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Basmati industry smitten by renaming bug

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Companies undergo name change in bid to convey `new business focus'

A FILE picture of basmati paddy in full bloom
A FILE picture of basmati paddy in full bloom

Harish Damodaran

New Delhi, Aug. 4

In 1889, two brothers, Khushi Ram and Behari Lal, formed a rice milling partnership at Lyallpur (now Faisalabad in Pakistan). About 105 years later, this firm was made a limited company, while still being called Khushi Ram Behari Lal. In 1999, it was renamed KRBL Ltd.

"I quite regret the decision. The earlier name had an oriental charm that went well with our product," Anil Mittal, great-grandson of Khushi Ram and Chairman of KRBL, notes light-heartedly. His Rs 725-crore company - the country's top basmati rice exporter in volume terms - owns the India Gate brand.

A more recent story is of two other brothers from Bhikiwind in Amritsar, who ran a rice trading partnership called Lalchand Tirathram.

In 1976, the younger brother, Tirathram Arora, broke away to form a separate firm with his three sons, Jugal Kishore, Satnam and Gurnam. The old firm, under Lalchand Arora and his son, Raghunath, continued as Lalchand Tirathram Rice Mills till 1990, when it got incorporated as LT Overseas. By then, the partnership of Tirathram and his sons had also become Satnam Overseas Ltd.

Today, the Rs 540-crore Satnam Overseas and the Rs 400-crore LT Overseas are leaders in the domestic branded basmati segment.

Yet, as companies, they are little known compared to the recall levels of their respective brands, Kohinoor and Daawat. A fact that has led Satnam Overseas to rechristen itself again as Kohinoor Foods Ltd.

"The new name reflects our new corporate identity as a branded food company from a bulk commodity exporter," says Gurnam Arora, Joint Managing Director.

Echoing the same line is V.K. Arora, Managing Director of LT Overseas. "Everybody knows Daawat, but not LT Overseas," he admits, even as the company has already registered a subsidiary, Daawat Foods Private Ltd.

Another rice processor to have undergone a name change to convey a `new business focus' is B.S. Uppal's Rs 560-crore Lakshmi Energy and Foods Ltd, which was earlier simply Lakshmi Overseas Industries.

The renaming bug has not claimed everyone though. Take Amar Singh Chawal Wala and Deva Singh Sham Singh, the two Amritsar-based companies that own the popular Lal Qilla and Elephant basmati brands.

Or, Delhi's Shivnath Rai Harnarain India Ltd (Shri Lalmahal) and Amir Chand Jagdish Kumar (Aeroplane)

These big names in the rice export and domestic milling business are some distance away from becoming ASCW, DSSS, SRH or ACJK Ltd. At least, as of now.

Related Stories:
Branding: Buzzword for rice biz
`Super' row over Basmati in the making

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated August 5, 2006)
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