New Vernon to invest in Eastern Condiments

New Vernon Private Equity is keen to add a bit of Indian masala and flavour to its investment bouquet in the country. It is set to invest Rs 44 crore for a mi-nority stake in Eastern Condiments, one of India's largest manufacturers of branded pure spices and masalas.

The 20 year-old company's products are sold in the domestic market under the 'Eastern' brand. It sells over five lakh pouches a day of its products, which are available in over 50,000 retail outlets, predominantly in Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. It has just entered the west and north Indian markets and has chalked out plans for a national roll out of 'Eastern' products.

The company is also India's largest exporter of branded curry powder, in con-sumer packs of less than 500 gm, supplied to large super markets in at least 10 countries, for which it has bagged the export award from the Spices Board consecutively over the last seven years.

The company has its plants, with a combined capacity of 20,000 tonne per an-num, at Adimali, Kerala and Theni in Tamil Nadu. It also has a well equipped laboratory for microbial and chemical analysis with a dedicated R & D facil-ity. It also operates a large cold storage facility at Theni.

"We are trying to create a pan-Indian strategy for masalas and the major focus is to establish a direct distribution network across the country.The fresh in-fusement of capital will be utilised for these, as well as for creating world class manufacturing facilities," Mr Navas Meeran, vice chairman, Eastern Condiments told ET. The company is awaiting a few statutory approvals", expected to come over the next few days, for this fresh infusement of capital.

New Vernon Private Equity, a $One billion India-centric fund, has already in-vested in Balrampur Chini, Ricoh Auto, Celebrity Fashions and Rajasthan Spinning among others. The Chennai-based investment banking firm, Veda Corporate Advisors facilitated the deal.

According to Mr Meeran, who is also the vice chairman of CII (Kerala), there are lot of "negativeness" about Kerala's militant labour. The state also has certain geographical dis-advantages having been placed at the "tail-end of the country".

"However, these issues cannot hinder entrepreneurship. For instance, we took a direct route of distribution and connected almost 30,000 retail outlets, which is being hailed as our pillar of strength," Mr Meeran observed. "There are sev-eral such successful entrepreneurships across Kerala", he pointed out.

"We have been growing consistently, in terms of revenues, and still feel there is enough scope for the export revenue to grow two - three times over the next couple of years", Mr Meeran said. Part of the increase is expected to come through 'in-organic growth' as well. From a little over Rs 140 crore revenues now, it expects to achieve a revenue target of Rs 180 crore for the year 2006-07, and Rs 245 crore at the end of 2007-08.