Sujay Shah, CEO
For Sujay Shah, President and CEO of Shashi Foods, the essence of his personal passion, Taekwondo, is inextricably intertwined with his professional passion of natural foods. "I grew up training in martial arts since the age of 13," he says. "One of the things we studied was the concept of Ki. It's what they call the positive life energy."
You don't have to be Bruce Lee to foster that type of internal force. Sujay believes with gentle forms of processing, it can come from food. "Everything we create, we try to harness this concept of Ki. Keep it as natural as possible, the least amount of preservatives and the freshest ingredients, so we have the highest nutrition content."
Sujay's obsession with healthy foods started with his father's business, which imported ethnic foods. In 2006, along with his father and two brothers, he started Shashi Foods, directly importing natural foods from the source. Three years later, he launched the Kii Naturals division, to create yummy foods with their Ki intact. The company has grown from a staff of six to more than 100 employees, with approximately 3,000 retail stores across North America carrying its products. Deloitte recently named it a 2012 Top 50 Best Managed Company.
Sujay credits the structure of his Ontario-based business as the reason behind its quick climb to a natural foods powerhouse. "We are a truly vertically integrated model," he says. It was the plan all along. "The idea was, we were looking for a platform to take this global knowledge and create Canadian products we could then take into the marketplace, be it Canada or the US and eventually further than that."
Vertical integration with involvement throughout the entire supply chain gives Shashi a head start on new food trends, while most other companies must rely on what is already being sourced in the market when they want to create new products. For example, as one of North America's largest importers and distributors of quinoa, Kii Naturals was able to nimbly respond to a new strain of the superfood because they are connected with suppliers within the production chain.
"Because we work with our own people in South America, very early on in the game we heard that other types of quinoa were available. So before any of our competitors heard about it, we already had samples of red and black quinoa in our offices. We then pushed this to our product development, and we started creating products that encompassed these trendy ingredients."
Those ingredients are part of an industry fascinated by the latest fad.
"The natural foods business is almost like clothing," says Sujay, laughing. "It's all about the trend, what's in today and what's not. But the beauty is, once the trend is established, then a marketplace is created, and that marketplace it doesn't necessarily go away."
With his manufactured artisan crackers incorporating exotic ingredients like quinoa and goji berries, Sujay also bolsters awareness by offering customers a less threatening way to try those products for the first time.
"It's a testament today of globalization," says Sujay, referring to his vertical integration efforts. But he cautions that it takes an immense amount of knowledge and experience before it can work. "We're importing goods from Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and South America. Every one of those countries has their own business culture. For companies to be successful, you need learn how to manage people in different countries as well as your home base."
Something that comes easier, perhaps, after harnessing the energy of Ki.
by YouInc Columnist Tiffany Burns