A young spice trader from Bardhaman district in West Bengal nurtured the dream to expand laterally and grow rapidly. Little did he realize that his vision would one day change the landscape of the spice trade of Bengal. The young businessman, Krishna Chandra Dutta, left the village of his birth for Sutanuti, one of the three villages that comprised Kolkata, to set up a trading base and soon established himself as one of the most promising spice traders of the city. This was the time when business deals were hooked, booked and cooked at the weekly haats, which were makeshift market places.
During this time, the spice business was gathering momentum. Spices arrived by the boats from places as far away as Rangoon (Myanmar) and North Bihar. Krishna Chandra later handed over the business to his son Natabar Chandra Dutta, who conducted it successfully but in 1918, he suddenly passed away only to be survived by three very young sons. The business was temporarily managed by his brotherin-law, till Natabar’s eldest son, Judhisthir Dutta took over. India was free from the British Raj and was trying to rebuild her economy through industrialization.
Judhisthir nurtured the idea of selling freshly ground spices of high quality in small pouches to household consumers as an exclusive option. He believed that it will catch on as it will save a lot of time for the women in the kitchen. His was the first shop which started selling fresh ground spices to the consumers, which became popular as ‘Kisto Dutta-r Mashla’. In the next five years, the concept paid off.
How Cookme was Born?
Thus a phenomenon called ‘Cookme’ was born in 1958. The first branded spices to find a place in Bengali households. Today, Atanu Dutta, son of Judhisthir Dutta, is the driving force behind Cookme. Atanu, now 63, always had a distinct style of doing business. Immediately after joining the company in 1972, he spent time understanding the Indian taste buds and eventually arrived at his own theory of spices. Ready-to-cook paste was Atanu’s effort that created another breakthrough. He said, “Women were increasingly getting busy with their professional lives. This shift in social behaviour gave birth to the idea of ready-tocook spices. I identified the tremendous opportunity of this line of products and in 1980.
There after, Cookme launched a variety of ready to-cook pastes with oil base starting with mustard and poppy seed (posto) pastes in the market.” Now, his son Subhamoy and daughter-inlaw Stuti have joined Atanu in the family business and are bringing in new ideas to it.
The GenNext Solution
Atanu believes that each spice has a distinctive feature which determines its ability to mix and match with other spices giving a resultant effect. To delve deeper into this domain he set up research and development laboratories in Kolkata and Bangalore. In 1993, JD Marketing Pvt Ltd was established with its headquarters in Bengaluru to establish Cookme as a national brand. The company soon started production as well as marketing it. In yet another innovative venture, Atanu is all set to launch another new product.
He informs, “With more and younger people living on their own, cooking has become a compulsion than choice. Given their paucity of time and lack of knowledge in measurement, we are planning to launch spice tablets.” Subhamoy Dutta the present generation of the Cookme clan is now ideating ready to eat line of products at Cookme.
(This article was first published in the April issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. To subscribe, click here)