In this exclusive interview, we sit down with Avinash Ratta, the CEO & Managing Director of Grainvelocity, a pioneering growth project management company in the Middle East and North Africa region. Avinash shares the inspiring story behind the company’s founding and its mission to drive sustainable, profitable growth for ambitious organizations. With over two decades of experience in the FMCG, Food and Beverage, and Retail sectors, Avinash brings a wealth of knowledge to the table.
He delves into the importance of innovation, the role of technology in shaping businesses, and how Grainvelocity is adapting to the digital era. Avinash also provides valuable insights for beginners in the industry and outlines the company’s unique growth solutions for the retail and consumer goods industry. If you’re curious about how Grainvelocity is making its mark in the region and paving the way for growth-driven companies, this interview is a must-read.
What is the idea behind Your Company?
Grainvelocity (Gr=grow, a=accelerate, in=innovate with =velocity) was founded in 2017 as a pioneering growth project management company in the region with the single-minded ambition of driving sustainable, profitable growth for growth-driven, ambitious organizations in the Middle East and North Africa region. Founded by Avinash Ratta and Vandana Ratta, two senior professionals from the global consumer industry, the company’s sole mission is to become your organization’s trusted, reliable growth partner, now and in the future.
During my leadership career of more than two decades in the FMCG, Food and Beverage, and Retail sectors, I became acutely aware of the desire of ambitious companies to consistently grow their sales, profits, and shareholder value over time. I also realized that day-to-day operations were consuming a significant amount of leadership time and effort, and organizations needed qualified, dedicated, and accountable senior project leadership support and guidance at the level of the Board and EXCOM to effectively create and manage their growth.
To that end, Grainvelocity developed and successfully implemented best-in-class project management capabilities to deliver growth projects, including creating and launching powerful new products or services, evaluating and entering new markets or categories, developing the brand to command a price premium in the market, and driving organic growth through e-commerce, distribution channels, and commercial partnerships globally.
In its formative years, Grainvelocity started offering its customers in the Middle East dedicated, outcome-based growth solutions and began managing well-defined, time-bound projects for them. Uniquely, the company started operating in the region through a network of carefully selected, reliable, and trusted Grainvelocity network partners, to whom organizations had access while working on projects. The organization also started providing in-situ CEO/Board-level executive consultancy to companies, combining their growth mandate with leadership responsibilities.
Today, the company boasts a portfolio of successful growth projects that it has undertaken for companies in the Fast-Moving Consumer Goods, Retail, and Food and Beverage sectors. Over the last half-decade, the company has executed growth projects in the Personal Care, Bottled Water, Juices, Beverages, Dairy, Retail, and Education sectors. These projects include developing market expansion plans for a personal care product company aiming to expand in the GCC, launching half a dozen breakthrough innovations in juices and beverages for the first time in the region, developing a five-year brand expansion pipeline in the dairy business, building in-house capabilities in portfolio management from scratch, and establishing new distribution channels and international sourcing capabilities in the UAE and KSA, resulting in increased sales and profits for client companies.
The company also strongly believes in the development of local talent in our region to bolster our industry and, for two consecutive years, was selected by the UAE F&B Group and Khalifa Fund as the knowledge partner for the UAE Innovation Lab Program initiative.
How did you embark on your career journey, and do you have any advice for beginners?
Throughout my career, I have felt a great desire to learn, expand my horizons, and take on initiatives that give me the opportunity to better influence what I can offer to consumers and generate value for the industry.
I began my professional journey as a packaging engineer at Unilever Plc in India, designing paper and rigid packaging for consumer products. As a young professional, I was deeply intrigued by the reasons why consumers truly buy a product and how packaging can influence their decisions. Over time, I grew to enjoy creating and launching new products and uncovering latent needs of consumers. During my tenure at Unilever UK, I eagerly requested to be part of a brand transformational project team for Lux and Dove brands across multiple markets.
Fortunate circumstances led me to the end of my MBA at INSEAD in France, where I came across a role in a cutting-edge “Innovation Acceleration Team” at Nestle’s headquarters in Switzerland. This provided me with the incredible opportunity to create and drive the commercial implementation of new products for Nescafe and Milo globally. Subsequently, I spent my initial years in the region as the head of marketing for Nestle’s Breakfast Cereals business in META, overseeing incredible brands like Nesquik and Cheerio’s. Continuing my leadership career, I joined the IFFCO Group, a regional leader in Foods, as CMO and MD of the Foods division. This presented a fantastic opportunity to bring together my expertise in brands, innovation, and consumer-centric work, and to introduce new capabilities in brand and marketing to the organization.
When I co-founded Grainvelocity, I had a clear vision in mind – to strongly contribute to the growth and innovation of our industry in the region. Building best-in-class capabilities in innovation, growth project management, market and category expansion, and portfolio management became my dream, providing organizations with a common platform for their growth.
Since then, there has been no looking back. As a growth partner with Grainvelocity, I have taken up senior executive project management and consulting roles with regional giants in the Food and Beverages sector, including Agthia Group (as Business EVP officiating) and Aujan Group (as CEO officiating of Rani Refreshments), spanning the Middle East and Africa markets. These opportunities have allowed me to successfully deliver major business growth projects and drive profits.
Throughout my career, I have found that my operational and leadership experiences with Unilever Plc and Nestle SA in various markets have provided a solid professional foundation upon which I can rely. I also consider my multi-dimensional experience of working with both large multinationals and regional giants to be a valuable asset.
To those starting their careers in the industry, my strongest advice is to identify and nurture one or two areas of “core strength” from the outset. Whether it be design and new ideas, astute research skills, or leadership abilities, focus on building upon these strengths in the coming years. Over time, you will find that you lean on these core strengths, and your continued success will depend on them. Embrace every opportunity to take up projects that align with your core professional strengths, even amidst a hectic routine.
Additionally, I advise beginners to reflect on the one thing at work that truly motivates them to take up a role or an assignment, and that keeps them eager to wake up every morning and work again. This “first line of motivation” is crucial to enduring the ups and downs that one may face in their job or new business venture. Ensuring alignment between your “first line of motivation” and “core strength” is essential; otherwise, you may constantly seek something that remains elusive in your career.
Personally, my core professional strength is “innovation,” and my first line of motivation is “excellence,” and I take pride in that. When I deliver excellent business results through outstanding innovation, I am at my happiest while at work. I encourage you to contemplate these aspects early on in your professional journey.
Finally, keep in mind that there is no fixed path to success in your career. Professional growth is akin to a step ladder, with each step leading to an intermediate destination different from the one before. Embrace the journey, and the destination will eventually find you.
What is the goal of Your Company? What problem are you solving with it?
Grainvelocity’s sole purpose is to be a trusted growth partner, unlocking the potential for growth in your company, both now and in the future.
Throughout my professional journey, it became increasingly evident that organizations require a solid foundation for growth, built on a sound portfolio strategy, a balanced market and product mix, and a sustainable profit model. I also identified a market gap in innovation development and management, where ideas could be effectively converted into profitable businesses. Many organizations were eager to expand into new categories, services, and markets, but were often hindered by day-to-day operations and firefighting. Additionally, Boards and EXCOMs sought high-quality, neutral resources to aid their decision-making. Most importantly, I recognized the significance of strong project management, as many projects showed promise initially but fizzled out due to a lack of project discipline.
These (often unexpressed) needs gave rise to Grainvelocity, the region’s pioneering growth project management company, providing turnkey growth services to companies in all the aforementioned areas to deliver sustainable, profitable growth.
The significant difference with Grainvelocity lies in the fact that, while partnering with us for growth, organizations gain access to the best growth tools, practical project management expertise, full project executional support, and a network of resources that can help them achieve their growth targets. Another advantage is that our projects are time-bound and turnkey in nature, with clearly defined start and finish points, along with agreed-upon scopes and deliverables. Moreover, Grainvelocity focuses on building long-lasting team and organizational capabilities throughout its tenure with a company. In summary, we act as a one-stop executive growth partner for businesses.
How important are employees’ energy levels for the success of Your Company?
Anyone who has worked on a Grainvelocity project or assignment knows that we bring about a massive difference in the ways of working and energy levels in our teams, both during and long after the project is delivered.
At Grainvelocity, we firmly believe that the right teams for partnership are those genuinely eager to work on growth projects and take them from start to finish, surpassing growth expectations.
Without making a fuss about it, we conduct an ‘attitudinal’ and ‘transformation’ assessment for our team members at the beginning of a project. We choose to work with individuals who possess a winning spirit, an inner drive to learn, and a genuine desire to achieve success together.
Our extended client or partner teams, with whom we have collaborated in various countries and categories, are characterized by being down-to-earth, genuine, forthright, ethical, collaborative, impactful, and performance-oriented. They possess a true spirit of success, which is of utmost importance to our company’s mission.
The spark to excel and win significantly impacts our business performance, and it aligns perfectly with our company’s core values.
How do you plan to motivate your team to go the extra mile?
People are the most important resource driving growth in our business and industry. Over the last few years, I have had the pleasure of leading several extended team members and growth project teams on the customer and network partner side.
At Grainvelocity, we strongly believe in coaching and mentoring our extended teams to ensure they deliver the best tools, practices, strategies, and project management to companies, achieving the growth targets and objectives set out by the company.
To achieve this, Grainvelocity takes their extended team members through a rigorous set of tools, providing training and embedding them in their day-to-day work. This approach inspires our teams to excel and continuously improve.
Another crucial factor contributing to the energy of teams working on our projects is their alignment with a strong, purposeful vision and mission. We believe this direction makes a massive difference in teams’ motivation and gives them a strong reason to be committed to the mission.
We genuinely believe in the power of people to deliver excellence and, as a testament to this belief, we have always utilized existing teams at our customer or network partner end to achieve agreed project objectives.
Lastly, Grainvelocity values shared success and celebrates it with its teams. A key outcome of working on our projects is a strong performance-linked incentive based on the achievement of key performance indicators (KPIs).
If you have been part of a Grainvelocity project in the past or will be in the future, you become a member of our large informal business excellence community in the region.
What keeps Your Company moving forward, even in the face of challenges?
We have observed that the desire to grow and expand is deeply ingrained in ambitious organizations, becoming an integral part of their culture. Companies strive to deliver both short and long-term value to their shareholders, while boards actively seek opportunities to expand and generate returns on investments. Furthermore, organizations have a constant need to innovate and launch new products and services.
These needs are universal, and entities are always seeking a reliable way to fulfill them. This fundamental need serves as a strong source of inspiration and motivation for us.
In the pursuit of growth, it is essential to build a robust portfolio of business and service growth verticals that work in tandem to improve revenue and profits. To facilitate this, Grainvelocity has developed a range of service verticals in growth management, which we offer to organizations in the form of project management or senior executive support. These services are often provided in tranches of 6 months to several years, especially during challenging times.
Crucially, we firmly believe that, even during difficult periods, every organization should focus on learning and development to stay current and connected with talent in the industry.
In your opinion, how is technology driving changes in businesses, and do you believe it is aiding the growth of Your Company?
Technology is driving fundamental structural changes in our businesses. One of the most significant impacts of technology in manufacturing and services is automation. In the FMCG industry, line automation stands as the single biggest driver of efficiency, significantly reducing production costs. Efficient, automated lines now have the capacity to produce millions of products per month at a fraction of previous costs, enabling manufacturers to price their products more competitively and make them more accessible to consumers.
Digital technology has also revolutionized the way consumers interact with products and services. Nowadays, consumers can search for and purchase products online with just a touch of a button. E-commerce platforms like Amazon and Noon, along with services offered by telecom providers, have experienced exponential growth without the need for brick-and-mortar stores. In the future, a significant portion of growth is expected to come through e-commerce, with the share of total retail sales growing to well above 10%, compared to the current low single-digit percentage.
Technologies have greatly enabled Grainvelocity to deliver its bespoke growth solutions faster to companies. They have allowed us to focus on active business analytics, project management, people development, and decision-making, utilizing some or all of them to unlock growth. Simultaneously, we have deployed technologies at our partner companies to implement, launch, and roll-out projects.
Artificial intelligence (AI) represents the next big wave of technology, capable of reshaping several industry verticals and bringing radical changes to assets and resources in the longer term. AI-led design, financial operations, and services are foreseeable in the next few years, with decision-making algorithms making important business decisions within the next decade. Grainvelocity is committed to adopting and adapting AI for its service offerings in the coming years.
How is Your Company adapting to digitalization?
We firmly believe that digitization is essential for optimizing performance and efficiency in businesses, and Grainvelocity is a strong advocate of using digital technology to drive accuracy and speed in organizations.
Over the past years, we have focused on driving operational and project management automation, ensuring that data and information are readily available to leadership teams at the touch of a button.
Grainvelocity has also developed a deep-dive, analytic market evaluation tool called ‘Market Footprint,’ which assists our customers in analyzing and selecting the potential of growth markets. This tool estimates market volumes, prices, and sales potential for their businesses.
During the pandemic, we proactively embraced virtual operations and successfully transitioned several of our growth project services online without compromising on quality or revenue.
Supporting consumer and customer data automation is another significant area of work we are undertaking in our industries, as we aim to further enhance our organization.
We firmly believe that artificial intelligence (AI) will revolutionize repetitive tasks in the company, ensuring reliability and speed in their execution.
Looking ahead, as Grainvelocity, we have plans to automate all our company’s growth solutions in the future, enabling seamless rollout to industries not only regionally but also globally.
Do you use innovative ideas to be unique?
Innovation and growth are the lifeblood of our company. We take pride in the fact that over the last half-decade, we have successfully created and launched more than half a dozen breakthrough products across various product categories in the Middle East. Our company has played a crucial role in delivering innovative business models and supply chains for our markets, creating value chains that were once thought impossible. Innovation runs in our DNA, and we possess significant tools and capabilities to develop innovation strategies, generate new ideas for products and services, manage innovation projects, and successfully launch them in the markets. Professionals who have closely worked with us can attest to this competency in our firm.
We firmly believe that innovation is both an art and a science. Our approach to innovation is called the “B3 way of innovation,” where organizations venture into new products and services through a structured yet creative process, delivering concrete and measurable innovation ideas that companies can implement.
Our unique innovation offering, GR-INPAN, will be introduced shortly. Rest assured that once you experience INPLAN, your company will adopt it as the preferred innovation process for the long term.
We take innovation seriously and clearly define innovation contribution targets to the P&L, ensuring their significant role in driving growth in the short to long-term horizons. Grainvelocity also advocates for “consumer or customer-relevant” innovation, offering a reliable method to uncover latent consumer needs and develop new ideas.
For those interested in exploring more details about our distinctive innovation project management service, this link will be an excellent starting point: www.grainvelocity.com/generation-innovation-and-renovation-pipeline/
Would you like to say anything else to our viewers?
We would like to emphasize that growth is not a destination but a journey. Contrary to popular opinion, delivering growth while also managing routine operations is a challenging task. Company growth must be managed like a structured project, with a concrete start date, milestones, finish line, deliverables, and post-evaluation.
Achieving profitable growth is even more challenging, as rapid organic growth may lead to higher volume sales but not necessarily higher profits. It is crucial that growth is value-added and margin-accretive, rather than dilutive in nature. A specific growth approach and well-planned projects are essential to ensure that your portfolio of new projects delivers incremental profits. P&L and portfolio management play vital roles in monitoring growth, and we dare say that growth should be treated like a portfolio of investments, where returns depend on the intrinsic and future potential of each investment.
Moreover, the same principles that drive growth in one region or market may not always apply to another. We urge our viewers to partner with companies and experts who have a track record of delivering sustainable and profitable growth in our region. They can be your trusted partners in your ambitious growth journey in the coming years.
What services, solutions, or products does Your Company offer in line with current industry standards? Additionally, could you share some insights into your upcoming products or services?
We offer an exclusive range of innovative growth solutions tailored for the retail and consumer goods industry. Our modularized growth projects allow companies to choose the specific solutions they need based on their requirements. For instance, our solution, GR-INPLAN, is designed to manage and drive company innovation. It includes services such as innovation strategy development, idea generation, innovation project management, and innovation performance tracking. Many organizations in the Food and Beverage industry in our region have successfully deployed this tool for their innovation programs and launches.
Over the years, Grainvelocity has developed and implemented more than 10 exciting new products in our region. Our approach involves identifying the consumer’s ‘need gap’ and creating a unique ‘USP’ to fulfill that need. This approach has resulted in innovative and value-added products that have been successfully launched and recognized.
To facilitate companies’ expansion into new markets, we offer an innovative growth management approach called GR-GROWTH MATTERS. This comprehensive solution allows companies to build their market growth strategy, assess the feasibility of launching into a new country, and develop reliable 3P (partnerships) in that market. With the help of GR-GROWTH MATTERS, we have created a completely new and versatile value chain from scratch in the beverages industry.
For a comprehensive overview of our complete range of Grainvelocity growth solutions, please visit www.grainvelocity.com/solutions.
In the years ahead, we will continue to leverage automation and digitization to further enhance our service solutions, automating data, insights, and project management approaches.