Becoming an entrepreneur is one of the toughest decisions that a person can take for himself but it is also true that hard work, determination bundled with innovation and a desire to help society can give not just good but great results.
Kaushal Dongre, a Commerce and Law graduate from Mumbai University, was in no mood to take up a corporate job and live a simple life but he wanted to set up a successful business entity that also does something good for society. His father was in a government job and as he didn’t have a business background, his family members were quite skeptical of his decision but he was certain that his future lies in entrepreneurship. Kaushal who is a health freak used to play cricket at the ‘A’ division level in Mumbai during his young days and he knew that if he could approach his business idea in the same dedicated, disciplined and determined manner as he used to do with cricket, he would surely achieve success in business as well.
Kaushal Dongre’s few business ventures failed but he didn’t lose hope and his life changed after he met his mentor Dr Prabodh Halde, Ex-President of AFST (India) who guided him towards the right direction and motivated him to set up an agro-food business.
Though Maharashtra is a highly industrialized state in comparison to other states of the country, agriculture remains the primary occupation of the state but even after that, farmers have to face a lot of difficulties. Kaushal Dongre himself witnessed the poor plight of farmers in Satara which is known as the sugarcane belt of Maharashtra as Kaushal’s extended family stays over there. He has seen many times that farmers have to resort to protesting as they don’t get a fair price for their crops.
It was then Dr Prabodh Halde advised Kaushal Dongre to develop a brand in jaggery with unique offerings, something which was not even thought of till that time by anyone. Kaushal knew that with this, he will be able to not only fulfil his goals of entrepreneurship but also bring a change in the lives of farmers and help them in living a good life. What’s more, jaggery is a far better option than refined sugar and the use of jaggery will also help people in improving their health as sugar can play an important role in creating various health issues. As a result, Paawak Foods was launched in the year 2014 and although it was never going to be easy for Kaushal Dongre to establish a brand in jaggery yet with continued efforts, he realized the right manner in which he should proceed further. He found out the two major reasons which deter consumers from replacing sugar with jaggery – the first is the inconvenient size of one kg blocks of jaggery and the second is unhygienic packing.
Kaushal Dongre did a good amount of research in this regard and also got in touch with the teams at the Association of Food Scientists and Technologists of India Mumbai chapter and the Institute of Chemical Technology team. With the support of these teams, his company was able to produce 500 KGs of small cubes of natural jaggery and packed in plastic containers, in 2014 which was something that happened for the first time in the country. There was one more hurdle in the launching of the product; Kaushal Dongre chose to introduce it on the lines of the FMCG distribution system rather than on the lines of Mandi based system but jaggery traders were not interested in his product as the pricing was quite high in comparison to the big blocks of jaggery. Kaushal Dongre contacted more than 100 shop owners in Mumbai but no one was even ready to keep his product. Eventually, two shopkeepers agreed to keep his product but only on the condition of getting it returned if went unsold. He began the first season with two shops and one distributor but within four months, he started getting a good response from the market and by the end of the first year, his products were getting sold by more than 100 shops.
Kaushal Dongre made no delay in applying for the patent of his products as he did it in the first year itself. He also focused on other production issues which were affecting the sales of the product and making it less attractive for customers.
Slowly Paawak Foods became one of the rising brands in the agro-food market as the business was set up with the personal investment of INR 5 lakhs by Kaushal Dongre & his other partners. After that, there was no stopping for Paawak Foods as the company’s turnover grew year on year. In the last 7 years, he has grown 500 times in revenue.
As far as 2021 is concerned, Paawak Foods has sold 250 tons of jaggery and this number is just a drop in the ocean since India has over 50 lakhs MT of domestic Market. Paawak Foods is all set for exponential growth shortly as the present market of jaggery in India & also eyeing the international markets.
Other than jaggery cubes, Paawak Foods also provides jaggery powder to the customers who want to shift towards a healthy option by replacing refined sugar with jaggery in their daily routine. Kaushal is happy to see the consumer shift in over 7 years that people are shifting to healthy habits and healthy Gur over refined sugar.
Kaushal Dongre’s success mantra is based on three factors – recognizing the need of the consumer, perseverance and interpersonal skills and he also states that there has been a change in the mindset of people in recent times as health has become their utmost priority after the COVID-19 pandemic.
We certainly need more entrepreneurs like Kaushal Dongre who are positively impacting society.