavours. But as ice cream is a seasonal product, sales plummeted during the monsoon and winter months, and distribution expansion during the off-season became a massive challenge. To ensure sustained growth of the business and to avoid dependency on a particular season, the team decided to start a non-seasonal product along with their ice creams.
In 2015, Drums Food International launched the Greek yoghurt brand Epigamia, which was something unique for the Indian markets. While it was launched as a complementary product to ice cream, since it was healthier and still delicious, the Greek yoghurt proved to be a sleeper hit. The brand saw sales of 10,000 cups within the first month of launch. Though the team wanted to grow both the ice cream and the Greek yoghurt businesses, there were multiple operational challenges in running both of them parallelly.
For instance, ice cream requires a frozen supply chain, while yoghurt needs a cold supply chain. With limited resources, managing two different supply chains was not a viable option. Also, Greek yoghurt has a shelf life of only 15 days, unlike ice creams which have a shelf life of 9-12 months. This meant that both products had different requirements for production, storage and distribution. Though Hokey Pokey had become a leading premium ice cream brand, managing its day-to-day operations along with creating growth opportunities for Epigamia was not practically possible. With Indian consumers aiming for a healthier lifestyle, Greek yoghurt appeared to be a significant and untapped opportunity as compared to ice cream.
So, working along John D Rockefeller’s quote – “Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great” – the team decided to focus only on Epigamia and discontinued Hokey Pokey temporarily.
It is essential to come up with a brand name that has a good recall value. If a famous story with a universal appeal lies at the root of a brand’s name, it can amplify it. This is what worked well for Epigamia.
In 326 BCE, Alexander the Great, a ruler of the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedonia, after conquering much of Persia, launched his campaign to enter India. After Alexander’s death in 323 BCE, Chandragupta Maurya, with the guidance of Chanakya, established a strong empire in India, which came to be known as the Mauryan dynasty. In 312 BCE, Seleucus I Nicator, a Macedonian general from Alexander’s army, established the Seleucid Kingdom and reconquered most of Alexander’s former empire in Asia. In 305 BCE, he came into conflict with Chandragupta. Eventually, both sides made peace in 303 BCE.
In ancient Greek, Epigamia was a way of formalising the relationship between different nations. This peace treaty was known as Epigamia, standing for a dynastic marriage between the two wonderful and ancient cultures. As a result, a flourishing exchange of ideas and trade began between the two empires. To celebrate this ancient tradition, by being the first to introduce Greek yoghurt in India, the team decided to name the brand Epigamia. Epigamia, the brand that weds a healthy lifestyle to great taste.
Excerpted with permission from Booming Brands: Inspiring Journeys of 11 ‘Made in India’ Brands (Volume 2), Harsh Pamnani, Westland Books.