Milk Palace stands tall among dairy giants in Gujarat
In the mammoth dairy industry of Gujarat, standing tall among giants is no cakewalk for local brands. The competition in the sector remains cutthroat all around. But this was no deterrence to Joheb Virani. Right from the beginning, he was quite clear about his brand positioning in the market where milk cooperatives call the shots.
“I never wanted Milk Palace products to end up among those you find on shelves everywhere. For the same, separate from cooperatives, we have made our own identity,” says Joheb.
Today, Milk Palace is synonymous with super quality shrikhand, paneer, curd and lassi in one of Gujarat’s most cosmopolitan cities– Surat. Milk Palace’s journey started with an outlet on Bhatar Road. In 2007, Joheb hit the expansion mode, and today Milk Palace has spread its wings all over the city with as many as 9 outlets, including 6 franchises and 3 company-owned. The dairy franchise is now all set to serve the taste of Surat to the rest of India.
Joheb is the third generation of the Virani family to drive the Milk Palace’s success story further. Like true leaders, Virani have always turned adversities into opportunities. An epidemic forced his ancestors to shift the base from Bombay (now Mumbai) to Surat in 1932. It was here that Milk Palace’s roots were planted much before the Independence and the dairy movement in Gujarat. With 10 buffaloes at his farmhouse, G M Virani, Joheb’s grandfather, began supplying milk cream to faluda-makers. By 1961, they were trading in milk as well.
J G Virani, Joheb’s father, in 1981 opened the first-ever Milk Palace outlet in Katargam area (which later relocated to Bhatar Road). Their milk and related products were an instant hit among residents who migrated from the Saurashtra region. Further boost came in 1996 when J G Virani set up a chain exclusively for supplying paneer to restaurants and hotels. In the next 10 years, they became the market leader as wholesale suppliers of paneer and cheese.
Joheb, at the young age of 21, had a crystal clear vision about expanding the retail business. He came up with a state-of-the-art air-conditioned dairy outlet in 2007. It soon transformed the shopping experience of customers. The traditional setup of a dairy store was revamped completely to make it a luxe outlet where customers can enjoy their time testing and buying products.
Since then, there has been no looking back. Every alternate year has seen the addition of new outlets or items to its rich menu. The annual turnover when Joheb took over hovered between Rs 40 Lakh and Rs 50 lakh. Today, it has skyrocketed to over Rs 6 crore.
Joheb can take the credit for introducing tawa ice-cream to Gujarat in 2017. He had the plan to go big ready. But, as fate would have it, Joheb suffered a heart attack and the plan was shelved. But true to his family tradition, Joheb only saw opportunity in the adversity. His tete-a-tete with health regimes, including diet and workout, led Joheb to introduce 11 types of flavored paneer in the market. “I learnt extensively about maintaining health and the role of food in living a good life. For vegetarians, who have limited options for protein, paneer is the way to go. Not all of us like to have protein shake. But paneer is something everyone loves,” Joheb shares his reasons for introducing flavoured paneer
The product was probably launched much ahead of time. The market was not ready for paneer with a twist. But Joheb, who was convinced about its potential, began a unique marketing-cum-awareness campaign. “We prepared a recipe book that served as a guide on how to eat and cook a variety of flavored paneer. It was a complimentary book for all our customers.”
In 2019 came the second company outlet in the posh City Light area, followed by the opening of a couple of franchises in the Vesu region.
To address the supply and quality issue, Jaheb last year established a sprawling centralized factory spread over 18,000 square feet. All nine outlets now get the supply from this factory, which maintains the taste and quality standard.
When shelf-life and transport are the key areas to look after for perishable items, Joheb has found a solution in the right kind of packaging. “Packaging should be able to extend the life of a product and be handy to carry,” he says. Joheb embarked on the expansion mission using his own funds. He has plans set in motion to come up with 25 outlets in Surat city. In the next five years, the franchise is targeting to have a presence in at least 5 tier II and III cities. The number of outlets will depend on the potential of the city and, if need arises, he would come up with centralised factories to cater to other regions too.
“Franchise consultants play a very vital role in finding right partners. The expansion plan largely depends on finding the right franchises. I am open to both FOFO and FOCO models,” Joheb maintains.