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They Call Him The 'Masala King'

Monday, February 05, 2018
By Dominic Rebello

Dr. Dhananjay Datar, Managing Director, Al Adil Group

From running a kirana store to establishing a chain of supermarkets, it has been quite a journey for Dr. Dhananjay Datar, the Dubai-based Maharashtrian entrepreneur and Managing Director of Al Adil Group. With a dirham 450 million empire spread across the Gulf, he is now better known as the ‘Masala King’. Presently, he is targeting to add 100 Supermarkets across Gulf Countries in addition to the current number of 40 Superstores over the next two years.

His flagship food brand Peacock already sells spices, staples, jams, canned foods to serve Indian palates in Gulf countries as he seriously weighs foraying into the ready-to-eat and instant food segment. The products are mainly being sourced from his Mumbai-based company, Masala King Exports.

 He has also announced that he has set up “Dhananjay Datar Business Tycoon Of The Year Awards” to honor the best among the successful entrepreneurs from Maharashtra in their respective fields. The Award Presentation Ceremony will be held on the occasion of the release of his autobiography ‘Masala King’ at the Royal Opera House, Girgaon, Mumbai on February 6, 2018.

Dr. Datar who went to Dubai when he was just 20 to join and help his father in a newly set up a grocery store, took over the reins of the business after five years. In addition to catering to the needs of different Indian communities, he started supplying products to restaurants and five-star hotels and soon set up a larger factory and also opened newer stores in Sharjah and Abu Dhabi. Today, the Al Adil Group runs 19 supermarkets across the UAE and has two flour mills and two factories, while four new supermarkets are in the pipeline in Sharjah and Dubai.
Here's what he has to say about excelling as an 'Entrepreneur'...

You are amongst the few Indians who have taken a small business and turned it into a million dollar business, that too in an overseas market with food products. How did you get there and what is the story behind your journey from Maharashtra to the UAE?
My journey from Maharashtra to the UAE is closely aligned with the growth and development of my organization - Al Adil.  The history of Al Adil Trading Co LLC, a division of Masala King Exports (India) Pvt. Ltd. is similar to the spice traders of ancient years, who left Indian shores for the distant markets of Africa, Gulf, USA, Canada, and Europe.  Established in 1984 in Bur Dubai as a small Indian grocery store, Al Adil has flourished into a large spice empire, serving the entire GCC and beyond. The main reason that made us choose Dubai is due to its lucrative potential of having a duty free status and also its proximity to India and other parts of the world.

Al Adil Trading Co LLC has become a familiar name in every Indian household in UAE. It is a reputed grocery store that sells more than 9000 food items. We produce masalas, spices, pickles, flours, pulses and other Indian food items under the Peacock brand name. We sell packed flour in each of our outlets, which also has attached grinding mill. Catering mainly to the Indian expat community in UAE, our customers vary from households to five-star hotels, catering companies, Dubai Duty-Free, in-flight catering, hospitals and many more.

Setting up a business in a foreign country was not the easiest of tasks, but thanks to my father, Late Mahadeo Datar we managed to set it up well and have taken it this far. There were trying times but what was important is the courage with which we overcame it.  We managed to overcome every struggle with the encouragement and support of our well-wishers and customers. Having started off with just three employees, today the group employs 375 employees directly and about 500 indirectly in the UAE and in India.

How many stores do you presently have in the UAE and what are your plans for the next 3 years? Any plans of replicating your success model in India?
We have 39 stores in the GCC of which 22 are in the UAE. Today we sell more than 900o food items. In the next three years, we will expand our product range to more than 10,000 food items. Our investments will be according to the market requirements and we expect the brand to grow substantially on account of this. Our mid- to long-term plans include expansion in other GCC countries. The company’s major focus is on establishing a marked presence in the UAE by catering to the demands of predominant Indian expatriate community in the UAE while expanding its operations to other Middle East countries in the coming years. The company has also diversified into import and export under the special class establishment with imports and exports in US, Canada, Tanzania, Kenya, Switzerland, Italy, Eritrea, Kuwait, Muscat, and UAE. Al Adil also proposes to boost its growth by launching Masala King Export Trading Pvt. Ltd in UAE which would manufacture a whole range of Indian food and grocery items. We will also be giving an extra thrust to our Peacock range of products.

We are yet to take a serious call regarding having our stores in India, even though we have a manufacturing facility in India.

Your stores focus mainly on food products and Indian spices. Are all the products manufactured in-house or do you source from other manufacturers?
Yes. In Dubai Investment Park I have set up a massive 150 thousand sq ft factory to manufacture and package spices as well as flour. I also have an Indian arm named Masala King Exports in Mumbai.

You have been a recipient of a large number of awards, both Indian and International. How does it feel to be recognised as an industry leader?
Honors and recognition add more responsibility to what we do. I strongly believe that we will strive to provide enhanced value to our customers in a socially responsible manner. I am deeply indebted to all the organizations and trade bodies that have recognized my contributions by bestowing awards. It is indeed a great honor. The awards make me feel more humble and motivate me to look at my responsibilities in a much better manner. Much more than the fact that it makes me an industry leader, it gives me the confidence to do what has to be done in the right manner.  I have to do everything possible to ensure that I live up to the expectations. It is also a reflection of the dedicated team effort of our entire organization.
What drives you? How would you describe your belief system, your success model?

 While I owe my success to my father, my wife, Vandana Datar, is the driving force behind my success. She is my muse and my inspiration. She has always been able to provide me with a different perspective when it comes to my business activities. I always trust her instincts, judgment and the ability to understand the changing market dynamics. In fact, her role is much larger than what I can state and I am thankful that she is there as a pillar of strength for me.

Any advice for first-generation entrepreneurs who want to become a ‘Dhananjay Datar’?
At the outset, I do not want anyone to become another ‘Dhananjay Datar’. Each individual is different and everyone has got the potential to become better than me. Having said that as far as I am concerned I can give few pointers that I follow. I have total dedication and 100% commitment towards whatever I do and that includes my business activities too. I always believe that dreams are the catalysts that lead to success. I believe that it is essential to dream big and this will help to take the organization on a higher growth curve without compromising on the core values that I believe in. Only when you dream big with your eyes open you will be able to achieve results. Have dedication and commitment without compromising on values.My simple advice to the future entrepreneurs is to have a dream and to work hard to pursue it.

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