A Vintage Aroma-A Legacy of 90 Years November 20, 2019
The fragrance is ninety years old and has still not lost its charm. Its aroma lives on and continues to fill the senses and make a difference to many lives. As Ultra International steps into its ninetieth year, we invite you to come on board for a journey of reminiscences.
1929 to 1935
The heritage of Ultra International Group can be traced back to the early 20th century. Mr Prahalad Roy Sanganeria, a young lad of 18, started his business in perfumery compounds, raw materials and packing materials under the name of Lakshmi Bottle Stores. Determined to find a footing in business, he took up premises at 17, Ezra Street in central Calcutta, now known as Kolkata. He first obtained a printing press and started printing labels for cosmetic and perfume bottles. Eventually he established All India Printing and Cardboard Box factory at 58/1 Nimtalla Ghat Street for printing labels and manufacturing cardboard boxes. While Mr Prahalad Sanganeria was totally absorbed and oversaw the operations, his wife Mrs Radha Devi Sanganeria remained the silent much-involved supporter. Soon Mr Prahalad Sanganeria was catering for orders from all across India, especially Assam, Bengal, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi and had captured a large part of the market in eastern India. Around 130 employees comprised the entire production team, while a fleet of handcarts, pushcarts, and rickshaws were put into the streets to complete deliveries.
1935 to 1940
Doorway to the Fragrance World
In 1935, Mr Prahalad Roy decided to set out for his first business trip, as he wanted to expand his horizons and explore new markets for the forthcoming business. He travelled extensively to Mumbai, Delhi, Guwahati, Lahore, and Karachi and connected with new clientele there. His travels opened up the doorway into an exciting new world – fragrances. He started importing fragrances from Switzerland, Germany, Holland, USA, Japan and England. Some of his associates were reputed names like W.J. Bush & Co. (UK), Polak’s Frutal Works and Narden (Holland), Schimmel & Co. and American Roland (USA), Chuit & Naef (Switzerland).
Unfazed and undaunted by the historical, far-reaching, socio-political developments and volatility in the country, the company began to supply not only raw materials and ingredients for the final product but also its label and packaging. Within a decade, Lakshmi Bottle Stores grew from a label printer to a one-stop shop for aromatic products. The seeds of international business were thus sown by Mr Prahalad Roy Sanganeria, which later found wings to soar under his son, Sant Sanganeria and grandson Ravi Sanganeria.
Like everyone else, Mr Prahalad Sanganeria too was prone to aspirations. And when prosperity beckoned, he gave in to his penchant for cars. One of his first automobiles and “most prized possessions …” as his son Sant Sanganeria recalls many decades later “…was an absolute dream, an Austin”. Among all the genes he has passed to his later generations, this is surely one since today if you walk into the offices you will find an array, a veritable collection.
A New Twist
By now, Mr Prahalad Sanganeria was totally immersed in his business with his wife by his side. Call it business acumen, visionary or plain intuition for sniffing out opportunities, it was now what was inside the bottle that caught the attention of Mr Sanganeria. His travels far and wide, along with his foray into fragrances, instilled in him an interest in the formulations. This was later revealed when his son found his little red book with numerous fragrance formulations for the cosmetic, skin care and hair oil industry. From printing what was on the bottle to the ingredients inside the bottle – Lakshmi Bottle Stores grew into a one-stop shop for procuring fragrances, raw materials, and aromatic chemicals. And all along, his wife, Ms Radha Devi Sanganeria, accompanied him for most of his travels. Many of Mr Prahalad Sanganeria’s international business associates remember her as a warm and gracious hostess when they travelled to India with their families. As Sant Sanganeria fondly recalls, “My mother used to take immense pleasure in helping her guests from foreign shores drape the saree.” Of course, Mrs Radha Devi Sanganeria may not have been the Captain of the ship, but she was definitely the first mate. She played a vital role in developing his business.
The year 1944 saw Mr Prahalad Sanganeria and his wife sailing really high. It was the birth of their son Sant Sanganeria, who was later to hold the reins of the business that Mr Prahalad Sanganeria had so painstakingly built.
Sant Sanganeria was growing up fast. Growing up in Calcutta, his school life was spent in Hindi High School. Sant also accompanied his parents on their international travels. The seeds of his learning were sown at an early age. All along he was learning about fragrances and their raw materials from his father.
Now came the turning point when Sant Sanganeria eventually joined his father at steering the business, and actually charting a new course.
Sant Sanganeria left school in 1962; and in 1965 graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce degree from St. Xavier’s College. The scion of the Sanganeria family, Sant was now actively involved and helping his father in the business.
Sant Sanganeria’s first big assignment of note was in 1964. At the behest of his father and still in college, Sant travelled to Mumbai on a purchasing trip under the guardianship of his father’s consultant, one A.V. Soni. It was Sant Sanganeria’s first serious dabbling in the essential oils, aromatic chemicals and perfumery products business. His first venture was with Vanillin, Coumarin and Orange oil.
The concept was that while Mumbai would be the place of purchase of raw materials of popular aromatic chemicals and compounds, northern India would be targeted as the consumer market.
1965 turns out to be another memorable year for Sant Sanganeria. Fresh out of college, the young B.Com graduate embarked on a new course of life. This was the same year he wedded Asha Musaddy who later became an integral part of his business.
In 1968, Sant Sanganeria had reason to celebrate. It was the birth of daughter Neeta.
In December 1969, Sant Sanganeria, on the advice of his father, bid adieu to the city of his childhood. Leaving his parents and his brother behind, Sant Sanganeria, along with his close friend Krishna Kumar Sood, boarded the train to Delhi.
Delhi was a whole new game altogether. While Sant Sanganeria was keen on extending his father’s business and setting up a printing press, he was discouraged by his friend. K. K. Sood, having done a bit of extensive background work, realised that the printing business was a no-gamer. The two friends toyed with getting on to the PET bottle bandwagon, the newest phenomenon to hit India at the time. But PET bottles were far ahead of their time in India and never really took off then. Once again, upon his father’s advice Sant Sanganeria began testing the waters for potential fragrances and essential oils in Delhi. Initially, the model worked on an order basis; Sant Sanganeria booked the orders while Mr Prahalad Sanganeria prepared the final product in Calcutta and sent it back to Delhi.
Determined to find his footing, over a period of time from 1967 to 1970, Sant Sanganeria relinquished his interests in Lakshmi Bottle Stores and embarked on a new course. He established a new business entity under the name Radha Sales Corporation. He has never forgotten his first clients who gave him his first break: the neat, immaculate and Britishinfluenced prim and proper businessman, Sardar Sulakhan Singh of Veena Perfumery; and the quintessentially Indian, homegrown trader, Ram Singh who owned Gulab Singh Johrimal. “They were both so intrinsically different, yet both adept at their work,” he smiles on a nostalgic walk down memory lane.
By the turn of the year the gentle, persuasive, and people’s person, Sant Sanganeria had started booking several international orders and taken up agencies for global clients.
In 1972, Radha Sales Corporation acquired the licence of Tata Exports, which was another feather in his cap. Blessed with an intuitive ability to perceive opportunity when it knocks, Sant Sanganeria on one of his trips to Bombay found that one of the Directors at Tata Exports, Mr. Bhatnagar, was his next-door neighbour. The rest is history. The company was already importing from global partners, and with this licence, the business found new strength.
In 1974, Sant Sanganeria went on a world tour with his wife Asha. By this time he had established a foundation of working relationships, which became rock-solid friendships over time. In addition to this impressive network, Sant Sanganeria’s connections with F&F businesses of repute and organisations were beyond compare.
In 1975, Sant Sanganeria had another reason to celebrate. It was the birth of his son, Ravi.
In 1976, a consignment of essential oils dispatched from Indonesia was found to consist of only muddy water with hints of oil on top. The ripples of indignation were felt across the international community. Several traders were affected and this eventually resulted in the formation of an international forum, the International Federation of Essential Oils and Aroma Trades (IFEAT) to safeguard the interests of the essential oils and the perfumery industry. Sant Sanganeria and several international stakeholders came together to build this platform to promote the interests of the essential oils and perfumery industry from adulteration. The idea was mooted earlier, but formal documents were signed on May 18, 1978. Though Sant Sanganeria was instrumental in the IFEAT initiative, it was Dr S. C. Datta, the then Director of Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (CIMAP) who represented Radha Sales Corporation at the signing.
A consignment containing tonnes of French-Rhodia Vanillin and Coumarin landed in Mumbai. Till now Radha Sales Corporation had made a name for itself as a top importer and provider of perfumery compounds. But now Sanganeria had taken up the challenge of dealing with an entirely new business product and he was successful in selling these aromatic chemicals within no time. Though he had his eye on a potential client, a top soap-making company, Government Soap Factory (later Karnataka Soap & Detergents Limited) headquartered in Bangalore, he could make no inroads into the company. Lady Luck was on his side. A chance conversation with his cousin Mohan Lal Bhagat, whom he regarded as a mentor, brought Sanganeria in contact with Mr. T. Shamana, Chairman of the company. This association helped Sant Sanganeria sell his entire stock of coumarin.
Meanwhile, the year 1982 witnessed Radha Sales Corporation moving into its brand new office space in the premium locality of New Delhi’s Connaught Place.
In 1985, the office of Radha Sales Corporation found two new faces. Bhuvana Nageshwaran and Prasenjit Mazumdar joined while the preparations for hosting the ICEOFF (International Congress of Flavours, Fragrance and Essential Oils) in 1989 in India were underway. At the time, Sant Sanganeria wasn’t aware that Bhuvana and Prasenjit’s fortunes would be intrinsically intertwined with those of the company for more than three decades.
In 1987, Sant and his wife Asha established a new corporate identity, Ultra International Limited. They set up a purpose-built plant at Sahibabad, which was equipped with state-of-the art machinery. In a concerted change of course, the focus now turned from trading and importing into outright manufacturing of the same aromatic compounds and perfumery chemicals.
Sanganeria’s generosity also bloomed simultaneously with his business and along with his father and mother donated their property at 58/1 Nimtalla Ghat Street to Mother Teresa’s (now Saint) philanthropic setup popularly known as the Missionaries of Charity. This is now known as Daya Dan.
1990 to 1999
Winds of Change
The winds were favourable, Ultra International was speeding on, cutting through the waves.
With the implementation of the economic reforms from the 1990s, there were several multinational companies who wanted to set up operations in the country. To facilitate their purchasing requirements of various flavours, fragrances and natural ingredients from across the globe, Ultra was chosen as a partner of choice.
1n 1990, Bhuvana pursued her Diploma in Perfumery from the Perfumery Education Centre, London under Dr David Williams. Working closely with Sant Sanganeria, she had developed a keen interest in the bewitching world of fragrances and perfumery products. A penchant for learning and a curious mind led her to experiment with blends; soon she was engrossed in the world of fragrances and essential oils. In 1989, she played a pivotal role in setting up Ultra’s R&D centre and today is one of the key pillars of Ultra International and Sanganeria Foundation for Health and Education (SFHE). Today she holds the position of Director, F&F; she is also a member of the board of the RIFM, USA a prestigious global organisation in the F&F industry.
“My identity is with Ultra; Ultra and me are one entity. I incorporated ethical values within myself,” says Bhuvana Nageshwaran.
1992 saw Prasenjit training in Poland to familiarise himself with aromatic chemicals manufacturing and processing. Taking each day as a new dawn and challenge, he was instrumental in the setting up of the international Ultra group and other sister companies. Over the years, he has added much value to Ultra’s foray into fragrances and flavoured essentials. Today he holds an important portfolio in the business as Marketing Director, India and Group General Manager.
Prasenjit Mazumdar the go-getter credits his confidence to the work ethics of Ultra, “Working here has given me confidence and has made me nurture myself as an individual who does not believe in just building castles in the air but in reality believes in making things happen!”
1998 was the year when Ravi Sanganeria joined the Ultra group as the third generation bringing the vast knowledge and experience he gained in Switzerland and Canada as a student.
During his early career he worked with The Royal Bank of Canada in Toronto after graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Carlton University, Canada. With a keen knowledge of the leading global stock exchanges, Ravi’s acumen in financial markets and commodity trading was unsurpassable. He soon became one of the youngest stockbrokers within the bank handling clients across diverse geographies.
By 1995, Ultra was fully involved in the manufacture and supply of fragrances, flavours and essential oils. The years 1995 to 2000 marked Ultra’s expansion on a global platform, albeit in fragments.
2000 to 2010
Plotting a New Course
In his initial years at Ultra International, India, Ravi Sanganeria went through phases of training within finance, marketing, production and quality control. He was instrumental in bringing in automation in fragrance manufacturing, one of the first in India, and also helped to establish SAP integration within all the group companies. Also during this time, he went through intensive GCMS training at Shimadzu, Singapore.
In 1988, Mr Prahalad Sanganeria and his wife donated their ancestral property to Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. Influenced by this gesture, and driven by his belief in the right to live with dignity, Sant Sanganeria has continued to undertake various philanthropic activities. In April 2003 he gave concrete shape to his philanthropic vision by instituting the Sanganeria Foundation for Health and Education (SFHE). Today, the Foundation works extensively in the fields of women empowerment, health and education.
2004 witnessed another flurry of activity at Ultra. Driven by the growing demand of essentials oils and fast-paced technology, Ultra’s Creative Centre in Delhi was established. It housed sophisticated R&D, creative and analytical perfumery laboratories, flavour and fragrance creation and application facilities, odour evaluation testing facilities in addition to executive and staff offices. International standards were incorporated. Ultra was now geared to meet the growing demands and large volumes from international beverage, confectionery, and snack food businesses.
2005 was when Ravi’s learning curve took on a new angle. Touring the Sri Lankan countryside as part of an IFEAT Study Tour, he gained first hand experience of the farming of naturals, their habitats, and processes of distillation that yielded pure essential oils. This trip sowed the seeds and fuelled the passion for natural essential oils, which still drives Ravi’s vision today. The following year he was inducted into the IFEAT Study Tour committee, later to become its chair. Since then Ravi has been instrumental in organising and giving direction to the IFEAT study tours.
2006 brought forth another milestone for Ravi – the IFEAT South Africa conference. Ravi Sanganeria and his wife Priyamvada attended the conference, giving them the opportunity to connect with the global players in the industry. In this year he was also welcomed on to the IFEAT Executive Committee. It also brought him into contact with some of the leading beverage and FMCG companies of the time. Supported by them and backed by 30 years of business relations, Ultra International turned its focus to becoming their preferred supplier of natural raw materials for flavours and fragrances. Once again, this marked a new phase of growth for the company, scripted and shaped by the Sanganeria family.
In the same year, Ravi travelled to Indonesia to meet Sandeep Tekriwal. The outcome was the birth of Ultra’s Indonesian sister company, PT. Van Aroma. The first facility in Padang, West Sumatra was set up with the intention of collecting and standardising nutmeg and patchouli oils. Over time, along with these original products, Van Aroma expanded its portfolio to add extracts, natural isolates, oleoresins, aroma chemicals solvents, absolutes and derivatives sourced from indigenous botanicals. With strategic investments, Van Aroma increased their production units taking the total to six with headquarters in Bogor, Jakarta, Indonesia. It is a well known fact that PT Van Aroma is one of the largest producers of patchouli oil in the world.
The following year, 2007, saw Ravi set up the European headquarters, Ultra International B.V in Spijkenisse, Holland for the production and distribution of essential oils to European and Western markets. Using his experience, Ravi identified demand and zeroed in on newer markets. Gradually from 2006 to about 2010, Ravi increased Ultra’s repertoire from nutmeg oil to over 200 essential oils, derivatives and oleoresins. Today, Ultra and her sister companies are the leading traders and processors of patchouli, nutmeg, clove, tea tree and various citrus oils.
2011 to 2020
Sighting New Land
By 2010, Ravi had established Ultra’s subsidiary companies across the global essential oil geographies including Ultra International Far East, Singapore, Ultra International B.V in the Netherlands, Ultra International Inc, New Jersey, USA and PT Van Aroma in Indonesia. From 2012 to 2017 Ravi Sanganeria increased Ultra’s portfolio of essential oils and aromatic products and focused on incorporating essential oils from all around the globe.
In the year 2012, Ravi’s election as Chairman of the IFEAT Singapore Conference committee proved a resounding success. It was the first time that the customary field trip was replaced with a one-day trade exhibition, which gave the participating companies an opportune platform to showcase their products and network. After all, this was one of the original objectives of IFEAT. This trade exhibition was to go on to become a distinctive feature of subsequent IFEAT conferences.
The year 2012 saw a major development with Colin Ringleib, already a formidable name in global circles, coming on board as Vice President for the Americas. Bringing with him a wealth of forty years experience, Colin today is one of the most senior and respected members of the Ultra team.
In 2014 Ravi’s wife Priyamvada, formally came into the family business as executive director, Ultra International BV, Holland. Priyamvada now is in charge of communication, social media marketing and Ultra’s upcoming ventures. She is also the CEO of Ultra International Far East, Singapore. With her efforts to highlight prevalent market issues, Priyamvada has successfully established consumer connect and instilled an element of transparency through the Ultra Market Report.
In 2015, Ultra established another American subsidiary, Ultra International Inc. in New Jersey. 2015 through to 2016 witnessed some important investments in facility augmentation of Van Aroma, taking its distillation capacity close to 1,000 MT of oil. In addition to a re-working column for fine-fractionation, new flash distillation and reaction columns were installed to boost capacity.
In November 2016, another industry stalwart Lisa Piccininni came on board. Bringing in her treasure of citrus purchasing knowledge, as well as inventory management, quality, and contract negotiation skills, Lisa now holds the position of General Manager, Ultra Americas.
Ravi now explored ways to harness the rich cornucopia of naturals that Australia offers. Teaming up with Tilman Miritz, MCI Miritz, Germany and Aaron Pollack, Pure PTY, Australia, he founded Golden Grove Naturals. Located in the heart of the Gold Coast, comprising over 250 hectares of essential oilbearing plants like tea tree, lemon myrtle, kunzea, lemon-scented tea tree oil and honey myrtle, the team down under aspires to propagate more than 50 different naturals on 2,000 hectares over the next 5-10 years with some of the best agronomy practices and infrastructure in the farming industry. With this Ravi’s vision of organic farming is also taking shape with new acquisitions that will allow GGN to offer various organic naturals with full certification and traceability.
With this significant step, the Ultra group of companies has footprints on almost every continent.
2016 brought two very prestigious accolades for Sant Sanganeria. IFEAT recognised his efforts with the Founder’s Award at the IFEAT Dubai conference. On home ground, he was conferred the Sarthak Samman award and inducted as a Member into the Governing Body of the Trust of Hindu for his indelible contribution to the Hindu College in Delhi.
Ultra continued to consolidate its international presence and strengthen its increasing position in the F&F space. In 2017, Ultra’s SFHE joined hands with CIMAP-CSIR to actively support the Aroma Mission initiative. This mission is an effort to bring about transformative change in the rural economy by involving indigenous tribes and promoting the cultivation of certain high value aromatic crops. The objective is to add value and bridge the gap with new technology and knowledge, and improve the living standards of farmers. Already the mission has benefitted more than 550 farmers across various regions of the country. Ultra has also announced financial advantages for promising students.
2020 AND BEYOND NEW HORIZONS
Standing on the threshold of a new century, Ultra shows no signs of fatigue. Looking forward, Ultra has put in place a strategic business plan and succession formula. While giving top priority to burning issues of sustainability, safeguarding natural resources, value-added agronomy practices and enhanced technology, improving livelihoods of farmers and fostering local economic development, Ultra is also looking at promoting organic farming. A brand new product range under Ultra Organics is in development, and the company is also exploring new frontiers in the UK.
With Sant Sanganeria navigating the tide of new flavours and fragrances, Priyamvada manning the company’s upcoming B2C venture, and Ravi holding the fort with backward integration of raw materials and new market forays, Ultra stands tall and completely prepared to face the new challenges that the next decade may bring.
Ninety glorious years, three proud generations, straddling four vast continents, one inspiring story – the story of Ultra International is nothing but a story of a business built with a foundation of relationship, honour, and integrity. It is a story of organic, debtfree growth driven by values and vision; a story of how a humble print-and-packaging enterprise transformed itself into a globally respected soil-to-shelf naturals icon.
Mr Sant Sanganeria has the last word, “Every decade has some achievement and each one was a proud moment.”