Which brand of ice cream will be served at the social event of the year in Ahmedabad in 2013: the wedding of Karan, son of Gautam Adani, chief of the $5.5 billion Adani Group, to Paridhi, daughter of Cyril Shroff, Managing Partner of the country's biggest law firm, Amarchand and Mangaldas and Suresh Shroff and Co, scheduled for February? Neither the home-grown but now nationally renowned Amul or Vadilal, not Kwality Walls, not even any fancy foreign brand. The ice cream will come from Havmor, another local brand which has held its own in the city for over 60 years.
Satish Chandra Chona started Havmor in Karachi in 1944, but within three years, following partition, had to wind up and cross the border. He went to Dehradun and then to Indore, where he tried to restart his ice cream business but failed. In Ahmedabad, however, where he moved in 1951, a reborn Havmor proved a winner. Still thriving, it now runs 100 'Havfunn' ice cream parlours, selling around 100,000 litres of ice cream a day, posting revenues of Rs 230 crore in 2011/12, 80 per cent of which came from the ice cream business. The chain of nine Havmor restaurants it runs in Gujarat and Rajasthan contributes the rest.
"It is Havmor's range of ice creams that keep me coming back," says Alpesh Gheewala, who visits the Havfunn parlour at Navrangpura in Ahmedabad once a week.
While Satish Chona was content with having made Havmor ice cream a household name in Ahmedabad, son Pradeep Chona decided in the 1990s to expand across Gujarat. Grandson Ankit Chona, educated in the United States, has gone even further since he joined the business in 2005, moving into Maharashtra in 2007 and Rajasthan the following year. Both forays have been successful: revenues have grown six times since 2005 and are expected to rise around 40 per cent in the current financial year. Havmor will also enter Madhya Pradesh in late-May and Goa by Diwali. "We get 10 to 15 franchisee requests a day," says Ankit, Managing Director of Havmor. Of the 24 Havfunn outlets outside Gujarat, 15 are franchisee-run.
"What has worked for Havmor, besides of course the quality of its products, is its distribution network and its restaurant business," says R.S. Sodhi, Managing Director, Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation, which markets the Amul brand. "It is one of the country's best private ice cream brands." Havmor's insistence on sticking to certain marketing principles has also helped. "When we launched in Mumbai, we decided not to discount our products to select retailers, the way our competitors do. We offered uniform margins to everyone and that worked for us," says Kamal Desai, Vice President, Marketing, who has been with the company for 17 years.
Multinational companies have eyed Havmor as an acquisition; private equity firms have shown interest in investing in it. So far, the Chonas have turned them all down. "We haven't got an offer we couldn't refuse," says Pradeep. Adds Ankit: "No offer is a good offer for us."