This Kollam Cashew King Drives The Cashew Nuts World Markets
A lifelong obsession with quality and the belief in a well-integrated business model have made K Ravindranathan Nair Indias undisputed cashew king. His company, the Kollam-based Vijayalaxmi Cashew (VLC), decides the fate of 20 out of every 100 cashews exported from India.
Established in 1957, VLC is currently the worlds largest manufacturer/exporter of cashew kernels and cashew nut shell liquid, which is used in industrial paints.
Four decades ago, he was the first importer in India to send people to Africa to check the quality of raw cashews before they were shipped here. At that time, most importers used to trade on a quality-on-arrival basis, says Pratap R Nair, son and managing director of VLC.
It is our constant endeavor to bring out the very best of products. A fully equipped R&D department caters to this demand for quality, thus ensuring that every product from VLC is only the best, he adds. The results are visible.
VLC Cashew Nuts
Today VLCs top three markets include a highly quality-conscious US, France, and Japan. Given the fierce competition that India faces in these markets, VLCs ability to stay afloat and give others a run for their money is commendable.
In the commodity business, it is not very easy to build scale or quality, though several entrepreneurs over the years have tried to do so. Mr. Nair’s expertise lies in building a business model that promises consistency of quality in a product, the output of which is determined by nature.
VLC has eight subsidiaries and a turnover of Rs 500 crore (US$92m), with the capacity to process 80,000-tonne cashew annually. My father has always insisted on delivering quality above the prevalent industry standards, Mr. Paratap Nair adds.
This obsession with detail shows little signs of letting up. The septuagenarian chairman of the company is still very much hands-on, coming daily to the office, albeit for a few hours.
Though his two sons, Pratap and Prakash, are fully capable of handling and growing the business, very little do they move without first discussing with their father. He guides us daily. He is always there to help us formulate our strategy, says Mr. Pratap Nair.
VLC’s business model is very similar to that employed by the diamond industry. Raw cashews, like uncut diamonds, are imported from Africa. The cashew is then processed at VLCs 120 small-scale units, spread across Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu.
It is a highly labor-intensive process, where you need to pay constant attention to ensure that all cashews that end up in a packet are of the same size and taste. Close to 40,000 people are employed to do the sorting, selection, processing, and packaging.
VLC derives more than Rs 415 crore in sales from exports, with an additional Rs 85 crore generated through the domestic sales. Mr. Nair is not only a businessman but like a true-blue Malayali, he has an abiding interest in films.
He has produced 13 Malayalam films and one Hindi film. Five of his films have won the National Award for best regional films (Malayalam) and awards for best actor and technical excellence. In a way, his films reflect the energy and zest that he brings to his life and business.
What of the future? The doyen is raring to roll out a whole new range of products, which include branded cashews in consumer packs, roasted cashews, and flavored cashews. Instead of focusing only on exports of cashew in bulk, he would like to introduce VLCs own brand.
We continue to face new sets of problems, such as the subsidized exports from south-east Asian countries or more intense domestic competition.
But despite all that, our fathers’ ideology is clear: you have to honor your commitment even if it is at a loss. For VLC, business will always mean honesty followed by quality. There is no way he would allow us to compromise on them, ever, says a proud Mr. Pratap Nair.
(This article was originally published in The Times of India)
Hoi Chong Lung Ltd (HCL) is proud to be the sole distributor in Hong Kong for VLC, looks at some of the products we offer for retail and private: