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Everything Natural: Ice Cream Man of India who Left Behind a Legacy with Naturals

Naturals, one of the common names for ice cream in Indian households began with the motive to sell real fruits through ice creams and succeeded by understanding the dessert desires of Indians.

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'Ice Cream Man', Raghunandan Kamath bid us all aideu on May 18. After a brief illness, the founder was admitted to a hospital but could not survive more than a day and the company informed about his demise on social media. But it was just his life journey, as the journey he created for people to embark on their favourite fruit ice cream flavours shall remain with the patrons even in the years to come. 

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Natural Ice creams are popular for dealing in a variety of flavours extracted from fruits ranging from mangoes, litchee, strawberry, and chikoo along with various other flavours like dry fruits, coconut and more. The brand is known for containing no artificial flavours, no preservatives or stabilisers, only fresh fruit pulp or dry fruits. 

Mangalore, Mangoes and Mumbai!

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While growing up, the young Raghunandan assisted his father, who was a mango vendor in the small village of Puttur taluka in Mangalore. Despite the family's eight members, including seven siblings of Kamath, they managed to cultivate some fruits on their one-acre land, but their monthly earnings were as low as Rs. 100. Raghunandan quickly developed a love for fruits and learned the skills of picking ripe fruit, plucking it, sorting it, and preserving it. According to the brand's team, even in his childhood, he could understand the difference between 'perfect mangoes' and the 'not-so-perfect' ones.

One day, Mr. Kamath had the idea that if ice cream could have fruit flavours, then why not use real fruits? This idea prompted him to leave his father's business and board a train from Mangalore to Bombay with a second-class ticket in his pocket. However, he was unsure if people would come to buy or even taste his ice creams. Despite his doubts, he had a conviction that if they came once, they would come again!

In 1984, he began selling Pav Bhaji as the main dish, with ice cream as an add-on. It didn't take long for the 300-sq-feet eatery to gain recognition among people, and it soon converted into a full-fledged ice cream parlour offering flavors like sitaphal (custard apple), kaju-draksh (cashew-raisin), mango, chocolate, and strawberry. The parlour became known as the 'Ice Cream of Juhu Scheme'. Over time, the bylanes of Juhu experienced traffic jams as people flocked to the outlet for the ice creams, which initially had only 12 flavours. Mr. Kamath managed to sell 1,000 cups on the first weekend!

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Along with what Raghunandan Kamath learnt from his father, he has been giving equal credit also to his mother for his success. He would watch her earnestly prepare food and give time to each dish. Reportedly, there was no room for "quick recipes" in his household and hence, he also picked up the skill to make his brand authentic to its name.

In 1994, the brand opened 5 more outlets and soon spread its foot to other cities. Later, the Juhu outlet also grew in size; almost thrice than the original. The brand also introduced unique thermocol packaging in light of its growing popularity and thermal boxes soon became a visible exchange. In due course of time, as the brand expanded to other cities, it also made sure to keep the taste of the ice creams as authentic as the first ones in the Juhu outlet. According to a report, Natural's revenues have grown from Rs. 14 lakh in 1986 to Rs. 40 crore in 2010/11.

Giving patrons authenticity

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Even with the multiple franchises, the manufacturing unit for the brand remains in the Mumbai suburb, of Kandivali. Reportedly, every morning, a fleet of trucks rolls out from the factory loaded with ice creams that are sent to all the Natural outlets, maintaining that the quality is not compromised. The factory here also ensures that no machines are used as fruit is peeled manually, de-seeded by hand, chopped and pureed. Likewise, for the dry fruit flavours, the freshly-bought dry fruits are peeled, crushed and pulped.

Seasonal fruits are bought in bulk daily from the market where the extracted pulp is heated, to get rid of unwanted bacteria, and then stored in aluminium-sealed packages. It is said that the founder would involve himself in every aspect of the business from manufacturing to distribution. The factory with a capacity of 20 tonnes would produce 20 tonnes of ice cream daily.

The brand is also said to be careful with the quality of the milk it uses. The factory uses buffalo milk in a tanker that undergoes detailed treatment to maintain the prescribed bacteria count and is then thickened by reducing the water content. A triple-cylinder machine is used for a process called Falling Film Evaporation, bringing the milk's temperature to 30°C before cooling it down to 4°C and then heating it to 90°C in four minutes. It is then cooled again to 4°C, turning into condensed milk, which is needed for ice cream production.

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The next process involves the condensed milk, fruit puree, and ice being churned together in a machine that freezes the ice cream to minus 4°C within six minutes. The temperature is then lowered to -18°C using a spiral freezer. After this, the ice cream is packed in boxes and loaded into crates along with plenty of dry ice to prevent it from melting.

As of 2021, the ice cream parlour that once opened in Juhu's Koliwada had grown to 135 outlets in various cities, offering an average of over 20 flavours at any given time. The company recorded a retail turnover of Rs. 300 crore in the financial year 2020. It was also named one of India’s Top 10 brands for customer experience in a KPMG survey.

Currently, the brand is known for experimenting with flavours, where some succeed and others do not appeal as much to people. The late Mr. Kamath once said, "Not every flavour is 'Dangal', and there are some art movies too that people do for awards," when talking to a news portal about the urge to keep experimenting with flavours.



With inputs from Naturals, Business Today and The Better India. 



Naturals history Raghunandan Kamath