After foraying into the country’s retail market and getting a toehold abroad, producers of Assam’s arecanut leaf plates are eyeing a share of the global market.
“We plan to net a turnover of Rs 10 crore from the present level of Rs 70 lakh in the next five years and also get into the export market, which will constitute 20 per cent of the plate sales,” Arindam Dasgupta, CEO of Tamul Plates Marketing Private Limited, told The Telegraph.
The Barpeta-based company has already bagged orders from the US and Canada, encouraging it to further tap the export market besides increasing its domestic presence.
Dhriiti, an NGO, started the areca nut leaf plate project in 2005. Subsequently, the villagers of the area who produced disposable plates using the areca nut leaf sheath teamed up with entrepreneurs to found Tamul Plates Marketing Pvt Ltd, which now looks after the marketing and other aspects of the business.
The company provides 100 per cent buyback guarantee to the plate producers and purchases their products on a weekly basis. Payments are made immediately based on a price set jointly by the two sides. “The company has a very stringent quality control process where each and every product procured is checked and graded according to quality. It absorbs the market shocks and lets the producer concentrate on the production aspects,” Dasgupta said.
He said demand was huge for the plates and there was an urgent need to increase production. “We sold 25 lakh pieces in 2012-13.”
The company has 10 wholesalers — one each in Guwahati, Tura and Dimapur, two in Delhi, two in Punjab, one in Patna, one in Mumbai and one in Calcutta. The retail chain, Spencers, is also selling the company’s plates in some of its stores, while plans are afoot to make it available in more retail stores across the country.
Its main competitors are producers based in Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
“There is also a suppy shortfall of bio-degradable disposables in the food service industry. It is estimated that eco-friendly biodegradable material manufacturers will occupy close to 10 per cent of the $32-billion disposables’ market in the food service sector. We would like to tap the huge natural resource potential available in this region and promote an eco-friendly product to provide employment to rural youth of this region,” Dasgupta said.
While admitting that their pricing was much higher than plastic or styrofoam products, being almost double in some cases, he said, “We are not catering to that market. Our target is the high-end market and to provide quality products to the customers. Our pricing is even higher than our southern competitors as we pay a fair trade price to the producers and raw material collectors. The procurement prices have increased by more than 200 per cent over the last five years.
“We do not have any fear of declining areca nut cultivation. At present, we are not even tapping 10 per cent of the available plantations in Assam. So we have lot of ground to cover,” Dasgupta added.