Shradha Sawant considers providing employment opportunities to local women as her biggest achievement
By Ramrai Naik
Shradha Sawant started her career in the teaching profession, and over a period of time she’s moved to an entirely different line of work. While the business that she’s heading currently is different from her profession, it’s not unknown to her family.
Star Agro Products is an expanded village industrial unit earlier owned by her mother Ratnamala Parab under the name of Star Products.
Within four years of its formation, Star Agro Products and its earlier entity Star Products have grown exponentially and spread throughout local markets in the state.
Shradha Sawant holds a diploma in Fashion Designing from the Government Polytechnic Panaji and a post graduate degree in Commerce. She earlier worked as a lecturer in Business Studies at the Government College of Arts, Science & Commerce, Khandola. Sawant elaborates how she got into the business, “I taught at the institution for more than ten years. On the other side, this business was being run by my mother. There came a point in my life when my mother said it was time for me to handle the family business. Hence, I started managing it, as well as working part time as a lecturer. However, managing all this eventually started getting difficult. Besides there was also a factor of age and health of my mother. Therefore I gave up my teaching job and took on the full responsibility of running this business.”
“My mother had started this business in 1987 as Star Products with just 2kg of production in a day. I was just seven year old back then, we were manually doing most of the work. There were around five employees working under her. Star Product was started by my mother while Star Agro Products is my brand. Products made under both units are same, only there’s change of name in the branding of the products. We have focussed as an agro product company, so that in future we can diversify within the food industry and increase our line of products. Although I don’t want to move to any other sector, further expansion within this industry is my vision for the company,” she adds.
Shradha initially had set up the Star Ago industry at their own house in 2013. However, the workplace was inadequate for upscaling the production due to growing demand. She says, “We then moved to a bigger unit to a four shop spread structure based in Marcel. I applied for a loan under the EDC’s scheme of CM Rojgar Yojana. After getting the same, I installed a fully automatic machine and employed 5-6 women from Marcel and Cumbharjua.”
At the existing unit Shradha says she’s faced good as well as bad experiences. The existing Star Agro Products unit is in the residential area and locals have had previously issued many complaints of pollution. However, Shradha has fought all the legal battles and got the temporary clearances for an industrial unit to be functional in this area. She has also secured stay orders from Directorate of Panchayat. For permanent solution from this hurdles, Star Agro Products have planned to shift the unit to their recently acquired plots in Kundaim IDC. Shradha asserts, “We have a sound monitoring device at the unit and the noise produced by our unit is much within the permissible limits of the industry. However, we don’t want these obstacles coming in between our regular functioning. We also don’t want to carry this business by causing an inconvenience to people.”
There is huge difference between us and self-help groups. There’s no leadership and proper vision there. What we do here is to be under constant guidance of my mother. Her teaching has been reflected in our line of products.
Star Agro Products’ bestselling products are Goan Xacuti masala, stuffed mango Pickle, and Papad. They get bulk orders for the Xacuti masala from 5 star hotels and other popular restaurants in Goa. Shradha continues, “Our biggest client is Bardez Bazaar from Mapusa. We supply for large orders on a forthrightly basis to them. We also supply a huge quantity to Bagayatdar Bazaar. In the initial stages, my father Ratnakar Parab made immense efforts to capture various local markets. Both my parents have made this product what it is today.” She adds, “For buffet orders, we have certain products which are a little different from our regular high quality products and are also conveniently priced. Our other extended product line is highly nutritious and is a Goan specialty. Certain products which we sell now are difficult to find in the market. I have retained these authentic products and we continue to deliver such products as demand grows.”
Shradha Sawant occasionally participates in exhibitions which brings the biggest opportunity for them. “Our products have tremendously grown over the years and people now come searching for our stall. I see such events as an opportunity to connect with sellers across the country,” she says.
For Star Agro Products, vendors are the market researchers. “Most of the time we don’t have to carry out a market study as we believe our vendors give us a sense of what to focus on.” says her husband Dnyaneshwar Chudu Sawant. Her husband who stays away on duty as Marine Engineer says, he appreciates her work. “Even though I’m not here, she’s running the show on her own capacity. I provide the required technical and financial help. Our work philosophy has been to work and earn sincerely and never to cheat or compromise on the quality of our products. We want to make this brand popular all over the state.”
Shradha believes in experimenting with new products with the help of her mother. She is also focussing on creating products that require rigorous preservation, which is what time-pressed homemakers look for today. Almost all the products at Star Agro Products are handmade except for the papads. They have to rely on machines when it comes to making papads, as throughout the year there is a consistent demand for this product. Machines also help in maintaining the consistency within the product. Another item which requires attention is Stuffed Mango pickle. It takes a long process till it is ready to be sold. From collecting raw mango to the final stage of getting it packaged. And as they are seasonal products, Star Agro Products give it maximum focus while slowing down the production of other products.
Shradha elaborates on the product quality standards at Star, “We make it a point that we never use artificial preservatives. All our raw materials and products adhere to strict standards that are required in the food industry. Also all our employees are given strict dress code and provided with health card and a routine medical checkup.”
For Shradha, meeting targets on a day to basis for the company is what drives her at work. She says there is a picture in her mind of what needs to be done on the next day. And when she works with a positive approach, she is able to execute most of the tasks successfully. Providing local women with employment opportunities is what she considers her biggest achievement as an entrepreneur. Workers also get incentives during the festive seasons. Shradha says she is satisfied with her sales within the state; however, her goal for the near future is to export her products abroad. She says, “We get a lot of requests from our NRI friends. Authentic Goan flavour is our unique selling point and we want to capitalise on that, and take the footprint of our brand acrossthe globe.”