How this daughter turned her mother's pickle home business into a Rs 2 crore enterprise

Vasudha Bhogaraju quit her job with Airtel in 2015 and then took her mother’s pickle-making business online. Bhogaraju Foods now generates Rs 2 crore in revenues by selling 20 tonnes of preservative-free pickles in 13 countries annually

Rashmi Pratap
New Update
Vasudha Bhogaraju with her mother B Renuka Devi

Vasudha Bhogaraju with her mother B Renuka Devi

When Vasudha Bhogaraju was six years old, her father started a business which did not take off. To overcome financial difficulties, her mother B Renuka Devi, who excelled in making traditional Andhra pickles, started preparing them for sale.

“It was one of my mom’s friends who suggested to her to make pickles. My mother made Mango Avakkai (a spicy raw mango pickle) and Aunty gave us some bottles for packaging. She helped my mother place them in a clothes boutique from where customers would buy them,” recollects Vasudha, now 45.

For many years, the pickle-making remained a home business under the name Lakshmi Food Industries. “My father came up with a brand name and we opted for blister packs. However, lack of knowledge about pricing and positioning led us to huge losses again,” says Vasudha.

That loss-making pickle business is now called Bhogaraju Foods and generates Rs 2 crore in revenues by selling 20 tonnes of pickles (29 varieties) in 13 countries annually. 

The bootstrapped enterprise, with 90 percent women employees, has set up its production unit in Bengaluru and hopes to double the revenues to Rs4 crore in FY25.

“From childhood, I was always involved in the business and helping my parents. When I was in college, we moved to a rented house with a garage. In 1997, instead of taking up some summer job, I started selling directly to customers from the garage which we converted into a store,” Vasudha says. 

Renuka  devi bhogaraju
B Renuka Devi continues to look after production even today. Pic:  Bhogaraju Foods

Learning the ropes

Despite her innate desire to join the family business, she opted for a course in computers and an MBA in Finance to gain an understanding of businesses and how they are run. Her first job was with the technology company Microland. “I got into the IT industry and then moved to banking and telecom while the family business continued through word-of-mouth publicity,” she says.

Vasudha’s main aim behind working in the corporate world was to understand how businesses function and grow. 

She would still spend the weekends working at her mother’s pickle-making unit where Renuka had hired two women to help her with chopping. “It kept me rooted and I enjoyed working there,” Vasudha says.

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From Microland, Vasudha moved to Hutch (now Vodafone) where she was among the first 16 employees in Bengaluru and handled customer operations. She went on to work in the banking industry with giants like the ICICI Bank and ABN Amro before moving back to telecom with Airtel. “During those 14 years with corporates, my core focus was on learning. In 2015, when I reached middle management and had to focus on people management, I did not enjoy my work and quit in 2015,” she says.

Vasudha's parents with some employees of Bhogaraju Foods. Pic: Bhogaraju Foods

The learner in Vasudha continued her journey and after a six-month course in digital marketing, she set out on her entrepreneurial journey. “E-commerce always excited me and I was closely tracking the space. After the course, I began to take up freelance projects to get an understanding of the e-commerce ecosystem,” she says.

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All things digital

In 2016, Vasudha started a digital marketing agency called V R Consulting. With years of experience, it was easy for her to get projects. “At that time, I approached my parents and discussed the idea of starting a website for Lakshmi Foods. It went live in 2017,” she says.

Around that time, people also began asking for 3-4 layers of packaging to courier the pickles to their family members abroad. By then Vasudha’s mother had expanded to many varieties of pickles including mixed vegetable, grated raw mango thokku, magaya dried mango pickle and raw tamarind thokku, and ginger chutney which is a concentrated pickle that has to be diluted for use.

“Since people came from far away searching for good food to deliver to their loved ones, especially children living overseas, I thought it would be good if we could deliver to their house instead of them coming here and couriering overseas,” Vasudha says.

The businesswoman immediately tied up with a logistics partner and negotiated the rates. 

“Since in international logistics, the more the weight the, lesser the price, I suggested buyers to pool and split the logistics costs. That worked well,” she says.

In 2017-18, when Vasudha began placing ads on social media, she realised the enormity of the market for pickles as South Indians from across India were buying the products from the Lakshmi Foods website. “I realised if volumes grow, we can reduce costs. So apart from own website, putting the products on marketplaces like Amazon would expand the reach exponentially,” she says.

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The preservative-free pickles are made using traditional recipes. Pic: Bhogaraju Foods

“When I approached Amazon, they asked for a trademark license while we had only the FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) license. So I applied for a trademark and since most of the names around Lakshmi were taken, we decided to go with our family name – Bhogaraju,” she recollects. 

The growth trajectory

In November 2018, she registered Bhogaraju Foods as a private limited company with Vasudha and her mother as the directors. The food entrepreneur then visited 150 food units across India to learn more about mechanization in food processing and packaging. “I also did a course with CFTRI (Central Food Technological Research Institute) to learn more about food business,” she says

With knowledge about the industry, Vasudha zeroed in on a space to build a factory for Bhogaraju Foods and installed the machinery in 2019. “In January 2020, we launched the factory and generated an export lead from Qatar,” the food entrepreneur says. 

“Just when we were to receive the payment of Rs27 lakh for our first export order, the COVID-19 lockdown was announced and we could not send the products as the borders were sealed,” she adds.

But in other ways, the lockdown came as a blessing. “We were an essential services (ESMA) company and had the permission to work. That’s when having our website helped as everyone wanted us to deliver the products online. So my online business took off,” the woman entrepreneur says.

Also Read: From a daily wager to a food entrepreneur, how Assam’s Diganta Das set up a successful business

The pickles are exported to 12 countries apart from being available in India. Pic: Bhogaraju Foods

Bhogaraju Foods now has customers in 12 countries including Australia, the UAE, the UK, the US, and others in the Middle East and South East Asia. 

“We have an 8,000 sq ft facility where we can produce 100 tonnes of pickles a month.”

Bhogaraju Foods currently has 100 SKUs across four categories – pickles, masala, chutney powders and papad and fryums. “We also make food around festivals like sugar candy around Sankrant.”

Currently, the food firm has a distribution network across Karnataka, including Mysuru and Bengaluru and is slowly moving to other cities. The products are available on the company’s own website and all marketplaces including Flipkart, Amazon, JioMart, Meesho and others. 

All the products are free of chemicals and preservatives. Vasudha’s septuagenarian mother still takes care of the production. “We use the fermentation process for making pickles. The idea is to bring back authenticity in foods. We have an in-house microbiologist to ensure adherence to top quality and while we grow, we ensure that the right food reaches the customer,” she says.

(Rashmi Pratap is a Mumbai-based journalist specialising in business, financial, and socio-economic reporting)

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