For a healthy body, food is more than an element of nourishment. It is the flame that keeps the spirit inflamed and alive. Similarly, for the two oldest civilizations of India and Italy, vegetarian and vegan foods are more than a Mediterranean linking element. It is a deep-rooted philosophy of linking health directly to the high preference for fresh, original, unadulterated, and vegetarian diets followed in both geographies six and a half thousand kilometres apart.
Connecting these two distant cultures apart in its culinary ethos is Gujarat-based Little Italy Group. You are very eager to know more about this company. In our exclusive interview with Mr Amrut Mehta, the Managing Director, we asked him to quench your thirst for curiosity, and he obliged. Highlights of that deliciously healthy discussion are given herein.
As a food product trailblazer, could you take us back to the beginning of your journey? What motivated you to step into this dynamic field?
My foray into the food products industry was deeply inspired by my childhood, where I grew up idolizing my father—a dedicated restaurateur. His passion for culinary excellence and the vibrant energy of our family restaurants captivated me from a very young age. I spent countless hours in those bustling spaces, absorbing the sights, sounds, and smells that would eventually shape my career path.
Surrounded by the hum of the kitchen and the joy of satisfied customers, my curiosity and appetite for knowledge grew. I was constantly inquisitive, asking questions and learning the intricacies of the restaurant business. This environment nurtured my love for the industry and sowed the seeds for my future ambitions.
After completing my studies in hospitality management, I sought to broaden my horizons and gain a global perspective. I gained invaluable experience working and studying in London and Dubai, two cities at the forefront of culinary innovation. These experiences honed my skills and expanded my understanding of diverse culinary traditions and business practices.
In 2017, I took the significant step of joining the family business, bringing a blend of reverence for our legacy and a vision for the future. My goal was to walk in my father’s footsteps and forge my own path, taking our company to new heights. With a foundation built on years of observation and learning and a global perspective from my international experience, I was ready to contribute to and transform our family business in an ever-evolving and dynamic industry.
Little Italy Group has emerged as one of The Best Indian Firms Offering the Finest Vegan and Jain Products. Could you share the guiding philosophy that has propelled your organization’s success?
The history of Little Italy dates back to 1989, when it started as India’s first standalone Italian restaurant. It was founded by my father, a Gujarati businessman and an Italian chef who was a disciple of Osho at the Osho commune in Pune. The Osho commune and the disciples followed a Sattvic diet, and my father, being a Gujarati, was a vegetarian, too. So their ideologies matched in creating something that stayed true to their beliefs: vegetarian cuisine, and that’s how it started. Fortunately, in India, we have a big community of vegetarians and Jains. So, we adapted our recipes accordingly. Over the years, we have incorporated Vegan, gluten-free, and other dishes that complement our vegetarian food but stay true to our ideology and philosophy. Also, it’s interesting to know that Italy has an abundance of amazing produce and a rich vegetarian culture; they follow a Mediterranean diet, which naturally emphasizes fresh, seasonal vegetables. We take pride in sourcing the best local produce to create vegetarian dishes that are both flavorful and wholesome, reflecting the true essence of Italian culinary art.
The vegan and Jain food products landscape is continually evolving. How do you ensure that Little Italy remains adaptable and ahead of industry trends, providing healthy and tasty products to the market?
Our approach to staying at the forefront of the vegan and Jain food product industry hinges on three key strategies: trend analysis, continuous innovation, and proactive customer engagement. We diligently monitor emerging trends within the food sector, ensuring that our product development pipeline reflects the latest consumer demands and dietary advancements. By investing in cutting-edge research and embracing novel ingredients and technologies, we craft offerings that not only meet but exceed market expectations. Furthermore, we maintain an open dialogue with our customers, valuing their insights, which guide our efforts in refining and expanding our product range to deliver healthful, delectable options that lead the market.
Your leadership style is often recognized as a driving force behind Little Italy’s achievements. Could you shed light on your approach to leadership and team building within the organization?
As a leader, I am deeply committed to exemplifying the ethos of integrity, diligence, and innovation that drives our company. A positive work environment is the crucible for transformative ideas and breakthroughs; my role is to foster such an atmosphere. My leadership style is about rolling up my sleeves and facing challenges head-on alongside my team, demonstrating that every barrier is a chance to excel and redefine our limits. With a clear vision for the future, I am dedicated to steering our company to unprecedented success while ensuring every team member has the opportunity to grow, learn, and evolve. Together, we’re not just reaching milestones but setting new standards and expanding what’s possible.
The essence of the vegan food industry lies in seamless procurement operations and the creation of nationally benchmarked products. How does Little Italy strike a balance between operational efficiency and standards adherence?
We balance operational efficiency and standards adherence through meticulous supply chain management and stringent quality control measures. Our procurement operations prioritize sourcing high-quality ingredients while also maintaining cost-effectiveness. This allows us to create nationally benchmarked vegan products that meet both industry standards and consumer expectations.
Sustainability and environmental responsibility are crucial aspects of the modern food industry. How does Little Italy Express Foods integrate these principles into its operations and contribute to a sustainable future?
Our company’s commitment to the environment is unwavering and at the core of every decision. We are actively working towards becoming carbon neutral within the next three to five years, a goal that informs our strategic planning and daily operations. Our efforts are rooted in a green philosophy encompassing every aspect of our business—from sourcing ingredients sustainably to implementing energy-efficient processes and choosing eco-friendly packaging. We are not just adopting existing best practices but are also innovating new ones that align with our vision for a sustainable future. By integrating these principles holistically, we are dedicated to reducing our carbon footprint and contributing positively to environmental stewardship.
Technology plays a pivotal role in enhancing processes and products in the food industry. How does Little Italy leverage technology to optimize its functioning and stay ahead in a digital age?
Our company is deeply invested in leveraging cutting-edge technology to refine and elevate every facet of our operations. At the heart of our production ecosystem are state-of-the-art machines, pivotal in manufacturing high-quality products with utmost efficiency. These advanced systems enhance our manufacturing capabilities and ensure that we can scale and adapt with agility.
In quality control, we employ sophisticated technology, including AI-powered cameras and sensors, to meticulously monitor our operations. This ensures that every product meets our stringent standards for quality and consistency. The use of AI extends to providing real-time data insights, allowing us to optimize our processes, implement cost control measures, and respond swiftly to any operational nuances.
Beyond production, we are attuned to the evolving digital marketing landscape, utilizing technology to connect with our customers and tailor our offerings to their preferences. By integrating these technological solutions, we stay ahead in a digital age and reinforce our commitment to excellence and innovation in the food industry.
Our company’s technological integration goes beyond manufacturing; we are committed to digital excellence across all facets of our business. We’ve developed bespoke applications that enable seamless monitoring of our systems, ensuring that every aspect of our supply chain is optimized for efficiency and sustainability. These apps provide our team with real-time data, from production line analytics to distribution logistics, empowering us to make informed decisions swiftly.
The workforce is the cornerstone of any successful organization. How does Little Italy Express Foods foster a culture of growth, skill development, and empowerment among its employees?
We foster a culture of growth, skill development, and empowerment among our employees through ongoing training programs, mentorship opportunities, and encouraging creative problem-solving. We prioritize their career growth and ensure their voices are heard, empowering them to contribute to the organization’s success and professional development.
As a leader in India’s veg and Jain food sector, Little Italy Groups has likely faced its share of challenges. Could you share an instance where your team’s resilience and ingenuity triumphed over adversity?
During the challenging COVID years, our company faced unprecedented uncertainty that tested our resilience and demanded swift adaptation. As the pandemic disrupted traditional dining experiences, we recognized the need to innovate and pivot our business model to continue serving our customers. Our team rolled their sleeves and embraced the challenge with determination and creativity.
We quickly transitioned to a robust takeout and delivery service, reimagining our menu to include dishes that could travel well without compromising quality. We also introduced contactless delivery options and enhanced our online ordering system to ensure a seamless customer experience. Our team worked tirelessly, often in a remote and distributed manner, maintaining a strong bond and unwavering commitment to each other’s health and safety.
Through our collective efforts, we sustained our operations and found new ways to connect with our customers and bring joy through our food. This period of adversity became a testament to our team’s ingenuity and solidarity as we persisted in meeting our goal of making our customers happy despite the odds. It was a profound demonstration of our team’s ability to navigate through the storm with one unifying vision: to continue delivering the warmth and comfort of our food to those we serve.
Looking to the future, what is your vision for Little Italy Group? How do you aspire to continue making a significant impact on India’s vegan and Jain food landscape?
Looking ahead, our vision for the company is to deepen our imprint on India’s vegan and Jain food scene by branching out into new markets and extending our domestic and international reach. We aim to:
- Penetrate India’s burgeoning tier-2 and tier-3 cities, tapping into the growing demand for quality vegan and Jain food options in these emerging markets.
- Expand our presence overseas, particularly in the US and UK, where we plan to cater to the Indian diaspora and other health-conscious consumers with our authentic vegetarian and Jain offerings.
- Launch into the FMCG sector with a new brand that upholds our commitment to vegetarian principles, offering a range of products that are accessible, convenient, and aligned with our culinary ethos.
Our strategic expansion is designed to introduce our unique flavours to a broader audience and set a benchmark for vegetarian and Jain cuisine innovation. We are committed to maintaining the integrity of our food philosophy while evolving to meet the dynamic needs of our customers, wherever they may be. This growth trajectory is poised to solidify our position as a leader in the industry, making a significant and lasting impact on the global food landscape.
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