Another Exporter

Bromley Teas

Want to Export?

More Food Trade

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

Princeton-Hightstown

Road, he exports french fried potatoes from the United States to

countries

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

snacks.

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

four-person

office in cramped quarters on Princeton-Hightstown Road (and he hopes

to find new space soon). In addition to the umbrella firm, Him

Infotech

Inc., his firms are entitled Transatlantic Marketing, Global Reliance,

E-Food Commerce (www.efoodcommerce.com), and Himalyan International

Limited.

"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

studies,

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

master’s

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.

Following

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

seasickness.

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

cosmetics.

But the mineral business was rife with collection problems.

"People

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

intensive

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

International

Limited.

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

Italiano

will soon make their debut as a second-grade brand.

To keep the food plant working toward its capacity of 20 million

pounds

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

leaves

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

completed

a website.

They launched their food website, www.efoodcommerce.com, at a

convention

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.

"We

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

generating

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,

shipments,

and deliveries.

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

Him Infotech Inc., 44 Princeton-Hightstown Road,

Suite 23, Box 555, Princeton Junction 08536. Sanjiv Kakkar, president.

609-716-1700; fax, 815-327-1411. Home page: www.himinfotech.com

Top Of Page
Another Exporter

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

vegetables,"

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

supermarket

clients, Carrefour, ranks number two just behind WalMart in worldwide

sales.

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

school-aged

children.

"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."

Wembly International, 1901 North Olden Avenue,

Suite 42, Ewing Professional Park, Ewing 08618. Gilles Puchon, owner.

609-538-9445; fax, 609-538-9447.

Top Of Page
Bromley Teas

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

Barbakoff

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

Barbakoff.

Ira was then 25 and Glenn was 23. Their firm, Eastern Tea, began

importing,

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

Drive,

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

York area.

The Barbakoffs created their own label — named after mother

Elaine,

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

trend.

"The big guys jumped in but in all supermarkets we outsell

Tetley’s,"

says Barbakoff. Considered a "mid-size" packer, Bromley’s

also packages private label teas (including all those under the

ShopRite

label); teas for coffee roasters, and iced tea programs for the

restaurant,

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.

Eastern Tea, 1 Engelhard Drive, Cranbury 08512.

Paul Barbakoff, president. 609-860-1100; fax, 609-860-1105.

Www.bromleytea.com

Top Of Page
Want to Export?

A federal program can help food exporters meet their

cash flow needs. If it will take a long while for the American

exporter

to get paid by the foreign client, the federal government will

guarantee

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

Commercial

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).

Top Of Page
More Food Trade

R & R Marketing, 2900 East State Street, Box 8128,

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

Caldwell.

The combined firms import liquor from Europe, Australia, Japan,

Canada,

United Kingdom, and Mexico.

AAT International, 85 Culver Road, Box 444, Dayton

08810-0444. Sam and Margaret Wong, president. 732-438-0217; fax,

732-438-0354.

Importer and exporter.

Dohler America, 45 Stouts Lane, Suite 10, Monmouth

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

Unifine Richardson.

I.T.I. Tropicals Inc., 3371 Route 1, Lawrence

Commons,

Suite 209, Lawrenceville 08648-1302. Gerrit van Manen, president.

609-987-0550; fax, 609-987-0252. E-mail: ITIemail@aol.com

Www.ititropicals.com

Importing and distribution of tropical fruit ingredients.

Home-Like Food Company, 422 Jersey Avenue, New

Brunswick 08903. 732-846-4100; fax, 732-846-4889. Jeff Greenberg.

Wholesale food distributor.

Kinton Inc., Box 552, Kingston 08528. James Kin,

manager. 732-329-8676; fax, 732-329-1560. Seafood importing and

exporting.


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