Keventers: Ending the Quest for the Best

With the rise and fall of business empires, only few hold the distinguished title of being a legacy


Gone are the days where you sat in an ice-cream shop and enjoyed a nice cold, simple milkshake. The very thought of milkshakes bringing about a feeling of nostalgia and flings one back into the past to simpler times. Entre Keventers, a name that nowadays is synonymous with milkshakes and nostalgia the world-over. What began as a simple dairy factory in the Chanakyapuri area of Delhi in 1925, has now exploded onto the international and national markets as an industry disruptor in the food and beverage sector. Keventers holds a timeless feel to its brand and is one of India’s oldest standing names in the industry. Edward Keventer could have never imagined the scale of the business’s success all those years ago and he would be proud to see how far it has come.

A Brief History of Keventers: Almost a Century in the Making

The Legacy of Keventers dates all the way back to the early 1900s, even before the first dairy manufacturing unit which would become the eponymous brand was established. In 1899 Danish dairy entrepreneur Edward Keventer came to India and began setting up dairy manufacturing units across Delhi, Aligarh, Calcutta and Darjeeling in the early 1920s. Keep in mind that it was a far cry from the classic milkshakes we know today.

Come 1925 is when things started to really take shape with the dairy unit that was established in Chanakyapuri area of Delhi which was a privately labelled dairy products company. After that, the popularity of the brand shot through the roof and remained as such even through the change in ownership after Edward Keventer passed and his nephew Werner Keventer took over the business.

By the 1940s the Keventers brand had risen through the ranks and become a prominent dairy manufacturer in India despite the turbulent times and the chaos surrounding the fight for India’s independence. After Independence the company once again changed hands and was bought by Ram Krishna Dalmia of the Dalmia Group in 1960, marking a new era in the brand’s journey.

Under new ownership, the company pivoted and underwent an aggressive revamp that still stayed true to its roots. The plant was refitted with a more modernised structure (modern at the time that is) and was making use of the latest machinery for milk bottling and pasteurising. These efforts made Keventers famous for its milk and ghee products and even led to the expansion of the manufacturing of ice-creams. By the 1970s the brand was at its peak and was popularly termed as ‘Keventer’s Shake’. The demand was so high in fact that Keventers had 48 distributors and stockists, this distribution network was on par with that of the demand for fresh milk products.

This forced the company to invest in the production of less perishable products that could achieve wider distribution to keep up with the demand. As a result, even the Indian army began using Keventers’ milk powder and condensed milk.

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As it is with every business the landscape around it is constantly changing and so too does the feasibility of operations, Keventers managed to ride out that change and came back stronger than ever.

Sohrab Sitaram Agastya Dalmia and Aman Arora: The People Responsible for Keventers' Re-launch

A Bump in the Road

As it is with every business, there are bound to be setbacks and this came in the form of time and change for Keventers. As New Delhi changed with time so did the area of Chanakyapuri where the factory was located. It morphed into a residential area from the industrial locality that it once was and with that Keventers was no longer able to operate the factory there leading to its doors closing.

Fast-forward decades later to 2015 and Keventers was being pulled from beyond the brink by the Grandson of Ram Krishna Dalmia, Agastya Dalmia. Though the initial relaunch was a failure, he persisted and tried again, this time with the aid of Aman Arora and hospitality consultant Sohrab Sitaram who now sits as the CEO of the company.

Pivoting and Revamping: An Innovative Business Strategy

The Challenges Keventers Faced Starting out the Gate

One of the biggest challenges that the company had to overcome in the wake of this pivot was trying to bring their image back to life, in the sense that, since the company closed its doors up until it was relaunched the activity in the market was practically non-existent and people needed reminding. While the brand was very well known amongst the Gen-X, the challenge lay in bringing out that brand presence and recall value amongst the Gen-Y demographic as well.

The second issue that they faced was tracking down the original recipe to bring back the originality and authenticity. Though Keventers managed to track down the original recipe, the challenge of boosting brand recognition remained; the solution was franchising.

Franchising Keventers: A Big Step in the Right Direction

The franchising model was adopted to spread the brand presence across the country while simultaneously carving out a niche category for itself in the milkshake business. What made this franchising model so successful was that it operated under the premise of outsourcing the selling rights to major market players and gave them permission to open outlets across a specific city.

This garnered so much success that the master franchising plan was expanded to foreign countries like (Nairobi) Kenya, the United States, Nepal, UAE (United Arab Emirates) and even Oman. Now the company proudly holds footing in over 70 cities across four countries. With over 200 outlets under its brand by the year 2019 and looking to expand to 100 more outlets in Nepal and West Asia, the brand was thriving.

Refining the Product for the Modern Customer

The Franchising aside Keventers revamped the old classic milkshake and added some modern twists to it. The first change was to the packaging itself. In order to maintain authenticity and that nostalgia factor in a modern world, they moved back to the old ways of selling milkshakes in classy glass bottles rather than the PVC cups used prior. This change came with a sleek logo and it is reusable for the modern environment-conscious crowd. This had the side-effect of turning the bottles into somewhat of a collector’s item.

Coming to the contents within the bottle, the meat of the story, or milkshake, in this case, Keventers introduced flavours. To be more specific, it introduced a wide range of flavours from Butterscotch, Chocolate and Strawberry, of the original old-school recipe to chocolate mint Oreo, Banoffee and even KitKat for the younger generation (A something-for-everyone approach). 

Handling Financials in a Smart Way

In its initial stages of the relaunch the company started small by not investing much in expansion but as demand and popularity grew so did the need for a Franchise model. By April of 2016, the brand started selling master franchise rights and this was a smart way to expand without having to invest too much money from the company’s side.

According to a TEDx Report, in just over three years since the relaunch in 2015, the company was clocking in with a turnover of almost Rs 100 crores in 2018. With a buy-in amount of Rs 25 to 30 lakhs for the franchising outlets, around 50 per cent of the company’s revenue comes from this, while the rest comes from percentages of monthly sales and brand royalties.

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Re-entering a market after years of inactivity brings with it some major challenges. Keventers recognised this obstacle and made some wise decisions that lent themselves to making the brand a front-runner.

Keventers’ Re-entry: Taking the Market by Storm

With all its revamping and re-launch efforts Keventers was entering the competitive market after a long time. It also entered the arena around the time when fast-foods and similar beverage/milkshake-type businesses were entering the market. One of its biggest competitors to date also made its debut around the same time in 2017. Fair to say that it was a very saturated marketplace to make a comeback in.

Keventers persisted nonetheless and it succeeded for two reasons, it was one of a kind with its unique and classic bottle packaging and the fact that it is a brand nearly a century in the making. This sense of timelessness that the other players did not have put Keventers in a league of its own, which made re-entry easier.

Another factor to consider was that Keventers was positioned at a slightly more premium brand and price than the competition across Tier one, two and three cities. These two factors carved out a decently-sized lane for the brand despite the heavy competition from players like the aforementioned Frozen Bottle and Amul.

The Marketing strategies and tactics aside one thing that makes Keventers stand out in the industry is the clientele it caters to. As mentioned before this particularly concerns the Gen-X and Gen-Y demographic, where the brand has a line into the older audience who come back for the pure nostalgia of the milkshake while the newer audience comes for the ‘hype factor’ and the classy, modern packaging which lends a sense of aged authenticity to the product and franchise.

Keventers: The milkshake legacy older than India's Independence

Keventers: Surviving Through the Decades

Not many businesses in the food and beverage industry or any industry for that matter can claim that they have been around so long that they have seen the Independence of India. It is a rare and distinguishing mark for a brand to have been so intertwined with the history of the country and its economy, yet here we are.

As to the question of how this brand has survived all these decades and still managed to beat out a lot of the modern players, the answer is quite simple- time and experience. There is something to be said about having the time to see the market change and morph over time, it gives a unique insight into the patterns and trends. One such recent trend that Keventers jumped on was that of the pandemic by bringing safety regulations and safe practices to its franchise model with safety seals on all their bottles, temperature checks, in-store handwash stations, no contact preparation for their ice-creams and taking it a step further by making sure that even delivery personnel were following safety protocols.

There is also the factor of the genius moves imparted by the owners and CEO of the company to consider.

Shorab Sitaram, the current CEO and the man behind the relaunch of the company is the reason for the level to which the business has scaled up, both nationally and internationally. Having worked with big names such as Laid Back Waters, Tabula Rasa, Chi Asian Cookhouse and Chatter House, he was the ideal person for the job and was brought on in the nick of time by the owners Agastya and Aman.

His proactive and aggressive strategies such as the revamping of packaging, better demographic targeting and introduction of new and exciting flavours for a new audience helped put the Keventers name back on the map. The first outlet of the revamp hit the market in Select Citywalk in Saket as the flagship of the campaign and the rest is history.

With plans to expand to Switzerland and London, it looks as if there is nothing holding this brand back, which says a lot considering it was on the brink of fading into obscurity just a few years back. In essence, it showcases the company’s ability to adapt and change with the times by staying on top of the latest happenings in the industry, a holistic approach if you will.

It is this kind of growth and smart business decisions that puts on full display the potential for growth that the Indian economy can facilitate. As they say, where there is a will, there is a way.

For more inspiring stories do read our Inspire section.

Kiran Kennedy
Kiran Kennedy
Kiran is business journalist, at present he is assistant editor at Dutch Uncles. He writes on entrepreneurship, business life cycle, startups, government policies, finance and Indian economy.

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