Brothers Nitin and Santosh Shinde started off as contract farmers of sweet corn. They are now the country’s largest producer and exporter of the crop.

It would be no secret to those associated with farming that the conditions in the Pune-Nashik belt can support three crops of sweet corn a year.

That is roughly thrice as many seasons possible in most other parts of India. Sweet corn is a hardy crop that requires relatively lesser degree of pest control. It took a pair of siblings, then still in their 20s, to not only see the potential but also cash in on corn. The story of the Shinde brothers – Santosh, a scant couple of years senior to 34-year-old Nitin – began in 2004 when they started off as contract farmers supplying sweet corn and exotic vegetables. Soon, they began processing the corn under the banner of Trimurti Corns Agro Foods, a company they had promoted, and supplying the products under the King Corn brand – first to the domestic market and then overseas.

The company, which is the flagship of the family-run Agrowera Group of companies, now engages with over 4,000 contract farmers for the raw material, sources its own seed and invests on advertising.

The Shindes also grow sweet corn on 50 acres of their own land, including 25 acres of organically grown crop that essentially makes it to overseas markets.

Today, Trimurti is billed as the largest processor and exporter of sweet corn in the country with an installed capacity of 25,000 tonnes a year and an annual turnover of around ₹30 crore. What’s more, it is in the process of doubling capacity over the next three months. The expansion involves setting up new factories for processing and establishing infrastructure for IQF and blast freezing.

Eyeing other products

The company is also venturing into ready-to-eat corn products and the plateful of crisp, hot corn samosas that appears on the table along with the afternoon tea is testimony to the forward integration on the cards.

All this will enable it achieve a turnover of around ₹45 crore by end of March 2017.

The Shindes belong to a large progressive, agricultural family that owns around 200 acres at Burkegaon village, 30 km north-east of Pune that yields traditional crops like sugarcane. It is the third generation that ventured out into processing agricultural produce, and that has brought them sweet returns. “We began processing corn in 2004, and within one year expanded with exports to Russia, Australia, Japan and the Middle East,” says Nitin, Director for international marketing. Currently, 60 per cent of the produce under the Kings brand – primarily corn kernels and corn-on-the-cob – is exported while the rest is sold in the domestic market.

While the careful planning on backward integration coupled with setting up of allied infrastructure such as refrigerated vans for transportation and independent group companies that serve specific markets have played a role in the success of the venture, a client list that includes modern retail chains such as Walmart, Big Bazaar and Reliance has given it critical momentum. This is in addition to private labelling they do for a host of companies that include Al Kabeer Godrej, Mothers Dairy and Pizza Hut.

“Modern trade is shaping us,” Nitin remarks, proud to share that Trimurti’s relationship with Walmart has evolved from cash-n-carry to direct supply, while British chain Tesco with which the company has had a one-year tie-up is also looking to renew the contract this year. So, while corn is bringing-in sweet returns, are the Shindes happy to rest on their laurels? Perish the thought.

A few years ago, Nitin, a qualified oenologist who learnt the craft in Australia, set-up Deccan Plateau, a 1,30,000 litres per annum capacity winery at Burkegaon. The first vintage came in 2008, while the 2015 season saw around 55,000 litres of wine being made. As of now Deccan Plateau, also under the Agrowera umbrella, has seven wine varietals in its portfolio – one white, one rose and five reds – and half the wine is exported to the US, Poland and the UK. The rest is sold in the Indian market.

Wine tourism

Another area they are actively planning to venture into is wine tourism. “We are working on a blueprint for a resort at the winery and will launch wine tours this year itself,” Nitin says.

If the Shinde brothers have successfully capitalised on opportunities that well-nigh stared any wannabe entrepreneur in the face, you could put it down to Nitin’s take on his chosen calling.

An 18-20 hour work day notwithstanding, he says, “Farming has been downtrodden, but I think it will be the future because India is the cradle that has both Nature’s bounty and blessings.” Of course, there are problems he faces every single day and nothing is smooth sailing. “But you have to find solutions,” he quips.