Business Leaders: Take 5 Praveen and Swarna Kumar, Swarna Spice Ltd

Business Leaders: Take 5 Praveen and Swarna Kumar, Swarna Spice Ltd

When Praveen and Swarna Kumar decided to look for additional revenue streams in their Indian Restaurant and Cook School business, initial aspirations had been to build a regional network of retail stockists that would facilitate an annual turnover of £1 million.

The idea was simple: they would use their Tabla Restaurant kitchen to create premium, chef-prepared, frozen meals that could be heated up at home by consumers, or supplied to restaurants and pubs as premade, curries.

However, it wasn’t long before the entrepreneurial spirit that brought Praveen from a small village in India to the UK, kicked in. Three years on from those initial conversations in the family sunroom, Praveen and Swarna have created a direct-to-consumer UK-wide curry club subscription model, a food service arm supplying national hotels such as Indigo Hotels and The Turnberry Resort, and a growing B2B retail network for their premium ready meals, branded as Praveen Kumar.

Today, Swarna Spice Ltd is valued at £2.5 million, and has undergone two rounds of funding totalling £330K to allow Praveen and Swarna to realise their ambitions to achieve a £25 million turnover by 2030.

Q1. What inspired you to start Praveen Kumar Authentic Indian Cuisine?

Praveen: When we first discussed the idea of creating a ready meals brand, it was an opportunity to use the downtime in the kitchens of Tabla Restaurant and the Indian Cook School to offer an additional revenue stream. We had a loyal and hungry customer base, who enjoyed our approach to Indian cooking, and having crossed over from the restaurant to the cook school, we were confident they would follow us into this new venture.
Swarna: We started small, supplying to local farm shops who knew us. We were cooking in the restaurant, packing by hand, and Praveen would deliver on a Thursday to around 20 stockists within an hour or two’s drive of Perth. That was in 2019.

The immediate response was fantastic; we had great feedback from suppliers and customers, and we knew we’d hit on a gap in the market. Yes, you could buy an Indian ready meal, but these were freshly cooked, home recipes using local meat, chicken and vegetables, and spices from our own family’s farm in southern India. Praveen Kumar meals offered British provenance and Indian authenticity all in one. We knew we had something special.

Q2: What was the catalyst for expanding your initial plans for Praveen Kumar Authentic Indian Cuisine to become a national brand?

Praveen: We had realised we were already on our way to outgrowing the operation as it stood, and that we had the potential to do something far more ambitious. I contacted Mark Scott, CEO of Bella & Duke – a frozen pet food business based in Blairgowrie – and asked if he would allow me in to shadow him for a few days. Bella & Duke had successfully grown a subscription model business and I was keen to learn and to understand how they’d achieved their growth and scaled up their operation.

It was a gamechanger for us. Mark helped us to take stock, and to look at where we were and where we really wanted to go. By then, our vision had changed, but we needed to hone it, and to think about the steps needed that would allow us to realise it.

Swarna: Sometimes you are so busy working, you get lost in the business. We went back to the drawing board and asked ourselves some hard questions. What did we want our company to be? Did we want a lifestyle business – which we already had two of – or did we want something that would scale? Thankfully, we both had the same ambition and were committed to the time and resource that would be required to make it happen.

Those discussions led to the three-pronged model we now have. Direct to consumer through the curry club, business to business retail supply, and food service to the catering industry.

Q3: Once the decision to scale had been made, what were the first steps in moving towards becoming a national brand?

Praveen: The first thing that had to change was our mindset. We re-evaluated where we were going and set ourselves a target of 100,000 curry club members, with a ten-year projection to reach £25 million turnover. We then invited Mark back so we could share our vision with him, and from there, he invested £50K, and we invited him to join our board.

Swarna: We had realised that we would have to look at equity share if we were going to scale up and achieve those ten-year projections. Mark mentored us through our first round of funding, introducing us to his network and advising us on our milestones.

In 2019, we raised £85K for the initial capex investments, taking us to 84% shareholders in Swarna Spice Ltd. Not only did it allow the real changes to start, it gave us assurances that we were on the right trajectory.

Q4: How did you go about changing operations to facilitate the increase in production?

Praveen: We were keen to remain in Perth for a number of reasons: our children are at school here, we already had thriving businesses in place and it offered a great quality of life for our family and our employees.

Most importantly, as we looked to build a national network, we needed a location that was well connected and that offered seamless routes to the rest of the UK.

We knew about the Perth Food and Drink Park, and decided to take two units, which would allow us to expand. At the time, we were packing and distributing around 500 meals a week, but we needed to grow quickly – we currently do 5,000 a week and have capacity to do 100,000 a week via 14 chef shifts.

Swarna: It was one of the easiest decisions to make. The units are purpose-built for food and drink businesses and were EHO approved from the start. With the capex we had raised, we were up and running within months. In fact, when we underwent our SALSA accreditation, the auditors made particular comment on our set up – and we became the first company in 30 years to pass first time.

Q5: What’s next for Swarna Spice Ltd?

Swarna: If round one was about capex, this one is all about the people. We have a fantastic team around us, but we need more of them. A larger field sales team, increased brand presence and more great chefs are all part of this year’s plan.

Praveen: This year has been about consolidating what we’ve achieved and preparing for the next stage. We secured £75K of funding at the Scottish EDGE Awards earlier this year and have just closed the second round of funding which has generated £190K of investment from 214 individuals.

It is an exciting time for us. Local is great, but we’re now ready to become one of the great British brands.

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