It seems an obvious question to ask of Brahmani Nara, the Executive Director of dairy major, Heritage Foods. Why, given her heritage as granddaughter of Telugu movies’ super star NT Rama Rao and daughter of actor Balakrishna (NTR’s son), she didn’t get into the celluloid biz, like other star kids?
She’s been asked that question before, so she’s quick to respond, “Our parents had reservations about us entering the movie business, and we were shy kids to begin with; so, no interest in the media business,” she says. What was really important for the family was education.
Journey with dairy
It’s a steamy morning in Hyderabad when we meet at 34-year-old Brahmani’s well-appointed office at Panjagutta for a conversation about her journey with the dairy business. Her office has promised us a taste of the multifarious products Heritage has to offer.
Heritage Foods was started by undivided Andhra Pradesh’s former chief minister, N Chandrababu Naidu, in 1992 and in 1994 the company went public as well. While the business was managed by his wife, Bhuvaneswari Nara, who is the Vice Chairperson and MD — Brahmani, married to their son Lokesh Nara — joined Heritage in 2011 as a Vice-President and was later elevated to Executive Director.
We ask Brahmani how she joined Heritage after a long stint studying abroad. She graduated from Santa Clara University in California with a degree in electrical engineering and did an MBA from Stanford. “For me, what’s been really important was to prove myself outside before I joined the family business. It was not only important for me, but for the family as well because it is a professionally-run business. And, I am also glad that the family gave me the flexibility to go out and explore what’s out there and also understand what I was passionate about and whether I was really interested in the business,” she explains.
Brahmani says being in the Bay area of California — with its innovation and entrepreneurship — was an exhilarating experience. “During this time, my husband was in Stanford finishing up his business school. So, I had an opportunity to get exposed to the world of innovation and intellect,” she recalls. She wanted to bring some value to the family and the business and decided to enter the venture capital field. “I went to Singapore and worked for a VC fund for about two years and then decided I wanted to come back and join the family business. I was just 21 then and I felt I needed to qualify and so got into Stanford and got my MBA,” she says, adding that she’s glad she went through that process of proving to herself and the rest of the world that she had the qualification and the exposure before joining up.
“Also, it was very important for me to do my MBA because I knew I was getting into a space where once I got involved in it, it would be for a long time, given my husband’s interest in the public field,” she says.
Steaming cups of coffee arrive while we ask Brahmani about the Heritage business. Giving a quick overview of the ₹1,953.83 crore Heritage Foods, she says the company has close to 200 milk collection units and is in contact with 13,000 villages and almost three lakh farmers on a daily basis across India. “We are present in 11 markets; we are probably the most geographically diverse private dairy company in the country. We have a presence all across South India; Maharasthra is a big procurement zone for us and we are also present in Haryana and the Delhi market, and also service the UP and Uttarakhand market,” she elaborates.
Heritage is now a 30-year-old company and in phase four of its growth. The next decade of the journey, she says, is where the focus will be on being more consumer-centric and bringing about a sharper go-to-market strategy. “I am really excited about taking this asset and integrating it with superior consumer experience,” she adds.
Today, 26 per cent of Heritage revenue comes from value-added dairy products, primarily curd as well as paneer and ghee, and Brahmani wants to up this to 50 per cent of revenue. “There is tremendous opportunity and a great deal of personal interest for me having learnt a lot about health and nutrition. I have spent summers working with European dairy companies, and having looked at innovation in the food space, I think there is a great opportunity to organise the diary space into more value-added products,” she says excitedly. Compared to liquid milk, which is seeing a single digit growth, value-added products are seeing a 15-20 per cent growth.
She classifies it as the healthy fat space with ghee and butter and the delight space with Indian sweets and frozen desserts and ice creams. “There is huge opportunity in embracing consumer centricity while we keep penetrating more on our existing traditional business channel — agents and distributors and our franchisee partners. Our consumers are looking at the modern retail format; quick commerce is also important. We are continually innovating through our own new channels to reach out to our consumers more directly than in the past, and you will see more progress in the coming financial year,” she explains.
As if on cue, a bearer comes in with a tray full of Heritage’s flavoured milk range and a box of doodh peda, which, well, delights us.
We ask Brahmani about Heritage’s R&D effort, if it is to churn out more value-added milk products. “So far in the dairy industry, innovation or R&D has been about better flavouring, colouring or aroma. I think taking a science-based approach can be very interesting. How do we look at our existing processes and make it more nutrition rich, improve aromas using science, make better and fresher products; areas of focus could be protein, energy, better digestive health — especially in the drinkables space.”
Focus on innovation
Heritage’s tie-up with French company Novandie, an equal joint venture, is also to bring more Western-style dairy products to the market. This JV will make various types of yogurt and dairy products — it has launched four variants of fruit-based drinkable and stirred yogurts in the Hyderabad and Bengaluru markets under the Mamie Yova brand.
“The Indian market is going through a transition,” says Brahmani, “there’s rising consciousness of what they eat and quality of the food.” Consumers are looking for hygienically packaged products and the last two pandemic years have accelerated this consciousness. “Our focus on innovation both for product and distribution — we are looking at new commerce and distribution models — will help us drive consumer awareness and availability of our products.” With a long heritage behind it, the dairy major is looking to forge ahead.