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Just a few moments into a conversation with Mr.Pawan Kumar, MD, Sprint Exports Pvt Ltd., (SEPL), and you know he means business. It is no surprise at all that he has made it big in the world of exports in less than a decade. The sure footed Pawan has been clear in his thought and firm in step right from the childhood on two issues - a) He has to be an entrepreneur and b) He has to live in his native land. If it is passion that has driven him to trade world, it is patriotism that keeps him chained to India. This clarity spills into his speech too. Neither does he use an extra word nor does he skip a minute detail. Keeping his narrative absolutely jargon-free, precise and crisp, he walks us through the seafood export scenario in general and his own accomplishments in particular. He makes the dry technical recitation so interesting that the hour slips off in a jiffy.

The trajectory
When I returned home, after obtaining an MBA degree from Halls University, London, U.K, I found a great potential in the seafood export industry. So I took the plunge, taking a processing unit on lease in Bhimavaram, the stronghold of aquaculture, in 2004. Shuttling between Vizag and Bhimavaram, I used to fulfill my filial and trade obligations. We started on a low key, sending just a few containers and accounting for less than Rs.5 cr turnover. We were dealing with small volumes till I established my own facility at Anandapuram in 2011.
I bought a sick unit - Suvarna Rekha and set up my processing facility, after giving it a massive facelift. Our turnover doubled with every passing year and in 2017-18, we touched Rs.760 cr.

Leaps and bounds
It has been a great going for seafood exporters in India for the past few years. Introduction of vannamei shrimp variety has ushered in glad tidings. Andhra farmers, who are highly innovative, evolved their own technology. The phenomenal growth in volumes saw Guntur, Krishna and East and West Godavari districts emerging as the lucrative centers. India is the largest vannamei producer and AP accounts for 60% of the vannamei produce.

Bitter lesson
We started our business in the domestic market in 2004. Setting up an office in Delhi, we used to distribute seafood to J&K, Jaipur, Bhopal, Lucknow, Kanpur and Meerut. We even supplied our retailers with freezing units. Much to our chagrin, we found them switching it off in the nights to save electricity, which led to the rotting of the shrimps. They would return the consignment saying that it was highly perishable. That was when we decided to turn our attention to exports. Perhaps we were too early into the domestic market and hence, burnt our fingers.

Domestic market
Shrimp as an important seafood is gradually catching up. If Indian market evolves, there is no need for us to look at foreign shores for trade prospects. There are quite a few factors that are coming in the way.
a) Our market is not yet ready or mature enough to accept shrimp as a delicacy.
b) Indians are basically chicken and mutton lovers.
c) It is considered the rich man’s food, which is a misconception.
d) Consumers often go for the raw products available in the local market instead of clean seafood which is hygienically processed and frozen. They don’t realise that there is barely any cost difference.

We procure shrimp from farmers or agents who finance the farmers. We have a 40-man team that regularly visits the hinterland. 25 microbiologists check the produce before picking it up. We have 200 acres of land dedicated to shrimp culture. But what we produce is miniscule compared to what we export.

Meeting EU standards
We are always geared up for any scrutiny- both at home and abroad. Our extensive world tours help us understand the varied demands of people in terms of quality & content. We see to it that knowledge percolates to the people working at the ground level. We have our QC & QA teams conducting seminars to familiarize our workforce with the latest developments.

Strategy to tackle volatile market
It is a supply-demand concept. Initially, we were affected by the vagaries of the market. But over the years, we have learnt to predict which side the wind is blowing. Shrimp grows in tropical conditions so market peaks between April and July. The peaks take care of the low demand period.

Two major issues are worrisome -
a) Acquiring the labour and retaining them, and b) A few trade barriers. However, we have adopted attractive welfare measures to keep our flock. Nearly 400 employees live on the premises. We have set up a state-of the-art kitchen to provide three meals a day at subsidized costs. We take care of their health and education of their children. Things have changed for better after demonetization as the entire financial transactions are done through banks. We have opened 1500 accounts and made the bank set up an ATM. Women, who constitute 75% of our work force, are happy with this facility as it enables to keep a check on their spending. We built factories closure to fishing villages that are replete with people who are naturally skilled and provide them employment at their doorstep.

We have been urging the state to make a few policy changes to take the exports to the next level. If they are enforced, we need not remain as glorified material suppliers. We can add value to our product and be on par with countries like China which takes raw material from us and exports it to others, after value-addition.

CSR activities
We have tied up with Akshaya Patra and have been feeding 700 kids every day, besides donating a vehicle to it, to supply food. We plan to extend this mid-day meal scheme to all the schools around our factory. We have appointed a teacher, besides donating a few computers to a school. We aid the deaf and dumb school and tied up with Visakha Eye hospital and Mahatma Gandhi Cancer Hospital to help the underprivileged.

Future plans
We have set up a 2 mega watt-solar power plant. We are building a hatchery and yet another factory and want to step into the value-addition arena in a big way.

Personal note
My brothers Shiv and Raj, and sister Shyamala, are closely-knit under the care of our parents Mr.Rao and Mrs.Lalitha. With my wife Bhargavi taking care of our boys, Gautham and Rohit, I can unobtrusively take care of my business, which involves a lot of travel.

Memorable journey
Except for an unfulfilled dream to join the Army, it has been a smooth sail. I took the plunge, without knowing how deep the waters ran. This risky adventure paid me rich dividends.

Beyond business
I enjoy a good social life & am an active member of Round Table RTI 92, served as the Treasurer of AP Seafood Association for two terms. I am the Secretary of the AP Seafood Association.

• Established in 2005 and drawing its name from the first letters of the dynamic Gunturu brothers, Shiv Kumar, Pawan Kumar and Raj Kumar, SPRint Exports has occupied a celebrated niche in the export market.
• From its humble beginnings, operating from a leased facility, it has come a long way, setting up processing facilities in Vizag and Bhimavaram.
• Provides direct and indirect employment to 2000 people.
• Exports substantial quantities of Vannamei, Black Tigers and Sea Caught Shrimps in various product forms like raw, PD Tail-on & Off, Easy Peel, Head-on & Head Less in block and IQF packs.
• Has purchase centers and infrastructure facilities like ice plants spread across coast of Andhra Pradesh.
• A fleet of insulated trucks transport raw material. The finished product is transported in reefer containers to Visakhapatnam Port or to Chennai Port.
• Enjoys the Food Safety Certificates, HACCP, FDA, EU, BRC & BAP and Social Accountability Certificates of Walmart, Kroger, Safeway and SA8000.
• Exports to USA, European Union, Canada, South Africa, Middle East, China, Vietnam and Japan.
• Its brands are Sprint Gold, Sprint Premium, Sprint Gold Premium and Cape Classic.
• Supplies to famous retail chains like Kroger, Wal-mart.

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