“If you are in Mumbai, visiting a Natural Ice Cream parlour is a must, apart from the Gateway of India, Marine Drive and Siddhivinayak Temple.” That’s the announcement IndiGo Airlines makes whenever one of its aircraft lands in Mumbai. It’s not a paid endorsement for the ice-cream brand, which is owned by Kamath Ourtimes Ice Creams. Rather, it speaks about the popularity of Natural Ice Cream.
To this day, R.S. Kamath’s 25,000 sq. ft. factory in Charkop, north Mumbai, uses hand churners to make ice-creams. Kamath himself spends hours creating new variants. And that’s how the company sells ice-creams in flavours ranging from cucumber and pumpkin to turmeric and lemon grass. Mint and tulsi flavours are in the offing.
Kamath grew up assisting his father in selling fruits. With little interest in studies, he dropped out after Class Ten. However, his family’s ice-cream factory in Santa Cruz certainly held his attention. Regular visits to the factory helped him gain an understanding of the industry.
“But it was only after the division of our family business (in 1983) that I set out on my own with brand Natural,” says Kamath. The word ‘Natural’ was an obvious choice as his ice-creams do not have any preservatives and use only a handful of ingredients: milk, sugar, dry fruits and fresh fruits. The recipes remain a secret till date. But most of the flavours are decided after feedback from consumers. So the shelf life for Kamath’s ice-creams is just 15 days.
Kamath set up his first outlet, all of 300 sq. ft, in the upmarket Juhu area of Mumbai in 1984. He and his wife would crush fruits and churn out ice-creams at home. The turnover was Rs 1 lakh in the first year – just enough to keep them going. The annual sales at this outlet are now over Rs 5 crore.
“I didn’t have to spend a single penny on advertising. It was mostly through word of mouth,” he says. Several celebrities, including Amitabh Bachchan, Dilip Kumar and Vivian Richards, have endorsed his ice-creams on various platforms.
Today, Natural has a chain of 115 outlets in Maharashtra and Karnataka.
Mamta Nahar, 32, is a regular at Natural’s flagship outlet in Juhu. She visits the outlet every Friday, when Kamath comes out with a new flavour that is repeated only after a year. “They come up with some unthinkable and exciting flavours,” she says.
Natural also continues to introduce occasion-led flavours such as malai korma for Eid, prasadam for Ganapati, and gajar ka halwa for Navaratri.
For the first 16 years, Kamath was busy feeding the Mumbai market. After continuous demand, he ventured out of Mumbai with a store in Pune, in 2000.
“We plan to go national in a year, with 35 more outlets,” says Kamath. He is also readying to export to West Asia and Europe in about two months.
Natural remains competitively priced at Rs 40 a scoop compared with Rs 100-120 a scoop for most of the big brands.
“All our flavours are sold at the same price. While margins in flavours such as sitaphal, raspberry and gooseberry are very low (due to fruit costs being high), it is adjusted in flavours such as musk melon and tender coconut."
To maintain consistency, Kamath continues to source milk from the Nashik-based Noble Dairy, which has been Natural’s supplier since the day one.
“We sourced 20 litres to begin with. Now, we require 15,000 litres a day. Even our fruit farmers or vendors have not changed all these years.”
Yunus Patel, 54, one of the promoters of Noble Dairy, says: “From just a few buffaloes in the 1980s, the farm now has 1,500 buffaloes. “He (Kamath) has motivated us to grow. Now, we have modern technology to milk the cattle.”
Now, as it prepares to expand, it will be interesting to see if Natural Ice Cream can melt hearts across the country.