Production of Indian sweets, snacks and savouries popularly known as Mithai and Namkeen, has been a largely unorganized industry with many Sweet Shops spread across almost every lane in India. Almond House, the premier sweet house in Hyderabad is soon to complete three decades and has grown significantly through new products that blend the traditional with the modern to create new experience for the customers. In this Skill Talk, Pannerselvam Madanagopal, Business Consultant, Almond House tracks the journey of their organized identity and how the business depends on many skills from food processing, manufacturing, retailing, logistics and technology enablement. This Diwali, let’s look into the skills and crafts that goes into making the festival sweeter.
Almond House: from a Sweet Shop to a Branded Organization
I am focused on ensuring that there is enough bandwidth for the growth of the organization from where we are today. We have tripled our growth in the last 5 years after a quiet and steady phase of 25 years of existence. Today we are dedicated to further building and sustaining Almond House with a robust organization structure by adopting many best practices in acquiring and retaining talent, recognising their skills and upskilling.
We have 12 outlets in the twin cities of Hyderabad with 400 people working in the kitchen and retail units. The manual skills are crucial to this craft and we will add 100 jobs a year. Our challenge is to get good people. It’s not easy to work in kitchens even if they are air-conditioned. We depend a lot on migrant workers.
Transforming a Mithai Shop into a state-of-the-art unit by preserving traditional and modern practices of making sweets and savouries is filled with many challenges. First, it means doing away with some legacy practices and unlearning few things to accommodate new and innovative methods. Second, retaining old employees during the process of change needed a different strategy to make them feel secure and train them in skills needed to follow the processes. In fact, looking back, I can say that none of our employees have left the organization as we reinvented and scaled up and now they are able to manage entire production process in highly professional ways.
It has taken 4 yours for us to become a highly organized and structured organisation by implementing standard production processes to reduce wastage and improve productivity and efficiency. At the same time, we had to patiently bring the older employees into the new structure and make them follow the new practices by respecting and recognising their knowledge, skills and domain expertise.
The success lies in people and their skills
Three things are key to our success – Acknowledging people are the biggest asset, try to identify what they are good at and move them into those roles with a bit of training, counseling the senior people, and now when they see the transformation they are happy. They realize this is tangible and not just talk. This is the background. It’s been a fantastic journey. I am consulting I work with the CEO and I am here one week in a month.
Almond House is a 30 year old brand. And the brand has been built through its people, the makers of our products and the people who manage our retail outlets. We have taken utmost care to pay and treat them well and bring them under our social security policies that includes paid leaves and adherence to OSHA regulations. The care and concern makes a huge difference. To cater to seasonal demand, we hire many temporary workers from our established talent pool. Though they come from different places, we bring in people only through referrals.
Skills and job roles in this industry
When you look at the skill levels, the entire workforce and their job roles can by classified under three levels. The beginner level has very limit skill sets for roles like cleaners and attendants. The middle level is where we need good craftspersons. They should be able to follow all procedures of preparations, take care of hygiene, housekeeping, follow safety norms, handle raw materials, equipment in the kitchen and so on. And, then we have the higher levels where the ‘Ustad’ or the master comes into the picture. This is a senior role that calls for considerable years of experience with multiple competencies in preparation of various items, following our recipes and ensuring quality, purity and consistency, by minimising wastage.
There are many other skills that are integral to our industry. The aesthetics and presentation of sweets and savouries, packaging and shipping, dealing with logistics and another critical area is managing retail sales. The retail employees are the face of our company and we pay serious attention to their training in customer interaction and customer relationship management. Being one of the first e-commerce platforms in this space, Almond House also has the distinction of catering to international customers through online sales.
The entry-level job is the role of a Cleaner; the new employees perform in this role initially, then they take up the roles of Helpers – first, the General Helper and then the Helper within the domain. Later, they grow into an Executive role and work under the guidance. The next role is that of the Ustad and the top most role of the Head of Production. Hence, there is scope to grow in this industry and in Almond House all our employees started at basic level and some have moved into managerial roles.
Mr. Subba Rao, for example, started as a helper in our store, 25 years ago and today he is the Retail Manager. He is comfortably placed. Our CEO Mr Chaitanya Muppala and his father are strong believers in the power of the people in making a difference and it is ingrained in our value system. We are also formalizing rewards and recognition schemes so that people align with our goals and feel a part of the organization.
Impact of technology and automation
We are basically into crafting an experience. Technology here has two sides – the front end is very vital to customer experience, particularly in online business we ship boxes to other countries. At the back end, we use an ERP system for streamlining our production. The end-to-end system captures every aspect right from supply chain and production to delivery and customer service. We immediately rectify our process depending on customer feedback. We also depend on social media to engage our customers. The data from these channels is used to figure out ways to delight our customers and enrich their experience.
We don’t call ourselves a factory; we are a kitchen. We don’t want to automate everything. In traditional Mithai making, there is nothing called ‘untouched by hands’. We respect manual skills and the human touch is absolutely necessary by maintaining high standards of hygiene and cleanliness. Hence, there is good scope to create more jobs in this sector! It would be easy to invest more and automate for further scaling our business but we don’t want to be a factory-driven production unit. The value of these sweets is lost when they are pillow-packed like candies.
Competition and expansion plans
Competition is a distraction so we don’t bother too much about it. We would like to lead rather than compete. We set a path in this industry by adopting many new practices and others take a cue. Our first duty is to cater to our customers and listen to what they say, incorporate their feedback, cater to the emerging tastes, health concerns etc.
We will be expanding to Karnataka and Tamil Nadu shortly. I feel, especially in the retail segment we need a lot of good trained resources. Also tell them it’s a fantastic job to be working for. It’s been projected as something not attractive. We have undermined these roles. As a community we need to give opportunities to re-skill themselves in different areas. People will have multiple careers in the future and they won’t be able to survive with one job – one role in coming years!