How shifting gears changed Alpha Catering’s fortunes
They started off planning to become the biggest name in office catering. The idea tanked. They switched to event management quickly, and it paid off handsomely
With a dream of becoming the biggest brand in the industry, Alpha Catering started their journey in 2016 in cafeteria management and catering lunch to corporate offices.
They wanted to capture the market and set up capacity to serve 500+ meals a day.
They used branded and high-quality ingredients to provide the best food.
After a while, however, they realized their business model had hit a snag.
The use of high quality ingredients made their food more expensive than others in a highly competitive market and they failed to bring home any profit.
They were forced to reduce their price and that only increased their losses.
Finally, it came to a point when investors started reconsidering their decision.
The founders – University of Dhaka Institute of Business Administration graduates - Sayem Faruk and Muhammed Asif Khan - returned to the drawing board. They decided to change the model and directed their enterprise towards the event catering market.
It clicked rights away. Not long after, they started bringing 130 percent profit a year!
The passion of two foodie IBA graduates
Sayem Faruk and Muhammed Asif Khan became friends while they studying in IBA.
They were once assigned a project on hygiene standards of the food industry in Dhaka city for their final term. The existing ecosystem of the market appalled them.
They saw food adulteration and price manipulation was rampant. Devoid of any innovation and distanced from technology, the industry had stagnated.
Being foodies themselves, they to do something for the industry.
Though both of them could have secured a regular job with a handsome salary at any corporate house, their passion drove them to entrepreneurship.
They used all the theories they learnt in class and made a basic business plan. Then they went to one of their seniors for advice, who introduced them to investors circle.
The investors liked their business plan and provided the capital.
Alpha Catering started their business in August 2016.
Ups and downs
Asif believes they had a bumpy ride from the start because of fault lines in their strategy. But now the dream big.
"We often undermine the smaller marketplace and leave it unexplored. But it can make you equally successful as the bigger market does," he said.
With the growth in business, they started experimenting with their products.
"For us, food is not just about consuming, it is also about entertainment. So we refused to be stuck with the usual kacchi biriyani and polao roast menu, we introduced some never-before-seen delectable items like fuchka shot, tomato soup with a grilled cheese sandwich in a shot glass, mango shooter, lamb skewer, yoghurt dip, surf n turf, chocolate cigar etc," he said.
They also do live cooking at events, which can be an amazing spectacle.
Now Alpha Catering provides food for any private or corporate event. It can be a home event, an office meeting, an annual conference, or even a wedding.
The menu is diverse and rich with around 300 items, and cuisines like Bangla, Indian, Thai-Chinese, Continental, etc.
At the very beginning, they only had three employees. After four years the core team now has 20 members with 50+ part-time workers.
"We are gradually developing our management team. The model we are maintaining now consists of an apparently lean workforce, which fits our business model," said Akib Hasan Srabon, marketing and sales executive of the company.
Survival during the pandemic
During the initial months of the Covid-19 lockdown, catering sales fell dramatically as the business was dependent on events. But they did not lay off anyone. There has been a salary cut with the promise to refund when the company starts making a profit again.
They expect to start refunding soon as they added vertical services like consumer food products and cloud kitchen amid the pandemic to survive.
Packaged consumer food products were introduced at the end of July.
"The aim is to deliver delicious and healthy snacks items to our customers. We have released products like peanut butter, chocolate peanut butter, almond butter, super seed peanut butter, cashew butter, protein powder and almond powder," said Akib.
They have been receiving a fantastic response since.
The plan is to introduce more items such as trail mixes, energy bars, protein cookies, nut cookies, mayo, dips etc.
They will also be enlisted with a few supermarkets, special stores and e-commerce sites, informed Akib.
From their cloud kitchen near Gulshan they deliver on-demand fast food items like juicy burgers, fries, wedges and authentic pizzas to people living in Gulshan, Banani, Mohakhali, Baridhara and Bashundhara.
"The best part about this is that the service is available 24/7, seven days a week. That means even if you want to order food at 3 am at night, you will get it," said Asif.
The founders of Alpha Catering started with the vision of creating a milestone and becoming industry leaders in this sector. They are still determined to do that.
"When the pandemic ends we want to return to lots of profit again. We are working hard to keep up with the pandemic as well," said Asif.
Now that they have their own products, they wish to take them to every retail store in the country with nationwide distribution.
They have a massive in-house manufacturing plan and intend to expand the cloud kitchen to seven different locations in Dhaka. If they succeed in that, they will expand their business to Chattogram.