Lalita Sanjay Khaire (50), a resident of Pune, started a business making kokum sharbat almost two decades ago. For three years, she was running a loss-making venture. But with her venture Kokanraj, she earns a revenue of over 2.5 crore per year, she says.
From having to sell their home to facing the ire of relatives for wanting to run her own business, Lalita tells The Better India that her entrepreneurial journey has thrown up many ups and downs.
Lalita started her entrepreneurial venture in 1992, about two years after marriage. “I did not want to join a regular job and this was a great alternative at that time. I started by foraying into oyster mushroom farming. It went through huge losses. At that time, one needed a Farmers Producer Organisation (FPO) license to do mushroom farming. We also added tomato ketchup and tutti frutti to the menu at this point.”
Things deteriorated so quickly that they had to sell their home and shift into a rented property. With no success whatsoever in this line of business, she had to shut shop within a span of a few years. “I was glad that we managed to recover the costs and pay back our loans at the time we wound up,” she adds.
‘Riding against the tide’
Coming from a family that was service-oriented, it was an uphill task for Lalita to convince her immediate relatives about her desire to become an entrepreneur. “Nobody understood it. They would rather I take up a secure job with a fixed salary at the end of the month. But I had other plans,” she says.
The one person who Lalita credits for standing by her through it all is her husband Sanjay Khaire (58). While they decided to pull the shutters on the mushroom business, they continued making tomato ketchup. “There was some conviction that we were moving on. We were willing to work hard and just needed that one idea to click,” she says.
Meanwhile, Sanjay notes, “If it is a business, one has to endure some amount of risk. I was sure that she would emerge successful. It was just a matter of time and we just had to ride the tide.”
In 1995, Lalita and Sanjay took a chance on kokum and introduced a sharbat, naming their company Kokanraj. She says it took about four years for the business to start seeing growth. “When we started, it was after we had to sell off everything that we owned. All we had was Rs 500, which I put into this business of making kokum sharbat,” she adds. Through all this, Lalita got pregnant and delivered her second child as well. During those months, she says, the business remained shut.
Kokum has many benefits — it is known to bring instant relief to those suffering from acidity and digestive issues. Besides, it is also a powerhouse of nutrients and minerals like Vitamin C, B3, A and is rich in iron, calcium, folic acid, and acetic acid.
While the kokum sharbat business started gathering momentum, the tomato ketchup business also started seeing some good traction. “I started getting orders from various small establishments who wanted large quantities of tomato ketchup at an affordable price,” she says.
A seasonal job with rich profits
While the company is reaping the profits of Lalita and Sanjay’s hard work, the journey so far hasn’t been all smooth sailing. “In our first year of operations, we sold 500 kg of sharbat. However, since we were new to this business, we did not get a rupee from the market. All our stock was taken and we were left with zero payments made to us. It was a huge learning for us,” she says.
“We were facing huge losses yet again,” adds Sanjay.
In the second year, the couple rolled up their sleeves and plunged right into their work again. This time around they made about Rs 20,000 from the sales. “It was a step forward from the losses we had made thus far. So, we were grateful for it,” says Sanjay.
The third year was for the couple to decide if the business was doing well enough to sustain. “We had all intentions to shut down the kokum business if it did not do well,” he adds.
The third year turned out to be a no profit–no loss year for the business. The couple decided to continue a while longer, and today, they make close to 12 tonnes of kokum sharbat a day, all made in-house by the 40 women-strong employee base.
On why the women chose this work, Lalita says, “By the time schools open up in June, the women are done with their work for the year. Thereafter, they are able to spend time with their families for Diwali and all other major festivals. They only have to work for those three to four months every year.”
On average, the women employed make upwards of Rs 350, depending on their skill level.
Since the kokum sharbat making period only lasts for three to four months, Lalita says that for the rest of the year. the women are able to spend time at home. “We start in February and by the first of May, we shut down that part of the business. We are now thinking of using the space and doing something else all year around, maybe things like kothambir vadi and aloo vadi,” she adds.
Over the years the couple has built a strong network of distributors across India. Some of their distributors include Big Basket, Reliance Fresh, D-Mart, Big Bazaar, Dorabjee’s and Star Bazaar. “They buy from us in bulk, package and sell,” she adds.
To reach out to Lalita, you can call at +91-7028151940.
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(Edited by Divya Sethu)