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India’s vast coastlines make it one of the largest markets for aquaculture, bustling with competitions and innovations. Yet you’ll rarely find someone as growth-focused and forward-thinking as Venkat Rao Nekkanti, the Managing Director of Nekkanti Sea Foods.
“In the past 10 years the Indian seafood industry has grown five times, but we have grown about 25 times,” he explains, crediting the exponential growth of the company on a shift of perspectives. “The strong fundamentals we’ve been built on don’t focus too much on the top line. Instead we have changed it to a value-based relationship.
“In the next 12–18 months our focus is on redrafting our standard operating procedures and achieving operational efficiencies. With technology-led changes, we have been implementing digitisation across the organisation, RFID tech at warehouse level, very high precision and accurate grading using vision technology.”
In 15 years of working with the company, Venkat has come across many challenges, but none so critical as COVID-19. However, he has a fresh perspective towards them. “Within the challenges lies the opportunity to completely redesign the whole thing,” he points out. “This year, in spite of the pandemic, we’re targeting 50 per cent year-on-year growth.”
“Within the challenges lies the opportunity to completely redesign the whole thing.”
When asked about the secret behind the resilience of the company, Venkat reiterates the importance of fostering tight-knit and value-based relationships.
“We have to be as valuable to the customers as they are to us,” he stresses. “This applies downstream to our suppliers – we have to be equally valuable, and that’s what we have been following.”
Seafood, being seasonal and perishable, poses a multitude of challenges for the supply chain – something Venkat has been working on over the years.
As the company expands, it takes the onus of helping its suppliers and farmers during the off-season. “If I tie up with them during the peak season, I have to support them during the off-season. It all falls back onto me,” he explains.
Looking after each other and growing more involved with suppliers and farmers has paid dividends for the business. “We’re looking at backward integration with farmers and our belief is in inclusive growth,” Venkat says, adding that Nekkanti Sea Foods has funded its suppliers’ best aquaculture practices accreditation processes and also given year-long assurance. “Nekkanti receives their harvest at any given time and any given count.”
Venkat is empowering the farmers and suppliers to do more and grow alongside the company. “We have a pool of over 5000 acres operated by several farmers and this pool is rapidly growing,” he says.
He believes this to be a key differentiator along with a focus on quality, even if it means spending more money. “My philosophy is that despite being at a slight premium to the market, if we’re giving the right service and staying true to our word, it pays off in the long run.”
Venkat gives the example of the freight lines that have helped the company soar amid the COVID-19 pandemic. “Within the seafood industry we have the highest number of container contracts. That was not because we anticipated this year, but because of the longstanding relationships that we have with these liners. We have been supporting them continuously and they’ve come back to do it for us this year. All the relationships over the years have actually benefited us in one year,” he reflects.
“All the relationships over the years have actually benefited us in one year.”
This is a lesson that has been translated into the company’s top line. Nekkanti Sea Foods is on track to earn revenue north of INR 22.5 billion (US$300 million) in the 2022 fiscal year. The rapid growth, coupled with a strong partner base, has fuelled Venkat’s vision for global domination within the next decade. “The idea is, with the economy and everything opening up so much, and India being the capital of aquaculture, why can’t we create the largest seafood company? That’s really what we are focusing on. And that’s really the story I want to tell 10 years from now.”