By Nidhi Kumari
An entrepreneur nourishes his/her organisation with important elements of dedication, determination and discipline. It takes years of hardwork for an organisation or firm to pave way into the hearts of the people. Kishore Matta, Managing Director of Jewel Fine Foods which is the leading manufacturer in the rapidly growing chilled ready-to-eat meals, is a testimony to transforming challenges into opportunities and setback into lessons, towards a successful path.
In an exclusive interview with Indus Age, Mr. Matta, talks about winning the coveted ‘Telstra Australian Medium Business Award’ , his advice to young entrepreneurs and more.
You’ve been awarded with the prestigious ‘Telstra Australian Medium Business Award’, what does this recognition mean to you?
It is a huge honour to have won this award. Although you don’t run your business expecting to win awards, it’s a huge morale booster for our company, staff and management. We have a very hardworking, dedicated and passionate team and we could never have achieved this without their support.’
The Telstra judging process is rigorous and winning this prestigious national award is a fantastic achievement for us. Telstra has done a tremendous job of bringing the businesses together and offering the Business Health Check, which gave us the opportunity to reflect on our strategies, vision and goals and plans for growth.
Jewel Fine Foods has successfully penetrated into the hearts of the people in Australia. How has the journey in the food industry been?
It has been a rollercoaster ride. 30 years ago I got my ship captains licence. A year later I quit my well-paying job and headed to Australia to start a new life. Loosing most of my life savings in a bad investment and failing to find a job during recession, I was struggling to keep my head above water.
Just as things were looking really grey, we felt determined to venture into our own business and become independent. So, we looked to food. Food is one thing which we all love and is what brings people together.
With our last remaining resources and some borrowings we were able to establish a very successful restaurant “Jewel of India”. The restaurant’s popularity meant being booked out weeks in advance and we soon realised that we could not accommodate the masses of people wishing to dine there.
Realising the potential of Indian ethnic cuisine and identifying the gap in the market, the idea of replicating this first restaurant multiple times to reach the masses was not viable and therefore we decided to take the restaurant to the people by setting up a small one room factory initially producing authentic hand rolled and hand filled Indian samosas.
From one product the factory grew to become a wholesale production business having a large range of restaurant quality frozen Indian curry and rice meals available through the local supermarkets. Initially targeting retail chains, we gradually climbed to 81% market share of meals by supplying throughout New Zealand and became the market leader within five years in spite of fierce competition.
Following the success of the food factory in NZ, I was approached to bring the products to Australia and given the assurance of supplying to 550 supermarket stores. In 1998, I decided to migrate to Australia with my family to pursue this business opportunity. However, moving for business expansion and starting all over again was a big challenge. I had to sell the existing established food factory, restaurant and home in NZ in order to invest into the new food factory in Sydney to manufacture frozen ready meals, catering specifically for the Australian market.
Within a couple of months of migrating to Sydney my six year old daughter was diagnosed with Leukaemia. At the same time the supermarket contract that was assured was not honoured and the business was in the doldrums which led to serious financial challenges. Not only did I have a sick child that needed looking after but an equally sick business in which I had invested everything.
In spite of the turbulent times, the faith, focus and self-confidence was not lost and I looked to ways in which I could diversify and keep afloat.
Today Jewel Fine Foods has grown and expanded to include a variety of different cuisines from all over the world under its own separate retail brands as well as supermarket private labels:
- Jewel of India – Indian
- Spice and Passion – Thai, Malaysian
- Fresh Choices – Italian, Mexican, Indian, Asian
- Little Vietnam – Vietnamese
- Quick as Wok/Zumu – Asian
- Soup Kitchen – Soups
Jewel Fine Foods (JFF) is the market leader in Australia, with each of its brands manufacturing a variety of chilled, ready-to-eat meals, finger foods, breads, dips, simmer sauces and rice dishes supplying nationwide daily. These products are fresh, chilled, free of additives, chemicals and preservatives, and have a shelf life of up to 21days. Channels to market include multiple supermarket chains Aldi, Coles, Costco, Food works, IGA, Woolworths, and other leading hotels and institutional caterers as well as airlines, casinos, sporting and hospitality venues.
Before you ventured into food industry, you were Ship Captain in the Merchant Navy. What motivated you to walk into the food industry?
Migrating to NZ in the midst of a severe recession, my wife and I struggled to find suitable jobs. Not dejected by the stack of rejection letters, we were determined to look at combining our skills and backgrounds to create our own business and become independent.
Despite having no prior experience in the food or retail sector, my wife, a food technologist had a passion and understanding for food combined with my leadership and management skills from being a ship’s captain in the merchant navy; we believed we had a combination for success in the business world.
The success of our restaurant led us to continue our food journey.
Men and Women who establish themselves in a home away from home, is commendable. You’re one of the men who have made both the Indian and Australian communities proud. What has been your guiding light and inspiration?
I like to think that I live by the motto that a business is simply an idea to make other people’s lives better. Every day we strive to achieve this in our business.
My wife Indra has been a great inspiration who believes in quality, consistency and to do it right the first time.
Jewel Fine Foods stands today as the leading manufacturer in the rapidly growing chilled ready-to-eat meals, soups and breads sector, under your tutelage. In your words, what are the essential qualities needed for a business to pave its own path in a successful manner?
You need to be focussed, passionate, determined and believe that nothing is impossible in this world.
There will be many challenges along the way. As long as one does not lose the focus where you want to be you will achieve it.
That life is not a bed of roses. How far do you agree with that?
It’s funny that you say that. I wish it was a bed of roses! Life has been full of challenges both personal and business.
We have experienced several financial challenges in the early years of the business in Australia. An initial reliance on supermarket retailers saw Jewel strike difficulty when we initially started with frozen meals. But the different retail environment in Australia forced me to change direction and diversify the product range offered to include catering bulk packs and simmer sauces and find alternative channels such as 5 star hotels, airlines, clubs, hospitals and universities.
The other major challenge faced by Jewel in the early stages was cash flow, in order to fulfill major orders during the Olympics in Yr 2000. We had to supply more than 300 tonnes of curry and working along with suppliers and seeking their support proved to be the lifeblood for the business.
A strong focus on sales enabled the business to develop a revenue stream strong enough to sustain the company during these initial stages. Jewel is now reaping the rewards of the trust and faith of both suppliers and employees.
What is your mantra of dealing with challenges?
You face challenges in business and in personal life throughout your journey. The best way to deal with challenges is to be calm, composed and analyse solutions to the problem. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel.
Your advice to young entrepreneurs.
Be focussed and never take no for an answer. Failures should not deter you from your vision or end goal. You have to find a unique idea and be a disrupter in the marketplace to succeed.
Remember, “Nothing is Impossible in this world!”
Tell us about your future plans.
Today, Jewel Fine Foods is the market leader of fresh, ready to eat, premium restaurant quality, prepared meals, manufactured fresh daily for the convenience market selling over 15 million meals per year. Our vision for the future is to see that every household in Australia has JFF products in their fridge within the next 5 years.
We are continuously developing new products and ranges such as soups, organic healthy meals and kids’ meals and diversifying our range to service the wider public. We are also currently in the process of building a brand new state of the art, world class manufacturing facility and this will help us achieve our vision for the future and cater for growth to come.