In 1995, Ramakrishna Karuturi thought he would impress his wife with a bunch of long-stemmed red roses on Valentine’s Day, but he discovered that the country’s information technology hub had few quality roses to sell. So the mechanical engineer from Bangalore University quit his family cable business and decided to grow roses instead.
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That same year, he set up Karuturi Floritech Ltd at Doddaballapur, near Bangalore. The company now grows 16 varieties of roses in 12 colours— including four types of red.
Back then, the domestic demand for roses was not very high so Karuturi exported to locations across the world. In 2004, he expanded his floriculture project to Ethiopia, and currently grows flowers in 242ha of greenhouses there. Later, in 2007, Karuturi acquired more land in Ethiopia—this time for agriculture. He funded the acquisition through a Rs100 crore term loan from Yes Bank Ltd against a portion of his Kenyan assets and shares pledged by the company’s promoters.
That year, he also took over 148ha of greenhouses in Kenya when he acquired the operations of Sher Agencies in that country. This deal cost him around €46 million (Rs289.3 crore now).
Karuturi Global Ltd is now the largest rose production facility in the world. “Our rose production in India is just about 5% of what we produce in all our international locations. And the annual overall production is around 650 million stems, but we’ll always be a Bangalore-based company,” says Manoj Agarwal, CEO, India, Karuturi Global.
“Acquiring large pieces of land like the 400ha (for floriculture) in Ethiopia is difficult in India. Both Kenya and Ethiopia have the climatic and soil condition for the growth of flowers, and even labour is easily available,” says Agarwal. The production from the rose farms in India is now used for domestic sales for most of the year, except during seasons such as Christmas and Valentine’s Day.
The largest consignments of flowers from Karuturi are exported during the 12-day period starting 1 February. “That’s when we use a method called flushing to delay the growth of flowers by changing temperatures and amount of shade, so most of the buds are ready for harvest during that period.”
The farm hires an additional 25% casual labour during this peak season for harvesting, and the packing and sorting staff work late in to the evening to keep up with the demand. “The good thing is that several international flights take off from Bangalore now, but we have to make tentative bookings almost a month in advance,” says Agarwal.
But not all the produce is reserved for exports. “Indians are now becoming very aware of their products and are quality conscious. Cities like Delhi and Bangalore buy good quality flowers, and seem to know the significance of a long stem and big bud. This awareness will only grow,” says Agarwal. But even as India learns why a 20cm stem rose is less impressive than a 40cm one, some of the most impressive flowers in the international market have an Indian brand on them.