Wednesday, February 14, 2007

M T R Foods Sold for $100 Million

MTR Foods has taken a Scandinavian turn. It's not US spice king McCormick that will buy MTR Foods as speculated earlier, but the Norwegian foods-to-metals group Orkla.

Shock/dismay/sadness/happiness.... a series of feelings ran through me when I read these headlines in Finance Asia & the Times of India.

Shock since I did not have any idea that MTR was up for sale, being in this faraway land. Dismay & sadness that a Scandinavian Company has taken over at the helm of MTR. What do Scandinavians know about Kannadiga cuisine? Happiness that MTR as a brand was worth 450crore, three times its current turnover. But mostly I feel sad. What Orkla will do with the brand & the product compositions remains to be seen. But things can never be the same.

Why am I writing on business news which I normally just read & never write about ? Because I have a deep personal connection with MTR. To me, MTR is like the khansama from an ancestral kitchen who keeps giving me treats, tips and tricks to turn out better food in my own kitchen.

My love affair with MTR began when I moved to Bangalore in 1999 & was introduced to the Mavalli Tiffin Rooms in Lalbagh. The institution is over 80 years old and produces some of the best, most authentic South Indian Vegetarian cuisine ever. There is always a long line of people waiting to get in. Right from 6:30 in the morning when it opens. Fluffly idlis, crisp dosas, the rava idlis that they popularized. Words cannot do justice to their piping hot sambhars and other yummy food.

Three floors were not enough to house their customers, and they later branched out into a fast food principle based "Namma MTR" in Bangalore & Dubai to keep up with the demand.

MTR pickles found pride of place in my kitchen right next to the pickles that my mother and grandmother sent me. MTR spice powders and masala mixes were the number 1 choice if I did not have the time to make my own.

When I left for the US, half my luggage was MTR instant Bisibele Baath mix on request from several colleagues who were missing the "taste of home".

By the time I returned they had vastly increased their range and had also introduced the "Ready to Eat" line. Heat and eat, even simpler than the "Instant Mix" and much less oily than a lot of other brands prevalent in the Indian market.

When we moved to Cairo, a large part of our shipment consisted of MTR instant mixes - rava idli, dosa, upma, gulab jamun among others. From Soups to Ready mixes, to Papads to Chips to Ice Cream mixes to Pickles to Ready to eat and Frozen Foods - MTR prepares and sells them all to their hungry customer base.

Their forays into North Indian food and Malayali food can be forgiven since they seemed to manage a pretty admirable job with those items too.

The restaurant and the packaged food business were separate entities. As of now there isn't much clarity on whether the restaurants will also belong to Orkla.

I hope Orkla does not tamper with the product compositions because they have been perfected with a lot of care. I pray they do not destroy the brand completely like other MNC's have tried to do with Indian Acquisitions. And I wish they will start exporting to Egypt.

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