Interview: Mr Saurav Bhattacharya, President at Ajmal & Sons, NHA Division India

Mr Saurav Bhattacharya

Interview with Mr Saurav Bhattacharya, President at Ajmal & Sons, NHA Division India

His vision for Ajmal in India is robust and sound, the reason being that New Horizons of Ajmal Division  (NHA Division) is nimble footed to reach for the skies but is also treating these anxious times as a positive  break to situate Ajmal in the changing world. 

Saurav’s core strength lies in the due diligence for business opportunity scoping and the ability to  leverage operational experience, to provide implementable solutions to business challenges.

Whether it is strategic consulting or guidance for a new business line implementation, it equally excites him to pursue both strategic and operational execution of the business opportunities. 

Over the years, his interpersonal skills as a Business Leader and passion for talent identification, acquisition, honing and mentoring has given him a distinct professional edge, across varied business canvases. 

His prior experience at Unilever India includes manufacturing across Frozen Desserts/Ice Cream and Instant Coffee and Beverage Plants.

Along with this he also led the sales and customer management in Orissa and Maharashtra. During his marketing stint, he seamlessly managed a successful transition of Brooke Bond’s A1, Super Dust & Ruby to ‘Brooke Bond Taaza’. 

He was responsible for transforming Park Avenue under  J.K.Helene Curtis Ltd through a comprehensive revamp of  4Ps.

In addition to this, as Director Branding he was responsible for the creation of the Brand strategy & positioning for all Raymond group brands in consultation with Bain & Co, Technopak & AC Nielsen.

At Visa Inc, he simulated  the Debit strategy in India which was replicated in other BRIC markets because of its unique “call to action” consumer facing theme that escalated debit usage nearly tenfold, which was far ahead of stated global expectations.

He  lowered the entry barrier and re-engineered entire operations to reduce cost at Nakshatra World Ltd in  addition to setting up an ecommerce platform.

Can you please provide us with an overview of your journey and the inspiration behind joining the perfumery business?

Saurav Bhattacharya: I would like to share a personal perspective on my connection to fragrances. My name is Saurav, which interestingly means “fragrance.”

Throughout my extensive corporate journey of over three decades, fragrances have played a significant role, including my current role as the President of Ajmal & Sons NHA Division in India.

The world of fragrances has always captivated me, and I’m grateful for the diverse experiences and opportunities it has provided me.

I began my educational journey with schooling in Kolkata and Hyderabad, and later pursued Electrical & Electronics Engineering. I further expanded my knowledge by completing a Business Management degree from IIM Ahmedabad.

My professional journey started with a 12-year tenure at HUL, where I initially worked in the Information Technology domain, specifically focusing on implementing ERP solutions.

Today, after more than three decades, as I lead the Ajmal & Sons NHA division in India, I recognize the immense value of my initial experience in the field of Information Technology and ERP systems.

That first year of work provided me with a comprehensive understanding of organizational processes, and it has played a pivotal role in shaping my current role and responsibilities.

Drawing on my past factory experience I leveraged use of own factory capacities and opened 3P factories for tea packing with adequate QC and due diligence, to move in nearly 2000 Tonnes of beverages stock into distributive retail in Orissa.

I have been involved in the packaged tea business, manufactured frozen deserts of Kwality Walls and also been responsible for manufacturing instant coffee for the brand Bru.

Once I moved beyond the Manufacturing arena into Sales & Marketing my initial role was as an Area Sales Manager.

As someone who had previously worked in manufacturing, maintenance, and engineering, it was a significant shift for me. Nonetheless, I was determined to succeed and make a meaningful impact in my new role.

I was assigned to handle the Odisha market, despite it being a challenging time due to the devastation caused by Cyclone in 1999.

However, I approached the situation with a positive attitude and a mind set of “What can be done” instead of dwelling on “Why it can’t happen”.

With this approach, I was able to achieve remarkable growth, increasing sales by three times in the state. This experience taught me the importance of staying focused on the opportunities at hand and remaining optimistic even during challenging times.

After my successful stint in Odisha, I was moved to Maharashtra, which was a key market for the organization.

This marked the beginning of a significant upswing in my career journey, and I played a pivotal role in driving the top line growth of the company.

Over the years, I realized that maintaining focus and visibility are crucial for career growth, and I made a conscious effort to prioritize these factors.

Later, I was transferred to the Brooke Bond Brand management team, where I worked on the activation side of India’s largest tea brand, Taaza.

My journey in marketing has been a unique one, given my diverse background in information technology, manufacturing, and sales.

Nonetheless, this experience has been invaluable in helping me develop a comprehensive understanding of the entire product lifecycle, from conception to activation.

After my experiences in various roles and industries, I joined Raymond as a Director of Branding and Business Director for FMCG.

In these positions, I was responsible for developing brand strategies and positioning for all group brands.

Following that, I took on the role of Marketing Director for South Asia at Visa and later served as the Executive Director and Executive Head of the Strategic Management Group at Sahara India and as a Group President at Nakshatra World Ltd.

In September 2018, I embarked on a new chapter with Ajmal & Sons when the New Horizons of Ajmal – NHA was conceptualized & established.

This marked the beginning of my journey with the company and I brought with me my accumulated experience and expertise from the perfume industry and various other sectors.

We would appreciate it if you could provide us with a brief introduction to Ajmal & Sons, its areas of specialization, and the range of services it provides?

Saurav Bhattacharya: Ajmal Perfumes is a brand with a rich heritage acquired through almost seven decades of experience and know-how in the intricate art of perfumery.

Ajmal stands strong as a corporate entity with a vast portfolio of over 300 of the finest and most captivating fragrances.

The journey of Ajmal Perfumes is that of the story of ‘A Farmer to A Perfumer’. Ajmal Perfumes has grown from a modest trading house into a multi-million-dollar corporate entity thanks to Late Haji Ajmal Ali’s vision and unstinting dedication to the craft of perfumery.

What is your company’s vision, and how does it differentiate itself from other perfume brands in the market?

Saurav Bhattacharya: The NHA division of Ajmal & Sons India is moving forward with a vision to make Ajmal Perfumes the most distributed brand of perfumery in India, both at acceptable level and availability level.  

Additionally, we aim to make perfume more accessible to the emerging millennial and Gen Z demographics by introducing a diverse range of fragrances with a starting price point as low as INR 600, thereby reducing the entry barrier to this category.

With India being diverse and evolution being dynamic across layers, NHA is propelling a better understanding of grooming which consists of “looking”, “feeling” and “smelling” good.

The focus has been on changing habits and usage of fine fragrances as part of daily regime. We wish to expand our footprint by at least 10 times of where we are in the next 5 years.

Ajmal Perfumes is a brand with a rich heritage acquired through almost seven decades of experience and know-how in the intricate art of perfumery.

Please elaborate on the measures you take to maintain the quality and consistency of your fragrances?

Saurav Bhattacharya: At Ajmal Group, ensuring the quality and consistency of our fragrances is of utmost importance. We take several measures throughout the production process to maintain these standards. Here are some of the key steps we undertake:

  • Ingredient Selection: We meticulously choose high-quality raw materials, including essential oils, aroma compounds, and synthetic ingredients, from reputable suppliers. We prioritize sourcing ingredients that meet our stringent quality standards and comply with industry regulations.
  • Formulation and Testing: Our experienced perfumers carefully craft fragrance formulas, considering the desired scent profile and target audience. The formulations undergo rigorous testing, both in-house and through external partners, to evaluate aspects such as stability, performance, and olfactive characteristics. This ensures that the fragrance meets our quality benchmarks.
  • Quality Control Checks: Throughout the manufacturing process, we implement robust quality control checks at various stages. This includes inspecting raw materials upon arrival, monitoring production procedures, and conducting sensory evaluations of the final products. These checks help identify any deviations from the desired quality and enable us to take corrective actions.
  • Stability and Shelf-Life Testing: We subject our fragrances to extensive stability and shelf-life testing. This involves exposing the products to different environmental conditions, such as temperature and light variations, to assess their performance over time. By conducting these tests, we can ensure that our fragrances maintain their quality, scent integrity, and longevity throughout their shelf life.
  • Continuous Improvement: We constantly strive for excellence and continuously seek opportunities to enhance our quality control processes. This involves staying updated with the latest industry practices, investing in research and development, and actively seeking customer feedback to address any concerns and improve our fragrances.

By implementing these measures, we aim to consistently deliver high-quality fragrances that meet the expectations of our customers and uphold the reputation of Ajmal Group.

Could you take us through the process of creating a new perfume, from ideation to the finished product?

Saurav Bhattacharya: The perfumer initiates a new product development process based on either an annual new product development calendar or a brief received from the business team.

This brief provides a comprehensive understanding of the product requirements, market trends, and consumer behaviour.

Creating a new fragrance is a multifaceted and intricate process, where the perfumer takes the lead in crafting a new scent from an olfactive perspective, which is the core of Ajmal Group. Here is an overview of the typical process involved in creating a new fragrance:

  • Understanding the business brief and Creating Inspiration & Ideation for the proposed new product: The perfumer starts by researching current market trends, consumer preferences, and competitor products. They also study various fragrance families and raw materials to gather inspiration.
  • Concept Development: Based on research, the perfumer develops a concept or theme for the fragrance. This could be inspired by nature, a specific emotion, a story, or any other creative idea. Moreover, along with the concept the estimated cost of the product and the required fragrance dosage is arrived at.
  • Brief to the Perfume house: A detailed brief with the type of fragrance required – Eau De Parfum/Eau De Toilette/ Eau De Cologne is shared with the perfume house along with the research data collected by the perfumer.
  • Fragrance creation: The perfume house in coordination with the perfumer starts working on creating a new fragrance, it involves the below process before the final submissions for approvals:
    • Ingredient Selection: Perfumers select the key ingredients (known as raw materials or notes) that will form the fragrance. These materials include essential oils, aroma compounds, and synthetic ingredients.
    • Formula Composition: The perfumer creates a formula by blending different raw materials in specific proportions. This process involves extensive experimentation, testing, and adjusting the composition to achieve the desired scent.
  • Prototyping and Evaluation:
    • Creation of Trial Batches: The perfumer creates small trial batches of the fragrance formula. These batches are used for evaluation and testing.
    • Evaluation Panel: Perfumers often work with a panel of trained evaluators or focus groups to gather feedback on the fragrance prototypes. They assess aspects like longevity, projection, balance, and overall appeal.
  • Refinement and Testing:
    • Iterative Process: Based on the feedback received, the perfumer refines the fragrance formula, making adjustments to achieve the desired scent profile.
    • Stability and Safety Testing: Perfumes undergo stability and safety testing to ensure they meet regulatory standards and maintain their quality over time.
  • Manufacturing and Production:
    • Scaling Up: Once the fragrance formula is finalized, it is scaled up for large-scale production.Ingredient Sourcing: Manufacturers source the required raw materials in larger quantities to meet the production demands.

    • Mixing and Blending: The ingredients are carefully measured, mixed, and blended to create the perfume according to the formula.
    Bottling and Packaging: The finished perfume is filled into bottles or containers, labelled, and packaged for distribution.

It’s important to note that the process may vary slightly depending on the brand, perfumer, and specific requirements of the fragrance. Creating a new perfume is a highly creative and iterative process that requires expertise, artistic sensibility, and attention to detail.

What marketing strategies have proven to be most effective for your business, and how have you managed to cultivate a loyal customer base?

Saurav Bhattacharya: Since the inception of NHA Division of Ajmal & Sons India, we have been prudent on our marketing approach.

Perfumery being a different kind of business especially post pandemic, it was extremely essential to alter strategy to be able to reach more targeted community that is where digital and social media strategy became a stand out point for us.

To be able to swift through more specifically in context of fragrances from a perspective of olfactive, price points, need gaps and the 360 perspective from moving from lifestyle to pantry brand, we have been able to focus this through our social & digital channels which includes Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.

How did you identify the perfumery industry as a viable opportunity?

Saurav Bhattacharya: The global perfume market size is estimated at USD 50 billion out of which USA itself covers 20% of the market share.

India which is the 5th largest economy is just at half a billion USD which throws the opportunity for us to expand and grow.

In India the fragrance category is still evolving and will grow further by brands segmenting and positioning themselves.

The category has mainly been driven by basic benefits like freshness and male appeal to opposite gender.

With the evolution of fragrance as a category in India our focus has been to make customers move from “need based to want base” consumption archetypes.

Expanding from lifestyle to everyday necessity, transforming of the fragrance from gifting other to self-use. We believe that perfume is no longer a lifestyle category but a daily moment necessity for the consumers.

What advice would you offer to those seeking to establish their own perfumery business?

Saurav Bhattacharya: For any business to succeed irrespective of the industry it is important to focus on immediate term and long term sustainable growth.

Well, starting a perfumery business requires a combination of creativity, business acumen, and persistence.

By offering unique fragrances, providing excellent customer experiences, and staying adaptable, you can build a successful and thriving perfumery brand.

While establishing a perfumery business can be an exciting venture here are some pieces of advice to consider when starting your own perfumery business:

  • Conduct Market Research: Research the current market trends, consumer behaviour, and competitors. Identify a niche in the market that your perfumes can fill. Understanding your target audience and their preferences can help you create a unique brand and product line. Define your target audience and identify your niche and create fragrances that cater to specific demographics or preferences.
  • Experiment and create: Develop your own signature scents by blending different notes and ingredients, and focus on quality and innovation. Invest in high-quality raw materials and essential oils to ensure your perfumes are of the best quality. Moreover, create an appealing product lineand start with a core collection. You should continuously innovate and stay updated with industry trends, experiment with new ingredients, and evolve your product line to stay relevant.
  • Establish Sales Channels: Choose to be present in” Brick or mortar” as well as “Online space” because a multi-pronged approach helps for a long-term sustainable growth and success. So much as AI will drive our future; there will be a need of physical stores, at least for trial purposes, if not transactional. Further offer samples and testers to consumers andallow them to experience your fragrances before committing to a purchase, as scent is a highly personal preference.
  • Branding and Packaging: Invest in eye-catching packaging and branding that reflects your brand’s unique identity. This will help your product stand out on the shelves and appeal to your target audience. Design aesthetics, pleasing and functional packaging reflects the quality of your perfumes.
  • Focus on Customer Experience: Focusing on customer experience in the perfume industry is crucial for building a loyal customer base and fostering brand advocacy. An immersive customer experience with personalize recommendations and simplified buying process enables building a community of loyal consumers. Remember to consistently deliver exceptional fragrances, engage with your customers, and continuously strive to exceed their expectations.
  • Stay Passionate and Persevere: Passion and perseverance are key ingredients for success in any industry, including perfumery. By staying dedicated, embracing challenges, and keeping yourself updated with the industry trends, you can thrive and make a lasting impact in the perfume industry. Staying passionate and persevering in the perfume industry is essential for long-term success.

What tips would you give to young and aspiring business owners?

Saurav Bhattacharya: If you’re a young and aspiring business owner start with a clear vision, focus and understand the P & L of the business, build a strong network, hire young and dynamic workforce and embrace digital and social media. Below are some tips:

  • Prioritizing People: To succeed in any business it is important to have the right people to present a product as they can elevate the presentation beyond the company’s capabilities. While the product may be presented by any company, the right individuals can give it a new avatar.
  • Commercial Acumen: A key skill required for any aspiring business owners is the understanding of the nuances of the business, including the intricacies of sales, marketing, and finance. Being commercially adept enables a business to maximize its potential.
  • Trend Forecasting: The ability to predict trends and anticipate market changes is vital for success. An understanding of what will work and the latest trends in the industry can help a business stay ahead of the curve.
  • Short-term Financial Returns: It’s important to ensure profitability from the first day and not just wait for long-term gains. Maximizing short-term financial returns can lead to better value delivery.
  • Enhanced Consumer Proposition: A better consumer proposition can set a business apart from its competitors. By focusing on the needs and preferences of its customers, a business can create a unique offering that stands out in the market.

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