Updates Details

By TPCI | October 3, 2019

Established in 1989, Innovative Foods Limited (IFL) is a major player in the Indian food processing industry today. Under the brand name 'Sumeru', they have built a reputed brand that provides a healthy and reliable range of frozen foods. Besides manufacturing and marketing various types of ready-to-eat vegetarian and non-vegetarian foods, which includes seafood, the brand also supplies customized products to various leading food service companies in India. With their core business in the areas of import, export, trading and manufacturing of processed and frozen foods, IFL retails a multi-category product portfolio across the country with presence in all major modern trade counters. It also has a pan-India presence, which covers all tiers of cities and towns.

Mr. Mithun Appaiah, CEO, Innovative Foods Limited (IFL), the makers of brand Sumeru, speaks with IndusFood and unveils his major expansion and launch plans.

IndusFood: What was the inspiration behind the brand "Sumeru” when it was founded? How did the business launch and evolve in the initial years to its current stature?
Mithun Appaiah: Innovative Foods Limited (IFL) is a major player in the Indian food industry since 1989. Under the brand name 'Sumeru', we manufacture and market various types of ready-to-eat vegetarian and non-vegetarian products, which includes seafood. The core business is in retailing of a range of FMCG products through modern trade, e-commerce and general trade Kirana stores. Customized products are also supplied to various leading QSR chains in India. Our core business lies in the areas of distribution, innovations, exports and manufacturing of processed and frozen foods.

We have retailed a multi-category product portfolio across the country with a presence in all major modern trade and key general retail counters with a pan-India presence, which covers more than 120+ towns and cities.  We have marked our presence in the Indian ethnic export market viz. USA, Australia, Singapore and many more. We have 2 state-of-the-art manufacturing plants in Cochin --Kerala and Chitoor - Andhra Pradesh.

IFL, formerly Innovative Marine Foods Limited, was incorporated on 1st September 1989 in Kerala as C&F agent for HLL’s ice-cream business. The company was promoted by Amalgam Foods Ltd (AFL) in association with multi-nationals like Mitsubishi Corporation, Saudi Fisheries Company, Gourmet Club Corp, Ristic GmbH, etc. Eventually the company ventured into frozen & ambient RTE/RTC under ‘SUMERU’ brand for the retail & institutional segments in the Indian and overseas markets. Post that, Tata Group entered into the processed food sector by acquiring a majority stake in Innovative Foods Ltd in December 2006. Subsequently, IFL was taken over by India Equity Partners (IEP). Later, in 2016, IFL was taken over by Peepul Capital Fund III LLC.

IndusFood: What were the major challenges to growth and expansion and how did you meet them?
MA:  The Frozen Food Industry promises steady growth but also has its own challenges. Sometimes, the retailers do not have the adequate infrastructure to store frozen products. Many times, competition being placed in the same freezers and fluctuating demands of frozen items also bother players like us.

Grabbing the consumers’ attention is always a challenge. It is further complicated by the choices the consumers have as alternatives to traditional home cooking like the food tech start-ups delivering food right at their doorsteps.

However, Sumeru has overcome the above-mentioned challenges to some extent by providing Sumeru-branded freezers to certain retailers to ensure they have Sumeru products. With regard to the demand, we ensure that we are present in various frozen-food categories from fries, nuggets, kebabs, frozen peas, frozen sweet corn, Malai Paneer etc. so that at the end-of-the-day the consumers walk out with a Sumeru product.

Cold logistics is always a major concern for the frozen industry. Sumeru ensures checks on vehicle movement with GPS trackers and keeping checks on the conditions of the vehicles.

Another major challenge we face is the myths that the customers have towards the frozen food. They assume that frozen food is not fresh, nor safe and is high on preservatives but we are working towards this to break these myths through various marketing campaigns and PR articles where we educate them that frozen is fresh and we have no added preservatives and is safe even for the kids to consume.  

The sector continues to face a shortage of talent. Within FMCG, the frozen business needs differential skills, and hence, the challenge is to hire the right set of people.

IndusFood: What transformational changes has the business undergone, since its inception in terms of product portfolio/innovations, reach, brand equity, etc.
MA:  Frozen snacks make up a large part of the frozen food industry’s sales. However, meals are always more nutritious and healthier alternatives to snacks. Thus, we are launching a healthy range of parathas that are high in nutritional value and trans-fat free giving our consumers a wide range to choose from. We have recently launched momos (both veg and non-veg) which are the authentic Himalayan Momos made in hygienic kitchens.

Our curated kebab range is a frozen food product that is made from fresh ingredients with no added colors or preservatives. These products are a testimonial to our ability to innovate and provide healthier options in a space that is ruled by snacks and to our commitment to provide consumers with better, more nutritious offerings that are healthier too. Even our green peas are freshly sourced, graded and packed and sealed within a few hours, which keeps the freshness locked thanks to our IQF technology!

We are witnessing growth across categories, which is a great trend.  We have stepped up our distribution, market focus, innovations and digital marketing footprint to drive growth across all these categories. We are present in more than 120+ cities across 10,000 outlets and also available in various E-commerce portals for the convenience of our Sumeru lovers. 

We have also seen good consumer responses for all our launches, including the Sumeru Chicken Fries, Cheese Corn Nuggets, and Cheese Pops, the Kebab range, Momos and the Egg Chicken and Paneer Rolls. One of our latest addition is the Sumeru Grated Coconut, which makes life more convenient for everyone, making it easier to have grated coconut in your fridge.

IndusFood: How has the brand progressed on the international front? What are the key export markets you are targeting for your products and why (domestic and international)?
MA: We are re-focusing on our export footprint, which has the potential to grow. Consumers love us in the US now for over 10 years. We have recently opened in the Middle-Eastern market, and are witnessing a positive momentum for our range. SE Asia, Australia and European markets, too, are showing good demand for the Indian-ethnic food range.

IndusFood: How do you see growth in the food and agro processing industry and also the frozen food industry from India? How is it expected to reflect on the exports front?
MA: The processed and frozen food market has been witnessing steady growth both in India and the world over, particularly in developing Asian countries. India’s frozen food market, which stood at US$ 310 million in 2017, is projected to grow at a CAGR of over 16% to reach US$ 754 million by 2023 (Source: Tech Sci Research). Globally, the frozen food market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 6.15% to reach US$ 309.98 billion by 2021 (Source: Reuters). Developing markets like ours are likely to experience higher growth.

During FY11–16, India’s exports of processed food and related products (including meat products) grew at a CAGR of 11.74%, reaching US$ 16.2 billion (Source: ibef.org). Main export destinations for food products have been the Middle East and Southeast Asia. In FY17, India’s exports stood at US$ 1.3 billion (Source: ibef.org). Over the last eight months, we launched 20 new and innovative products and have also renovated our sales, marketing, operations and route to market. With various strategic and tactical measures, we are working towards doubling our revenues in the next two years.

With the addition of an innovative product range, our product portfolio now comprises of 100+ SKUs, making us the largest frozen food brand offering the widest range of frozen food products. Sumeru is exported to more than 12 countries across the globe including the US, Middle East, Singapore, Australia and some of the European countries and is today the preferred brand among the Indian diaspora in these countries. Sumeru has the largest and the most holistic range in the country’s frozen food space with representation in all categories of vegetarian and non-vegetarian products including seafood.

IndusFood: How do you plan to expand in the near future? Any new product launch planned or product innovation that you might want to share?
MA: Sumeru as a brand stands for ‘Experts in Food Innovations’. Our aim is to provide consumers with a vast range of frozen-food options so that there is something for everyone. Apart from expanding in various countries and cities, we also want to expand further with our product portfolio.

To name, one of our new product launches is Sumeru Grated Coconut. It’s the most innovative and loved food and a blessing for all homemakers who have to struggle to break open a coconut. It’s a pack that comes with zip lock so that you store and reuse the grated coconut. We make them with grade-A sorted nuts, which are carefully chosen and grated with imported machines.

Chicken Cheese Nuggets is another product that has infused cheese and it’s most loved by the kids, and parents know that with Sumeru, they can’t go wrong. Similarly, Momos is the latest addition to our range of items, which is available in veg and non-veg options. The authentic Himalayan Sumeru Momos are made in the most hygienic kitchens so that our parents can easily prepare them for their kids.

Not to forget our new Michelin Star Chef Alfred Prasad’s range, which has Shahi Paneer, Pepper chicken, Coromandel Roasted Chicken and Millet Khichdi. In fact we are the only company to launch the Michelin Star range in such a format in India.

We are also coming up with various other delicious innovations, out of which our Baked Paratha Lasagna is something to look forward to as the most innovative product of the year.

IndusFood: Can you please name product that needs shelf space and marketing attention?
MA: Mostly all our products need shelf space and marketing. Our entire range has freshly-frozen range, preservatives and color free products and are made in all IOS certified units and this is what the customers need to be educated about. The peas and corns are freshly frozen within a few hours of getting picked from the farms. Parathas are transfat-free and momos are one of the most authentic and hygienic products made in small batches (ensuring quality) with the fillings, which go through numerous stages of quality checks and procedures. Through the right channels, we are trying to communicate this to our consumers about the USP’s of our various products, helping all the digital moms to provide the best snack options for their kids and family.

IndusFood: Have you participated in IndusFood earlier? Please share your experience. Is there any product you plan to launch in IndusFood’s upcoming fixture in 2020?
MA: Yes, Sumeru has participated in 2018 and also in 2019. IndusFood is far different from other events that happen in India. It’s purely a gathering of buyers and sellers, which makes it serious. It gives Indian brands a global forum and a great initiative to promote India as a strong supplier of foods.

IndusFood: What is your take on IndusFood launching IndusFood-Tech and IndusFood-Chem as brand extensions? How will it help the industry?
MA: IndusFood coming up with IndusFood-Tech and IndusFood-Chem makes it a very interesting platform which will help various suppliers and vendors specifically. It’s a great plan for the brand extension which makes it easier for bigger brands like us to participate. It’s always good to have targeted fairs which bring to you the right audience, which can bring business decision-makers to make the right choice.