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Pune: For Indraneel Chitale, 26, a fourth-generation entrepreneur from the illustrious Chitale family of Maharashtra, joining the family business of dairy products, snacks and sweets was a no-brainer.

Chitale, whose family is credited with making the snack bakarwadi famous outside Maharashtra, was predisposed to the workings of a business from his childhood.

“Always the lunch table used to resemble a boardroom (table) like is the case with most family businesses; there was a lot of talk of business happening there," recalls Chitale, an electronics engineer by training. “So that is how the early grooming started; you kept hearing a lot about what’s happening and what’s not, and what usually is done. So that was a good indicator for me that I’m liking what I’m hearing, so it might be a good idea to join the family business."

His family has been in the dairy business for the last 75 years and in the sweets business for a little over 60 years.

In 1950, Bhaskar Rao Chitale (Indraneel’s great-grandfather), a father of seven boys with a dairy in Sangli on the banks of the Krishna river, decided to send two of his sons to Pune. They were to set up a dairy and sweets shop in the city; Sangli wasn’t proving to be a successful market for Chitale’s products.

After some initial research, Raghunath and Rajabhau Chitale opened a sweets and savoury snacks store in Pune called Chitale Bandhu.

Today, Chitale Bandhu is one of Pune’s dominant sweet and snacks retailers with 16 franchise outlets in the city. What sets it apart is the fact that the company took recourse to automation and technology way back in the 1980s when they weren’t buzz words.

Indraneel Chitale’s grandfather M.B. Chitale toured Japan sometime in the 1970s. He went as part of a delegation with the Maratha chamber of commerce and that’s where he got to see a lot of technological advancements.

“There was a lot of focus from my grandfather’s generation itself about increasing automation in our processes. Especially in the milk sector; back in the 70s, we were the first company to bring packaged pouch milk to India. Similarly we were making bakarwadi and motichoor ladoos entirely on an automated machine. Increasing your entire focus to making the product acceptable to international standards was something that was always a priority," explains Chitale.

The family faced its share of constraints imposed by the so-called licence raj—the rigid rules and regulations that were a way of life before the economic liberalization that began in 1991.

“Licensing was a big problem at that time," he says, recalling how tough it was to import machines from abroad. France or Europe. “...so the import licence itself took such a long time; from what I have heard it took 10 months at that time."

The Chitale family was way ahead of its time when it opened its first franchise store in 1987. “That time especially people in Pune were very adamant that ‘aamchi shakha kuthe nahi’, which means we don’t have any other branches; to maintain their authenticity everyone used to put these boards in their shops. So going against the trend was something new", he says.

For the family, economic reforms also meant competition from foreign multinationals, which it tackled by expanding infrastructure and production, and automating more manufacturing processes.

“The biggest transition that happened was we started packaging whatever we were making. Till then the idea was to sell it across the counter fresh so that the customer can see and buy. But the whole process of retail underwent a big makeover. And in that process the idea of direct customer interaction vanished. So how do you make your product more visible in markets where we cannot be present physically, so that is the solution which was provided by packaging. A lot of emphasis was given to that," says Chitale.

“This was also the time when our whole network expanded. We were at five franchises and two retail outlets around 1995-98 so that was when we started increasing our distribution network. We appointed super stockists, distributors, importers across the world," he adds.

The Chitale group is present in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. “These are the states where we are actively supplying our products. This change and revenue generation from distribution chains as opposed to our shops happened because of liberalization," says Chitale.

The family entered exports in 2004. Exports contribute about 5% of its revenue, which is growing at a pace of 12% year-on-year.

This is the 35th part in a series marking the 25th anniversary of India’s liberalization.

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