Axial's Growth 100 : Sanjiv Kakkar

Sanjiv Kakkar

CEO, Himalaya International

A Fresh Start

I brought my first company in the United States in 1996,” says Sanjiv Kakkar, CEO of Himalaya International, as he reflects on the journey that brought him to provide Costco, The Dollar Tree, and 2,000 mom-and-pop ethnic grocery stores a selection of frozen food products.

Sanjiv owned manufacturing facilities in India and prior to moving, used brokers to do business overseas. “We had a broker in New York who ordered seven container loads of frozen apricots,” he says. The relationship had been going well until Sanjiv shipped the final load. The broker told Sanjiv that the customer wasn’t pleased and was reneging on his payment responsibilities. It seemed quite sudden to Sanjiv and he immediately came over to the U.S. to investigate.

After the broker refused to give Sanjiv the name of the customer in question, Sanjiv took it upon himself to find him. When he finally did, he made the 934 mile trip from Philadelphia to Red Wing, New York to confront the customer gone rogue. “His name was Mark,” remembers Sanjiv. When Sanjiv spoke with him, Mark didn’t know what Sanjiv was talking about. He told Sanjiv, “Your broker said you can’t supply anymore.”

It was this unfortunate business relationship that led Sanjiv to move his entire family to the U.S. If he was going to be in the distribution business, he needed to be able to meet with his customers face-to-face. 

Coming to America

Fast forward to 2011, and Sanjiv shares the great success his company has had establishing a presence in the U.S. market. “The biggest challenge was that the customers and the users were not aware of frozen food coming out of India,” he says. Himalaya had to differentiate themselves from more well-known sellers like those out of China.

“We follow a different set of standards and different ethics,” says Sanjiv.

Himalaya has evolved from the industrial ingredient business to food service distribution and finally, into the retail market. Sanjiv says this is now their main focus. With four brands under the name, Sanjiv produces frozen appetizers mostly, everything from frozen portobello mushrooms to vegetable burgers to french toast sticks.

“If I have the same product as everyone else, I need to be sure the customer will buy from me because of the service I provide.”

Sanjiv recognizes the importance of customer service particularly for importers (he still imports most of his products from his plants in India). “You have to make sure the customer doesn’t go through any hassles.”

A Tight Ship

While Sanjiv’s plants in India employ a collective 2,000 people, he has a lean team of 15 based out of New Jersey. “What 2,000 people produce, I am the only one who sells it,” he says. Though Sanjiv admits he still uses some brokers around the country, he’s buckled down since his earliest days of letting others have their way with his products. He’ll never forget his earliest experience with the broker who was stealing product from him.

Like any business there come times where Sanjiv has to write off debt from his customers. Except one. Speaking of that first broker, Sanjiv says, “I still have his name on my books, he still owes me money. I don’t write off his name.”