Mahabaleshwar-Panchgani is India's own strawberry county. Over 80 percent of the country's strawberries are grown here. Popular with tourists, the region has also been made famous by Mapro Foods, a maker of fruit-based products, which was founded here more than 50 years ago.

                                                         






It is on the way to Mahabaleshwar from Panchgani that one comes across the Mapro name first in the form of Mapro Gardens, a retail outlet and caf, which looks busy even at the hottest time of the day.

Said to be one of the oldest food companies in India, Mapro specializes in fruit jams, squashes, and syrups though it also manufactures chocolates made from cocoa butter. Busy on a Monday morning, Mayur Vora, Managing Director, Mapro Foods, meets us between meetings and happily unwinds about his journey at the company's factory in Wai in Satara district.

                                      


Mayur saw the company begin from the kitchen of the family bungalow where his uncle, Kishore Vora, a pharmacist started the business. Kishore, who worked at a pharmacy, reportedly set up the business to help the farmers whose fresh produce of strawberries and raspberries were being sold at distress sales.

In an 8 x 12 tiny room armed with two kerosene stoves, four vessels and a thermometer (he could not afford the more apt refractometer), Kishore began his 'processing unit' with an investment of Rs 800, where the family cook would help with the stirring.

His first batch of strawberry jams was sold at the same pharmacy store he worked at. Pretty soon, word-of-mouth got more people to the store. In time, two employees were hired and jams were made in increasing quantities and sold under the brand name, Vora Products.

Jam-making soon replaced the pharmacy career. Kishore experimented heavily in the new avatar - he churned out not just strawberry jams but tried his hand with almost all the fruits growing in the area that were bottled into jams, squashes, crushes and juices.

                                 




Unexpectedly for Kishore, his business got a fillip courtesy government officials who offered him a fruit processing license in a bid to promote food processing industries in this belt.Soon, the tiny unit nudged its way to other rooms in the 2,000 sq ft bungalow that the Vora family had moved to in 1959.

The hand-over
Though the partnership was dissolved soon, Mapro grew from strength to strength. Mayur says that his uncle was a pioneer with the products he introduced Indians to. For example, he introduced strawberry crush, a concept unheard of in the country till then. The jelly sweet with pectin was another product which, says Mayur, earned the company the name as the world's largest manufacturer of fruit pectin jelly sweets.

Mayur says that his uncle was resolute in his pursuit of getting the best products out there. He was the first person in India to appeal to the Central Committee for Fruits to allow him to addrose petals in syrups. "Our Rose Syrup is a brand leader in the product category and remains our most popular product," says Mayur.


Being happy
Mayur's 30- year-old son Nikunj joined the firm in 2008 after a degree in Family Business Management and a corporate stint in the US. It is Nikunj who decided to focus on a new product category - chocolates. But first off his table was the Rs 1 pulpy fruit chew Falero (it was initially named to mean Phal le lo and 'r' was added to it so as to not make it a tongue twister!). It is now available in six flavors. "Big brands have copied us now," says Nikunj.

Nikunj then came to market with cocoa-based chocolates in 2010 titled Mazaana (Hindi word Mazaa Ana meaning have fun and also, Hebrew for happiness). These are available in dark and milk varieties with chocolate-coated almonds, raisins, etc. "My chocolates only contain cocoa butter. I will never sell chocolate compounds as chocolates," says Nikunj staying true to the family legacy of providing authentic products to their clientele.

The company's products are currently available in Western Maharashtra and Gujarat. "We are not ambitious. We know this market. We have sold here for 50 years. We take pride in thefact that we have never made a bad product. These things matter to us," says Mayur.

"We are not known in the north and south of India but people from those parts also travel to Panchgani for holidays and know of us," Nikunj says, adding that Mapro Gardens gets two million footfalls a year.