Authentic Tastes from India

Nanak Foods

Today, Nanak Foods has become one of the largest manufacturers of dairy based Indian foods in North America. Mr Taneja spoke with us about what it means to serve this market, his company’s plans for expansion, and how traditional Indian fare is entering the mainstream.

Vineet moved to Canada in 1993 from New Delhi. His father and brother are both engineers and were in the business of manufacturing dairy equipment, giving Vineet a good knowledge of the dairy industry. While at his first job in B.C., as a manager at Future Shop, he started thinking about opportunities to start a business. He noticed a big gap in the ethnic products market, both here and in the United States, and decided to start up a small dairy plant, enlisting his friend Gurpreet Arneja as a partner. Gurpreet was already an entrepreneur in multiple businesses, however, as the company grew, Gurpreet came in to Nanak full time to help with the company’s rapid expansion.

One of the most challenging products to make on a large scale is a dessert called Rasmalai. In simple terms, it is a sweet, soft cheese patty in a cardamom flavoured cream sauce. It is, however, anything but simple to make. “The process is quite intense and the shelf life is very critical on this product,” Vineet explains. “Normally, back home in India, it is made in very small quantities by small bakeries.” It starts with making the soft cheese which is cooked as a patty in sugar syrup for twelve hours. A sweetened milk sauce is cooked and evaporated to thicken. Flavours are then added and the dessert is assembled. Typically the shelf life of this product is just twenty-four hours. So, how can the texture be reproduced but the product kept fresh for longer periods of time?

“We did a lot of R&D on Rasmalai and came up with a continuous process for making patties along with a continuous manufacturing process for the Rasmalai. The shelf life we achieved with today’s technology and packaging gave it a shelf life of sixty-seven days at refrigerated temperatures and one year at frozen temperatures. However, when purchased frozen, the consumer has 60 days to consume while storing at refrigerated temperatures.” The integrity, quality and texture of the product do not change so Nanak can ship overseas to markets such as Singapore and Australia in frozen format. “It’s all about the taste and texture.” The process does not use preservatives but rather it is the unique processing and packing method developed after extensive R & D.

Nanak has used these same innovative technologies to make other difficult to make foods. Kaju Katli is a fudge-like sweet similar to marzipan but made from cashew instead of almond. “We developed this product using the complete automated line,” Vineet explains. “This is such a lightweight product that, to sell, it has to be produced in large quantities. So what we did was to put up a complete automated line with technologies from Japan, Canada, Germany and the U.S. – all are combined. Four different companies were involved in the project.” With this automated technology, the company can produce approximately six hundred and forty pieces per minute. Sophisticated packaging is also used to maintain shelf life and freshness.

In the past five to six years, Nanak has invested close to $20 million in land, building, equipment and technologies to improve its production and packaging. “This way we can produce more and be as efficient as possible.” This efficiency has been necessary to meet the growing demand from markets around the world, including Singapore, Australia, Germany, Japan, South Africa and Mauritius. “We export all over the world because the taste for Indian food has grown,” Vineet explains. “Also the availability of the product will retain the taste and freshness. That’s what we bring to the table – pure ingredients.”

The Nanak name means purity and the company works hard to maintain this. “We take a lot of pride and make sure that we do not compromise on any ingredient that we use and produce the best quality product that we can,” while the company’s technology ensures that this level of freshness reaches consumers. The company guarantees that a product produced today will have the same quality six months from now.

Currently, Nanak is all over North America and worldwide, but the main goal of the next five years is to export to India. The biggest issue is the tariff barrier; the market is substantial but very price sensitive. Nanak uses technology that no one in India currently has, so the goal is to create a joint venture and build a plant there. “I recognize that there is a market [of customers] which would spend that kind of money, especially seeing that the ingredients are from Canada,” Vineet explains. “But with government controls such as duties on imports that might be a hindrance to do the complete line. It is a form of trade protectionism and there are political aspects to deal with.”

According to Vineet, the quality of food in Canada is better than what one would typically find in India. This is a result of the ingredients, hygiene and consistency of product. Products from Canada are also preferred as the base ingredients are of high quality due to government standards. In 99 percent of the products that Nanak makes, milk is the first ingredient. If the quality of the milk is excellent then the product is also excellent.

Vineet is quite proud of his team. It started with just three individuals and all of the original team members are still with the company today. ”We take a lot of pride in our teamwork and people have been with us for fourteen to fifteen years. Every department – whether it is Research and Development, Quality Control, Logistics, etc. – people take pride in ownership. I am very fortunate to have a team like this where I can blindly trust their abilities to manage the company. They take full ownership and really work hard.”

Nanak’s focus on quality and innovation has been recognized and honoured in the industry. “The biggest [award] that I personally feel was a major achievement was the B.C. Export Awards,” shares Vineet.” It was a big achievement because the companies that were nominated were all huge companies; much bigger than ours! So just to be nominated in that category and to win was very big for us.”

The latest recognition the company has received is for its Rasmalai product. In 2011, Nanak exhibited in Germany at Anuga, the largest food trade show in the world; thousands of world class companies go there to exhibit and Nanak was awarded Top Innovative Product for its Rasmalai. The Rasmalai was also featured on the top page of the trade show booklet given to attendees.

Some of the other top products in the Nanak Foods portfolio include Paneer (a type of Indian cheese), Gulabjamun (a dumpling in a sugar syrup), Aloo Tikki (a spiced potato patty) and the aforementioned Rasmalai dessert. Vineet recommends any of these products as a good way to start enjoying authentic Indian store bought foods.

Vineet wants curious consumers to know that, “Indian food is becoming more and more popular. It’s entering the mainstream stores like Wal-Mart, Loblaws, Save-On-Foods, Thriftys and Safeway. Costco is also wanting to carry an Indian product range. One thing that we can proudly say is that there is nobody who can consistently supply any of these chain stores, except us, in terms of quality and the volumes they are looking for worldwide. It is becoming a part of popular culture food. It is becoming more of a norm despite the difference in taste when compared to traditional fare.”

Nanak also has a few new products in development, to be launched within the next four to five months. Its research and development team is constantly looking for new ways to present the public with exciting Indian flavours.

The company’s passion for quality ingredients and new flavours continues to drive it forward. Due to the ever growing popularity of Indian foods, Nanak will surely continue to win awards and blaze a trail for Indian food to enter the mainstream.

June 22, 2018, 6:40 PM EDT

A Proactive Approach to Resolving a Longstanding Debate

About forty skilled Central and South American workers from Ecuador, Peru, Columbia and Costa Rica came to British Columbia, Canada as temporary foreign workers (TFWs) in 2006. This story incited Labourers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) call for reforms to Canada’s TFW program (TFWP) and the International Mobility Program (IMP). LiUNA, a powerful voice within the construction industry with over half a million members – 110,000 of whom are in Canada – has been the only Canadian union to address the issue.