As I returned from the shop yesterday clutching a packet of Everest turmeric powder, I remembered that certain shipping lanes were called ‘spice routes’ in the olden days, with an entire convoy of ships carrying spices travelling under armed protection to distant lands. And here I was, walking nonchalantly home with the ‘Queen’ of spices held loosely in one hand. A distinct comedown — not in culinary importance, for spices are the essence of Indian cooking — but in status, to be sure.
Today, spices can be had for the asking — from the organised or unorganised markets, processed or unprocessed, loose or in fancy packing, and from the branded or unbranded sectors. Housewives no longer have to do the back-breaking sorting, grinding, sieving, sun-drying and storing chores as everything is available ready-made.
Recent reports suggest that the Indian spice market is worth ₹40,000 crore annually, with the branded segment accounting for about 15 per cent of the market. One of the brands which has made life much easier for women is Everest Spices, that promises the ‘perfect blend of pure spices’. The founder — Vadilal Shah — worked with his father in the 1960s at their small spices and dry fruits shop in South Mumbai. The store offered pure spices but the story goes that Vadilal observed the buying patterns of those who came in to buy a variety of spices to blend later, at home. He noticed with interest with which fastidious housewives carefully selected the spices, and the quantities purchased.
Perfecting the blends
He realised that there was no set/rigid list of ingredients for each blend, and that there were many different combinations possible for different cuisines, regions and palates. Many of the women who came to his father’s shop shared their recipes with him and he spent his spare time blending, grinding and experimenting, focusing on getting the aroma and flavour exactly right and the same each time. Even today, along with purity, consistency in quality, fragrance and taste is the brand’s USP.
The ‘Everest’ brand was registered in 1966, and in 1968 the first product from the company — Kesari Milk Masala — was introduced in the market, followed by Garam Masala.
The range of spices on offer increased slowly. Vadilal used only the finest ingredients in his blends and would spend time travelling to identify the best raw material sources. The 200 sq ft shop was soon too small for his operations and in 1980, the first factory was opened.
Today, Everest Spices reportedly has five manufacturing facilities with the latest and newest one at Umbergaon, Gujarat, said to be the ‘World’s largest spice factory’, with 100-metric-tonne spice-blending capacity per day. Automation has helped increase production even as strict hygiene and quality control checks ensure consistency. The company boasts of a range of 45 pure and blended spices in 200 different sizes. It is said to be the first company to have introduced spices in small sachets.
A range of chilli powders
Pure spices, such as turmeric, coriander, chilli and black pepper, are always in demand everywhere as they are part and parcel of Indian cooking. Even for this, painstaking research was carried out in different parts of the country to get an idea of consumer tastes. Something as simple as chilli powder was found to be preferred in different forms – scorching hot, mild, finely-ground, coarse, and so on. As a result, Everest introduced three varieties of chilli powder — Tikhalal, Kashmirilal and Kutilal — with special emphasis on colour.
The blended spices market ( garam masala, sambhar masala, chaat masala , curry powder, and so on), however, is region-specific, with local food choices influencing purchase patterns. Of late, travel and the willingness to experiment has led to a greater demand for all types of spices everywhere.
The Everest brand has managed to find blends that will suit all tastes. Region-specific spice blends were modified and created in such a manner that they were acceptable to people across the country and not just to the place they originated from. This meant that colouring, souring, thickening and cooling agents as well as herbs, pulses and nutritive additions had to be adjusted just right for the final mix and perfect taste.
Strong distributor network
Everest has an immaculate distributor network in place to ensure that the consumer gets the spices fresh from the factory. About 1,200 sales representatives coordinate with 60 super agents to reach the products to around 2,800 agents, who service more than half a million retail outlets on a weekly basis. In fact, Everest is said to be the only spice brand with a nationwide distribution.
The popularity of the company’s products owes a lot to its advertisements and promotions. It was the first spice brand to advertise nationally on television; but instead of pushing its whole range, it intelligently focussed on promoting region-specific spices and blends to initially pique the consumer’s curiosity. It also attracted consumers by highlighting the ‘rich’ colour of the spices. This, and the bright-hued packaging, the only factors to appeal through visual media, prompted initial purchases; when the quality lived up to the promise, it catapulted the brand into the top-selling category.
At the same time, all Everest ads focus on the emotional bonding — be it the ‘Maharaj’ or traditional cook upholding great taste, the joint family settings where the mother-in-law insists on flavour or the taste mey best, mummy aur Everest ads. Its recent Jo khaane ko banaye maa ke haath ka khaana (that which makes food taste like mother cooked it) has struck a chord with the viewer. Its choice of celeb film star Amitabh Bachchan as brand ambassador has also boosted sales. A tentative foray was made into the south, with the Everest Super Sambhar Masala and the ‘Masala amma’ ad in 2014.
Promotions included the free tea offer across 1 lakh outlets in major cities during the launch of its Tea Masala. And the ‘Sabji Masala’ was promoted close to vegetable markets.
All these promotions and advertisements have been ably supported by a diligent sales team that set up stalls even in Lal Chowk in Srinagar. The spice blends for non-vegetarian foods are never advertised, despite the chicken masala and mutton masala reportedly being the highest-selling products.
Everest is India’s top spice brand (according to AC Nielsen, 2014) and also tops the chart in brand recall and trust. It is also said to be India’s largest spice exporter; its products are available in more than 50 countries worldwide, including the US, the UK, the UAE and Australia.
The brand has achieved ‘Superbrand’ status five times (2003, 2006, 2009, 2012 and 2014). It has won the Consumer Reaction award (awarded by the Bharti Vidyapeeth Institute of Management Studies and Research and DNA) twice, in 2004 and 2005.
The Everest Spices website is easy to navigate and the product pages have complete ingredient lists for all products as well as recipes for each masala.