Interview with Ms. Shubha Rawal, Director, Head Sourcing at IG International
Ms. Shubha Rawal is the Director -Sourcing and Marketing has a dynamic career spanning over 12 years at IG International, one of the largest importers of fresh fruit in India.
Can you tell us about your background and how you got interested in the fresh fruit industry?
Shubha Rawal: Fresh fruit is always fascinating. It always looks good. It gives joy. Before I joined IG, I was working as a teacher in Delhi.
There was a lemon tree outside my classroom and from the window I could see lemons in the tree. Watching those lemons worked magic in me, especially when I was down and upset.
These fruits gave me a sense of calmness, a strength in an altogether different sense when I was agitated, or instigated.
A teacher has to go through challenging situations regularly and that’s why you see teachers screaming and all that.
With the sight of the lemon tree, I used to feel a deep peace inside me. Of course, I didn’t fully realize the mental healing power of fruits at that time, but surely fruits attracted me.
I found a natural attachment to fruits. I found a sanctuary. Some sort of protection in fruits. Later, when I did my management studies and was looking for a blue collared job, this opportunity at IG came.
And I grabbed it. Being close to fresh fruits all the time, it’s a sort of bliss. And although I am not a fruit cultivator, and that’s even more fascinating and rewarding, I am in some ways connected with the wonder of nature, and I feel great about it.
And today, as I reflect on my time spent in this industry, I feel absolutely happy that I made the right choice and that there is no better industry on earth to work in.
Kindly brief us about IG International, its specialization, and the products that it offers.
Shubha Rawal: IG International is one of the largest importers of fresh fruits in India for more than 50 years. Our history started from a very humble beginning in Jalandhar where Mr. Gyan Chand Arora, our founder Chairman had a small fruit shop.
From there to our present, the growth story of IG is truly a mix of ability and agility, of determination, commitments and ethics, of management and entrepreneurial acumen, and above all, of honesty.
Today, IG has a turnover of US$ 218 million handling over 1,200,000 Metric Tons of fresh fruits annually.
We take pride in being the pioneer of imported fruits in India. Our first container of imported apples came way back in 2002, and since then we have had more fruit containers in the ocean than on land; almost every day we have a shipment arriving.
We import fruits from the best orchards and growers and the most reputed brands from more than 22 countries across the world.
Over the years IG has invested in strengthening its distribution network that spans across India with more than 28 wholesalers placed in 22 locations all over India.
Furthermore, we have augmented our sales by creating our marketplace in e-commerce and we have one of the largest online stores in the eB2B sector for the convenience of our thousands of retailers and other bulk and institutional buyers.
The promise of quality is the brand proposition of IG. Our product, being perishable in nature, demands static temperature conditions from the farm to the customer to retain freshness and to be safe for consumption.
To maintain the quality of our product, we had to invest in temperature-controlled logistics and warehousing throughout our supply chain and today we have one of the largest cold storage chains across India.
We have built our capacity in cold storage of around 2 million square feet in 16 locations in India with 3 cold terminals to handle our imports.
We have a fleet of more than 180 reefer trucks and containers to keep our cold chain running. With the strength of our reefer fleet, we have deep penetration in the hinterland with our products reaching retailers hundreds of kilometers away from our distribution hubs.
Our product portfolio is one of the largest and most impressive. We have a wide range of exotic and licensed club variety fruits; 13 club varieties of Apples, 7 varieties of Pears, 5 varieties of Citrus, Kiwi 3 Varieties, Stone fruits, Grapes, Avocado, Blueberries, Strawberries, Cherry, Dragon Fruit, and Longan. These fruits are available at our store throughout the year.
As the world is increasingly switching over to sustainability, we have to recalibrate our business model. IG is focusing on new-age agri ventures by growing a licensed variety of imported premium fruits on Indian soil, infusing technology, and adopting controlled environmental agriculture.
We are growing the Australian variety of Blueberries in Madhya Pradesh for our domestic market as well as export.
We are also growing Apples in HP and Uttarakhand, Dragon fruit in Madhya Pradesh, Kiwi in Arunachal Pradesh, and Avocados in Telangana.
We are bringing Bioscience to our farms that make our products world-class and decimate natural limitations, the peril of failed crops from climate, pests, etc., and yet grow sustainably, replenishing water, and soil, and giving controlled output that reduces waste.
And finally, the organizational value of IG ingrained in our business ethics makes us one of the most trustworthy and reliable business partners to all our business associates, giving us a leadership position in the industry.
Can you describe your company’s current product offerings and target market?
Shubha Rawal: Our product portfolio is one of the largest and most impressive. We have a wide range of exotic and licensed club variety fruits; 13 club varieties of Apples, 7 varieties of Pears, 5 varieties of Citrus, Kiwi 3 Varieties, Stone fruits, Grapes, Avocado, Blueberries, Strawberries, Cherry, Dragon Fruit, and Longan. These fruits are available at our store throughout the year.
Imported fruits appeal to all. Being premium, it costs more. high-income group, women, and young generations are the main target group for imported fresh fruit.
Our consumers evaluate imported fresh fruit offering more value for quality, freshness, and safety it offers.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face in importing fresh fruits from other countries, and how do you address those challenges?
Pandemic-induced disruption was the greatest challenge our industry faced and yet we came out of it stronger.
This is because, in the fresh produce industry, it cultivates a certain level of resilience owing to the nature of our product. Fresh fruit that is highly perishable can become out-of-use and waste due to a number of factors that are beyond the control of the most secure systems.
For example, a refrigeration breakdown in a remote location in a distant country in the supply chain can turn out shipment waste. We have to always take into account such risks in our trade.
Secondly, the geopolitical situation the world is going through is also posing a serious threat to international trade.
With economic sanctions coming into effect, we are forced to reposition our supply chain. The volatility of the dollar price is also negatively impacting our trade.
With shipment cost skyrocketing we have to find alternative closer-to-home sources for our imports. And finally, as our consumers, as everywhere else in the world, are favouring sustainable products and becoming more climate concerned, we have to work on reducing our fruit miles. To address this issue, we are more focused now on our orchards and farms to grow those fruits in our soil.
What was the inspiration behind turning into a woman entrepreneur?
Shubha Rawal: Women. Successful women. Powerful women leaders in India and abroad; all inspire me to be in their shoes. They are my role models.
I follow their footstep and try to find out what they have done or doing differently, how their action is affecting women across all spectrum of industries, and what vision they have for our betterment.
I am a basic learner and therefore cannot claim to be a leader at all. At the best, I see myself as a follower, a disciple of these women.
Besides, women are leaders by birth. We see inspirational women all around us. In the street, in the marketplace, and in the industry, we see them in the most innovative roles.
One just needs to observe. We see our mothers in our homes. How they run the household, how they manage the household, and how they salvage the household from any crisis; we see an abundance of leadership in them.
The world is reckoning their leadership qualities and the sooner they are placed in the position they so rightly deserve, the better for the world.
How do you see the fresh fruit import industry evolving in the next 5-6 years, and how is your company positioning itself for that future?
Shubha Rawal: As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Your future depends on what you do today”, similarly our future of IG also depends on what we are doing today.
Under the able and competent leadership of our Chairman, Directors, and people at the helm of IG, we are foreseeing a splendid future, not only for ourselves but for the entire fresh produce industry.
Demand for fresh fruit would continue to grow. To meet the rising demand, the industry needs to come up with innovative solutions that are climate-friendly and at the same time affordable without compromising quality.
This can be best addressed by infusing technology into all aspects of production and distribution. With the democratization of information through the internet the consumers of tomorrow would be more conscious of what they eat. It is for the industry to keep pace with this informed consumer and design their produce accordingly.
At IG, with our focus shifting towards producing premium fruits in our soil, we are embracing agrotechnological interventions in our farms.
We are building capacity to scale up our production to meet future demand. We are keeping our eyes open while monitoring consumer behaviour and bracing ourselves to make adjustments accordingly.
Looking at the future, we are into growing premium varieties of Apples, avocados, Kiwi, Oranges, Pears, Blueberries, Strawberries, Dragon Fruit, etc. on our farms across India.
We are breeding rootstocks and saplings through tissue culture and other plant biotics in our nurseries. We are collaborating with technology firms and startups for implementing Controlled Environment Agriculture – CEA, soilless agriculture, and robotics in our farms.
We are using data science for yield predictions. In all, we are completely embracing the technological revolution in our production.
On our distribution front, we are upscaling capacity in controlled temperature warehousing and logistics, distribution hubs, and exploring newer avenues to bring more of India into our distribution network.
In the near future, IG would become a super fresh fruit brand in Asia. This is our vision for our future.
What are your success tips for young and aspiring women leaders?
Shubha Rawal: To the aspiring women leaders of tomorrow, I can only say, Belief in yourself.
You are strong because you are a woman. Grab the top position and don’t let yourself be cowed down because of your gender. The whole world needs you and only you can show direction to the world. Because you are a woman.
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