Corrections or additions?
This article by Barbara Fox was prepared for the April 3, 2002
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
From Spuds to Software
Of all the enterprises that Sanjiv Kakkar has pursued,
his most unusual venture is as an exporter. From an office on
Road, he exports french fried potatoes from the United States to
in Asia. The quality of potatoes grown in India, he explains, are
unsuitable for french fries. Even China imports fries from America.
Kakkar’s food products travel the other way, too. From his plant in
India, he annually exports more than 150 container-loads of canned
and frozen mushrooms and 2 million pounds of frozen baby potatoes.
For such well-known frozen vegetable firms as Dean and Birds-Eye,
he comes up with new products. The latest is Baby Potato Boats —
stuffed with cheese and bacon or crabmeat and deep fried — for
The potato trade is just one of the businesses launched by Kakkar,
whose entrepreneurial portfolio is remarkably diverse. He started
out doing mineral processing, and now some of his various companies
are devoted to the food business, while others involve E-commerce,
and still another offers software solutions.
Sixteen years after opening his first business, Kakkar has a plant
in north India, a 20-person programming team in New Delhi, and a
office in cramped quarters on Princeton-Hightstown Road (and he hopes
to find new space soon). In addition to the umbrella firm, Him
Inc., his firms are entitled Transatlantic Marketing, Global Reliance,
E-Food Commerce (www.efoodcommerce.com), and Himalyan International
"I’m trying to make a living. To work hard," says Kakkar,
who attributes his motivation to his mother. He was very fond of music
when he was a child, "but she told me to pay attention to my
that the music would always be there — or that something else
would be there — but that my time would not come back. And this
was coming from a woman who had never been to school."
Kakkar’s first name, Sanjiv, means "always alive." He grew
up in New Delhi (northern India) where his father — with a
degree in English literature — was the stern principal of a school
and a devoted follower of Mahatma Gandhi.
He and his two younger brothers studied to be engineers. (Now one
brother has his own business while the other is an official with Septa
in Philadelphia.) He continued his studies in Belfast, Ireland.
his love for the sea, he served as a chief engineer on a merchant
ship for eight years. Then he married. (He and his wife, who works
in New York City as a systems analyst for MetLife, now have a son
at West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South and a daughter at WW-P’s
Upper Elementary School.)
Theoretically, when he got married, he could have taken his wife to
sea, but he discovered that his bride was subject to severe
So he changed careers. He partnered with his wife’s brother, Malik
Manmohan, a lawyer by trade, who runs his part of the firm from New
Delhi. Even though he conducts much of his business by E-mail, Kakkar
has twice-daily half-hour phone conferences with his partner, and
chalks up a four-figure monthly phone bill.
Their first venture was a factory for calcium carbonate, built in
the foothills of the Himalayas in 1986. "We are among the pioneers
in this industry," says Kakkar. Calcium carbonate is a mineral
used for plastics, rubber, as a filler for toothpaste, and for
But the mineral business was rife with collection problems.
used to pay us very late," says Kakkar. "We wanted to get
into something recession proof and which did not have credit. At the
same time the government was promoting agro industries. We put all
of these things together, did a lot of research, went to Holland and
the United States, looking for a gourmet product that was labor
to grow and pick. We knew that would be our strength."
In 1992 Kakkar and Manmohan built a 160,000-foot facility in the same
area as the calcium carbonate factory, giving an economic boost to
the region. "We have 160,000 square feet of `dark places,’"
says Kakkar, referring to the preferred growth environment of the
delectable fungi. "We grow our own compost, we grow the mushrooms,
we grade them, we pack them." The product is packed in 68-ounce
cans sold to restaurants.
The $6 million needed to start the mushroom business came from the
partners’ own funds (amplified by the sale of the calcium carbonate
factory), bank loans, and $1.5 million raised by going public; the
firm trades on the four Indian stock exchanges as Himalya
Kakkar had made pilgrimages to the mushroom capital of Kennett Square,
Pennsylvania, and he convinced the mushroom moguls that his canned
mushrooms — which would end up in restaurant sauces — would
not compete with their fresh mushroom business. He thinks he bests
his real competition in China and the Netherlands by processing each
batch every day and by shipping top quality.
Chinese mushrooms, he points out, have to be put into a brine solution
to wait for processing and end up, he says, "rubbery." Dutch
mushroom growers, on the other hand, siphon off their best quality
for the fresh restaurant and retail market.
Kakkar, in contrast, has two top-grade mushroom brands
and one B-grade brand. Because the first brand was named Himalya,
and he found out that restaurant chefs prefer an Italian-named brand,
he created a second top brand, D’Angelis, and cans labeled Ono
will soon make their debut as a second-grade brand.
To keep the food plant working toward its capacity of 20 million
a year (the mushroom crop maxes out at 6 million pounds) he needed
another product. Cauliflower won’t work, because Indian cauliflower
grows yellow. Okra won’t work, because it can be grown more cheaply
in South America. Potatoes work, especially baby potatoes.
In 1998 he began to pay farmers to grow baby potatoes to be frozen,
skins on, and sold in 50-pound boxes to companies that repackage them
for the retail market. It is not easy to grow a small potato that
is fully mature, so the company employs 10 agriculture experts to
tutor 130 farmers within 30 miles of the plant in how to cut the
at an early stage. They pick up the crop and label the sources to
preserve quality control, so that if something were to go wrong with
one batch, it could be traced.
Kakkar’s efforts to implement a post-September 11 food safety program
in the potato/mushroom plant — specifying who has the authority
to seal or open a container and who can enter which section of the
warehouse — are being replicated by other manufacturers. "We
took it upon ourselves that, since we export to the United States,
we needed to do that," he says. "We did it on our own."
As for the export french fry business, Kakkar is a board member of
a federal agency that promotes the use of U.S.-grown potatoes. He
uses an agency in New Delhi to sell the spuds and helps to market
them by participating in annual food shows.
The next crop, he decided, would be websites. In the last half of
1999 he and his partner began to hire mainframe programmers, people
who had been working on the Year 2000 fixes and were about to go on
the unemployment rolls. Now they have 20 programmers in New Delhi,
half working in an E-commerce food business, half for outside clients,
such as a college in the United Kingdom for which they recently
They launched their food website, www.efoodcommerce.com, at a
in San Diego in March, 2000, at the height of the Internet boom, just
before the E-commerce bust. At its peak it drew 45,000 hits a day.
The site charged $600 a year to advertise a warehouse for lease.
got some very big warehousing companies; I cannot say for sure that
they got business but they got a lot of inquiries, and they were happy
with what they spent," he says.
Then the hits settled down to 7,000 per week. "We were not
any revenue from the trading part of it," Kakkar says, "though
we did have the revenue from the advertisements."
"After the excitement was over, we realized we had to offer more
than what we had," says Kakkar. Now he has taken the website
offline for five weeks to add a new piece of content — supply
chain management. Importers will be able to trace their orders,
For now, the food business is supporting the web business, but Kakkar
is hopeful he can turn a profit. "Three years ago there were 15
sites, and we are one of two who are surviving," he says. The
principles behind the mushroom business, the frozen potato business,
and the web business are the same: they are labor-intensive products
with value for busy people.
"In the U.S. we have mastered the art of french fries," says
Kakkar. They are more dense than those grown in India, so when cooked
in a deep fryer they soak up less oil. Oil is expensive, and too much
oil makes limp fries.
Ever the promoter, he adds, "Don’t forget that mushrooms are the
most healthy food."
— Barbara Fox
Suite 23, Box 555, Princeton Junction 08536. Sanjiv Kakkar, president.
609-716-1700; fax, 815-327-1411. Home page: www.himinfotech.com
Exporting American frozen food to a far-flung island
sounded like an improbable plan for a home-based business five years
ago, but Gilles Puchon has made it work at Wembly International. Last
year he moved the office from his house to Ewing Professional Park
and is now searching for an assistant to help with his business —
the import and export of American products (groceries, beverages,
and building materials) to the south Pacific. "I need somebody
who speaks French and has advanced skills in Excel," says Puchon.
Puchon grew up in Tahiti, also known as French Polynesia. He left
that island paradise to go to school in France, then spent 20 years
in the un-paradisical setting of Wall Street. "Everything that
is consumed in Tahiti is imported except maybe fish or
says Puchon. "The cost of living there is high. The population
of this former French colony is only 225,000, and unemployment is
some 25 percent, but the tourist trade usually makes up for it. This
year, of course, travel plummeted.
"The hotel clients are limping," he says, "but I have
clients in all sectors of the economy, such as the supermarkets. I
sell a full range of food products, both frozen as well as dry goods.
My product list is a few thousand products." One of his
clients, Carrefour, ranks number two just behind WalMart in worldwide
Puchon went to Ecole Superieure de Commerce de Rouens in France in
1973, and earned an MBA from Columbia. He finished his time on Wall
Street as vice president of global capital markets of Chase Manhattan.
He married a New Yorker — who still commutes to Manhattan as a
portfolio manager for Metropolitan Life — and they have two
"I got up every morning at 5 o’clock," says Puchon, "and
I have had enough of that. I am fed up with the rat race."
Suite 42, Ewing Professional Park, Ewing 08618. Gilles Puchon, owner.
609-538-9445; fax, 609-538-9447.
Outsmarting the big guys is every entrepreneur’s dream,
and this family of grocers has done it.
Back when the major tea companies were pretending that tea had little
or no caffeine, these wholesale grocers — Paul and Elaine
and their sons Ira and Glenn — saw a niche. Herbal teas were doing
well but as for "real" tea that was decaffeinated, the major
brands were pointedly ignoring that idea. "They did not want to
promote the fact that there was caffeine in tea," says Ira
Ira was then 25 and Glenn was 23. Their firm, Eastern Tea, began
processing, and packaging teas from Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia,
Kenya, India, and China (U.S. 1, April 27, 1994). Since 1994, it has
had its own building, 78,000 square foot building at 1 Englehard
designed to be "the most efficient tea packing operation in the
country," says Barbakoff. In eight years the firm has increased
its processing output from 2,000 to 3,000 metric tons of tea per month
and become the second largest seller of decaffeinated tea in the New
The Barbakoffs created their own label — named after mother
whose maiden name was Bromley. Bromley Decaffeinated Tea, known as
"a richly flavored full-bodied cup of tea," began filling
the niche before the national firms took notice of the decaffeinated
"The big guys jumped in but in all supermarkets we outsell
says Barbakoff. Considered a "mid-size" packer, Bromley’s
also packages private label teas (including all those under the
label); teas for coffee roasters, and iced tea programs for the
hotel, and country club trade.
Ira’s father Paul had grown up in the wholesale food business of his
grandfather, who was a full-line supplier to restaurants. Ira majored
in accounting at the University of Buffalo, Class of 1978, and Glenn
was a marketing major at American University, Class of 1980.
The firm has added such products as a green tea, a decaf green tea,
and its first herbal tea, chamomile. "We are just about to launch
our exclusive brand food service, exclusive for restaurants —
Bromley’s Exotic Teas," says Ira.
In the eight years since U.S. 1 covered the tea company’s move to
Exit 8A, the firm has installed an attractive and useful website,
designed and maintained by another family member — Ira Barkoe’s
wife, Beth. It comes complete with delectable sounding recipes for
such dishes as tea-basted roasted chicken, rata-tea-ouille, and green
tea vegetable soup.
Paul Barbakoff, president. 609-860-1100; fax, 609-860-1105.
A federal program can help food exporters meet their
cash flow needs. If it will take a long while for the American
to get paid by the foreign client, the federal government will
part of the payments due for up to 180 days. The U.S. Department of
Agriculture Program is called the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC)
Supplier Credit Guarantee Program (SCGP) and it targets high-value
products and products with market potential.
"This program is growing phenomenally," says Rodney Stuart,
director of Trenton Export Assistance Center with United States
Services, "because they have opened it up to suppliers of grocery
products." To participate in the SCGP call 202-720-3224 or fax
to 202-720-2949 (www.fas.usda.gov).
Trenton 08650-8128. 609-587-6103; fax, 609-587-2770.
This firm has its roots in a company that obtained the first liquor
license in New Jersey when Prohibition ended. The Trenton firm, Royal
Distributors, has merged with Reitman Industries, based in West
The combined firms import liquor from Europe, Australia, Japan,
United Kingdom, and Mexico.
08810-0444. Sam and Margaret Wong, president. 732-438-0217; fax,
Importer and exporter.
Junction 08852. Joe Bachstadt, warehouse manager. 732-438-0430; fax,
732-438-0453. Home page: www.dohleramerica.com U.S. distribution
of imported baking ingredients — mousse mixes, chocolate products,
cream stabilizers, liqueur flavorings. Owned by Netherlands-based
Suite 209, Lawrenceville 08648-1302. Gerrit van Manen, president.
609-987-0550; fax, 609-987-0252. E-mail: ITIemail@aol.com
Importing and distribution of tropical fruit ingredients.
Brunswick 08903. 732-846-4100; fax, 732-846-4889. Jeff Greenberg.
Wholesale food distributor.
manager. 732-329-8676; fax, 732-329-1560. Seafood importing and
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