Creature Companion Magazine interviewed Dr Shashank Sinha on the occasion of his appointment as CEO Drools Pet Food Pvt Ltd. He opened up on his learnings of all these years and enlightened us on his priorities and future business plans.
–How do you feel the company has recognized your contributions and promoted you as a CEO?
Needless to say, it’s one of the best news ever, however, it’s not just my promotion, rather it’s a promotion of every employee of Drools who have been with me in past and now. It’s thrilling to be promoted to head one of the biggest pet food business in India. And it’s a trend setter too, as I am a veterinarian and it’s the first time that a vet has been chosen to lead the business from the front. I have received congratulatory messages from the entire vet fraternity and it’s humbling.
I feel the company has recognized the contributions of all channel partners and internal associates (employees) and their faith vested in me. My whole team has made this happen and hence I feel it’s more of a responsibility for me than a privilege to keep the growth surging.
You have been with the company from the beginning, how has been the progress over the years? what are the challenges you faced initially, when drools entered the market?
Pet food in India is largely a western concept, hence you see a plethora of international brands available. Being an Indian brand, there were challenges of competing with global giants in this category which itself was a learning experience. A lot of international brands operating in India are trying to become local and we are local going global. Also to add, the psyche of an Indian consumer who trusts more in everything imported. So it was an uphill task to break all myths and gain our consumer’s attention and faith.
The intent and the drive was very strong to making this Indian pet food a global brand, but obviously creating disruption in the market against global giants wasn’t easy.
We engaged many celebs as brand ambassadors for a quick recall and acceptance. We tried to break the myth that ‘dog food cannot be made in India’. There has been a belief that Indian companies cannot be category leaders, hence we concentrated on bringing in a lot of focus on ourselves. Drools targeted even non-pet parent to make the brand a household name. And eventually this paid off and we have seen good traction in the last 4-5 years.
A special mention to our sales team who dedicatedly made Drools available across all categories of counters in India and abroad. Today, we have presence in more than 30,000 counters locally and are present in close to 20 countries worldwide. Internationally we are present in the Indian subcontinent, Middle East, South-East Nations like Singapore, Thailand and select African countries. We have recently started exports to Australia and will soon commence work in New Zealand.
We have a very well thought set up of food and non-food products such as toys, feeding bowls , shampoos and treats to mention a few. The idea is to become a “go to brand” for every pet parent, taking care of their everyday needs. At Drools, we have made a conscious effort to be available in every Indian household even in the smaller towns. Today Drools is available north to south and east to west.
The right product selection, responsible pricing and thoughtful variations in the product line while understanding our consumers and their everyday needs is what has made us what we are today.
Could you tell us how the huge range of products that you have help you retain customer?
You will be happy to know that we have started a second pet food plant in Chhattisgarh and are proud to say that we are the only food company who have two manufacturing units in India. Speaks much about our quantum of work no?
Initially, we were questioned on the huge range that we offered. But now everyone understands the logic and have started to do the same. We believe that an extended range of products is an excellent way to engage our customers. We study the life cycle of a pet, and engage with them throughout with different life stages and life style products.
Generally speaking, as per research, pet parents in India stop giving balanced diets or packaged food after a dog attains mature adulthood. Our plan is to educate and retain them in the category. Let them keep coming to the pet stores, or clinics for economical options for the wellbeing of their pet and that also keeps our channel partners interested in business. To talk about a case in point – in puppy stage when the novelty for a new member in the house is high, pet parents usually prefer premium range while for the same dog in its mature stage slips to economical diets or even home cooked meals. Our range of reasonably priced products will help to serve and retain consumers for a longer period.
What are the new products in the pipeline?
As far as new brands are concerned, we have recently launched a premium category cat food – Kitty Yums. It is doing very well as a rice based high protein feed formula for cats. This year we will be focusing on cat treats too . The cat category is growing fast and we want to provide wholesome nutrition to them.
We are also working towards a premium section of food for both canine and feline needs using human grade ingredients and quality proteins. This range is scheduled to launch by July.
As a CEO, how has your responsibility from being a national sales director changed?
As a Sales Director, I was majorly focusing on sales figures, expanding markets within India and abroad. Today we are present in three continents and eighteen countries. The permit for the Australian market is our gold badge considering how stringent their rules are. We are the first pet food company to get import permit from Indian subcontinent.
As a CEO my role is more towards an overall enhancement of the brand, and for me it’s people first. So my focus will be to create a conducive environment for employees, engaging channel partners and customers while maintaining and protecting the brand image. Our intention is to contribute to the whole fraternity, and not just our growth. So there will be an upsurge in our CSR activities too.
Balance is the key to sustainable growth and how we conduct our work will surely shape the DNA of the industry as we are becoming the largest player by the sheer volume of business and team size. Our story should inspire others to come into pet space and make a difference.
Take us through your learning as far as the pet industry and pet food market are concerned. How has it shifted? How is it going to shift in the future?
With the humanization of pets, the constitution of an Indian family has greatly changed and COVID was a big blessing to the category too. Pets today are family and not just a hobby. The whole approach to the upkeep of a pet at home has changed and kudos to “Creature Companion “ too as I have been keeping a check on how diligently this magazine is working towards pet health awareness. Now you have a companion and you take care of its happiness; and even celebrate occasions with your pets.
The journey of a canine from being a watch dog to a spoilt kid at home and a forever companion is not just endearing but also speaks volumes of possibilities of growth in the category. And as an agile brand, we have understood the need of innovative quality products at an affordable pricing to keep our consumer base growing.
What is the kind of numbers Drools did in 2021 in terms of volume and what can we expect in 2022?
The last couple of years have been great for us business wise and the entire category is growing at a fast pace. Today, we are producing more than 3600 tons per month in dog food and in cat food we are touching 1000 tons per month. So, numbers look strong and this year we should be able to touch 5000 tons production capacity.
We are looking for somewhere around 50 to 60% growth from the category.
Our major focus is going to be on the export market this year because we have seen a lot of global supply chain issues on long distance routes. We need to close that void in neighboring countries and for that we have a strong export team working round the clock.
I am happy to share that we have four associates stationed outside the country and soon we will have Drools corporate offices in Dubai and Colombo.
As a person, what were your learnings and as a leader how have you grown over a period?
As I mentioned earlier, I am a veterinarian first, so compassion towards small animals comes naturally to me. I started my career as a vet with Dr. Kharab Pet Clinic in Gurgaon. I left my practice to do MBA and after which I joined the pet business.
There has been an immense personal growth. I love interacting with vets, channel partners and keep learning from them every day. As a leader, I believe in taking my team forward and that involves a lot of ground work together, working and listening to them. My team is very diverse and hence my learning from them is well rounded. I advocate empowerment and that has helped my fellow colleagues to grow in their roles too. Today we have more than 400 associates across India and abroad and the thread that keeps the unity in our fabric is our genuine respect and affection for every member of the team.
With big numbers comes bigger responsibilities and the category is looking at us. So we will continue to deliver responsibly, humbly and set the discipline that’s much required for our growth.