One woman’s drive to bring premium quality frozen food to your kitchen
Like all things, this one stemmed from necessity and curiosity. It was a personal need that prompted Swarnamugi R. Karthik to enter the frozen fruits and vegetables market with her Swadhika Foods. A foodie, Swarnamugi loves to spend time in the kitchen. Being a businesswoman and a mother of two daughters though, time is precious and so she prefers quick but healthy recipes—her Instagram Reels are full of them. One thing that would bug her was the time spent on peeling and cutting vegetables and fruits. Also, she had to pick her recipes according to the availability of seasonal fruits and veggies. So, she wondered if she could get seasonal fruits and vegetables all through the year—fresh and natural but cut and packaged. Voila! Swadhika Foods came into being in 2017. Swadhika Foods is a leading processor and exporter of premium quality, IQF (individually quick frozen) fruits and vegetables and ready-to-cook products. So, it has everything from mangoes, guavas, pineapples, bananas and melons to farm fresh veggies like okra, green peas, cut carrots, beans, cauliflower, peeled garlic and onion and more. One IQF processing plant is set up in Andhra Pradesh’s Chittoor, close to farms that supply most of the fruits and vegetables. Mango varieties are sourced from different parts of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu; they are washed, peeled, diced and frozen at the plant. Swarnamugi’s Frozen Tropicals Pvt Ltd, a unit of Swadhika Foods, now has one more facility in Pochampalli, Tamil Nadu.
But Swarnamugi’s entry into the food business was not as quick as she would have liked. Coming from a business family, she always had the entrepreneurial streak. After her graduation in engineering and postgraduation in embedded systems, she joined her father’s company—BGR Energy Systems—as executive assistant in 2005. Her father, B.G. Raghupathy, believed in climbing the corporate ladder, step by step. “He wanted me to learn at work,” recalls Swarnamugi. She was soon appointed director of corporate strategy on the board of BGR Group. While she was trying to expand her father’s business, a part of her yearned to start her own venture in the food industry. Initially, she wanted to enter the ready-to-eat packaged food market, but those around her ridiculed her, saying, “Why do catering? Just follow in your father’s footsteps.” And then her father died in 2013. Swarnamugi was 31 and as the eldest in the family, the responsibility of running a multi-crore company fell on her.
But that did not stop Swarnamugi from following her passion. Slowly yet steadily, she started learning about the food industry. She went around the globe, visiting food fairs—having a pilot for a husband helped. So keen was she on having her own food venture that she went scouting for a factory in Madhya Pradesh with her husband while pregnant with her first child. And, after she signed the papers for setting up Swadhika Foods, she came to know that she was pregnant with her second child. “We got the first order when I was in the hospital for a scan to check the baby’s heartbeat,” says Swarnamugi. Products from Swadhika Foods are much in demand in Europe, Canada and the US. Swarnamugi is now eyeing the traditional Indian kitchen where packaged and frozen food are considered taboo. “I will very soon break the taboo,” she says. “Our women are not against buying cut vegetables or fruit pulp. But they don’t want peeled onions.” That is a challenge she will conquer, layer by layer.