We’re naturally excited about Naturals ice cream!
- Published 17.10.17
Where: Shop no. 77/1A, Park Street, opposite Allen Park, next to Manyavar showroom
When: 11am to midnight
Pocket pinch: Rs 65 for a single scoop, including GST
While winter may not be coming just yet, the cool quotient of the city is up a couple of notches as Calcutta learnt that sabar ka Sitaphal meetha hota hai. Naturals ice cream parlour, which started out as a small store in Mumbai’s Juhu Scheme in 1984, has finally arrived in the east!
Known for their fruit-based flavours (most guests will kill for the Sitaphal and Tender Coconut flavours), the name of the brand comes from the concept of using completely natural ingredients (fruits, sugar and milk) and this mantra is what sets them apart from the rest.
While customers wait with bated breath for their seasonal favourites like Sitaphal, Jackfruit and Litchi, there are 21 flavours available throughout the year, from Watermelon to Coffee Walnut, Muskmelon to Chocobite.
t2 got the first taste and look of the Park Street parlour which opened doors on Friday.
The 1,800sq ft store that seats up to 50, is done up in white with bursts of colour here and there, making it look large and decluttered. You can enjoy your scoop or shake with the squad at leisure at one of the many tables dotting the outlet or a table with high chairs. The mezzanine section looks like a tram compartment and the walls flaunt stills of old Calcutta. There is a large back-end cold room for storing up to 2 tonnes of ice cream. Pictures: Arnab Mondal
Naturals makes anywhere between 15 to 20 tonnes of ice cream a day. Sitaphal (even though it’s seasonal) and Tender Coconut are the bestsellers (accounts for 35 per cent of the sale revenue, sometimes even more).
The 25,000sq ft master factory in Kandivali, supplies to the 125 stores around the country.
The logo changed in 2014 with the opening of the Connaught Place store in Delhi. Along with the logo, the name also changed from Natural to Naturals.
Naturals does not offer two extremely popular ice cream flavours — vanilla and butterscotch. “The butterscotch available in the market is not really a natural ingredient, it contains flavouring agents; and natural vanilla is quite bitter and for ice cream to be made, artificial sweeteners have to be added. We have our own version of vanilla, which is Malai. It’s a plain flavour and our guests like that,” said Srinivas Kamath.
Berry festival, which takes place around February-March, is one of the flagship festivals where one can slurp on ice creams in myriad berry flavours, think gooseberry, raspberry, mulberry… They also have festival-related flavours like Thandai for Holi and Malai Qorma for Id.
Friday Funday Flavour is a concept where over the weekend, the ice cream parlour serves a new and experimental flavour, like Cucumber or Black Pepper. The main idea behind it is to show innovation.
Starstruck: “In Juhu, a lot of film stars would walk in. I remember seeing Salman Khan and Aamir Khan… even Amitabh Bachchan and Jeetendra! The next generation of actors prefer their ice cream home-delivered,” said Srinivas.
FROM A SINGLE STORE IN MUMBAI TO 125 ACROSS THE COUNTRY, FOUNDER AND CMD RAGHUNANDAN KAMATH AND SON SRINIVAS SPOKE TO T2 ABOUT THE JOURNEY
How was Naturals born?
Srinivas Kamath: My grandfather was a fruit vendor and my father has grown up loving fruits.
Raghunandan Kamath: When I came to Mumbai from Mangalore, my first stint was at my brother’s restaurant in Santa Cruz. There I noticed that ice cream was picking up as a trend. In 1984, I opened a place in Juhu Scheme to sell ice cream. But just ice cream on its own would not be sustainable, so I also started selling pav bhaji. The pav bhaji became very popular but I had to stop selling it, so that the ice cream could pick up. And it eventually did.
Why fruit-based ice creams?
RK: As my father was a fruit vendor, I had grown up eating them and learning about them as well. I had a strange love for fruits. I knew how to bring out the flavours of the fruits in ice cream and since we used only three ingredients (milk, sugar and fruits), it was possible to highlight just the fruits. We would hand-churn it. With trial and error, and customer feedback, I could better the ice creams.
We started with Sitaphal, Mango, Chickoo, while Tender Coconut, Jackfruit, Watermelon and all came later. Most of the fruits we use are sourced from India and from the best possible regions — sitaphal from Saswad, litchi from the Bengal-Bihar region, mango from Ratnagiri, strawberries from Mahabaleshwar. Only passion fruit and berries are sourced from abroad. We also slowly introduced chocolate flavours, which are tailor-made from chocolates. We are a little behind on chocolate, no doubt.
SK: People who like milk chocolates like our chocolate flavours but it’s not for those who like dark chocolate. Now we’re working on bringing Ghana 100 per cent chocolate because it’s so much easier to procure ingredients in this day and age.
How did you expand and grow?
RK: I opened the Juhu Scheme outlet because I felt that the crowd would appreciate ice cream. Film stars like Amitabh Bachchan and Hema Malini would live close by. People had already started recognising our ice cream. In 1994, we started producing on a large scale. I asked our milk supplier, who is still our only supplier, to supply milk on a larger scale and he proposed the idea of becoming a franchisee. Likewise, other business partners joined in as franchisees, making us grow. When we had started out, we needed only 2.5kg pulp of sitaphal, which my mother used to do with her hands. As we went big, we started needing 2.5 tonnes per day and we still had to do it on our own, as sitaphal pulp wasn’t available in the market, unlike strawberry or mango. Same for tender coconut, jackfruit and other flavours.
What makes Naturals stand out?
RK: It’s different from ice creams around the world. You can even call it frozen milk. It is made by removing water from milk, and not adding cream or other milk products. We don’t homogenise the mixture, pump air or use preservatives. It is a heavy ice cream. We had to acquire technology slowly. It became a challenge when the FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) rule changed and we had to get the traditional flavours, but on a huge scale. We had to develop the technology for it and evolve as technology evolved. Because by then, the brand had made a name for itself and people already had a taste for the product. So while the quantity and scale changed, we had to make sure that the taste didn’t. This was one of our biggest challenges and we went slow but steady.
When did the brand start expanding?
RK: As we became popular in Mumbai, we branched out to Pune, Ahmedabad and Goa around 1999. Now we’re present in 25 cities across the country and have 125 stores!
Why so long in coming to Calcutta?
SK: The logistics was the biggest challenge for us as it takes 36 hours from Mumbai to Calcutta by train. We didn’t want to open a store and not be able to cater to the demand. Now we have a big cold room behind the Park Street outlet that can stock enough ice cream to last three days. This is the first store in the eastern region and while there will more in Calcutta itself, we also have plans to move to smaller cities like Siliguri and Guwahati.