UIC Business alumnus details his success in the food and liquor industry
Happenstance is how entrepreneur Pankaj “PK” Garg MBA ’90 describes his entry into the food and beverage industry. “It was an epiphany that came to me 35,000 feet in the air,” says Garg, founder of SōmruS, a premium spirits company founded in 2012. “I had just enjoyed an Eastern-inspired meal while traveling from India to the U.S. It was followed by a delectable Indian dessert called ras malai. I still needed my nightcap, so I asked for Bailey’s, except its flavor couldn’t have been farther from the Eastern flavors of cardamom and saffron, and a light bulb went off: How come there is not a cream liqueur representing a region known for spices, flavors, and aromas, constituting about one-fifth of the world’s population?”
With this idea in mind, Garg embarked on creating the Indian answer to Bailey’s, Kahlúa, Jägermeister, and other regionally-defined liqueurs. “We wanted to develop a line of liqueurs which are ‘India inspired, but universally appealing,’” he explains. After considerable research, experimentation, and a number of global focus groups, SōmruS was born. Garg and his team predicted that SōmruS would gain popularity with Indian Americans, a market of about three to four million people, but they soon found that the beverage also had considerable crossover appeal. Because it is all natural, gluten free, preservative free, and contains premium ingredients like saffron, pistachios, and almonds, it has been successfully marketed within the high-end liqueur market. Garg remarks that the most popular way consumers enjoy SōmruS is neat (chilled or on the rocks). However, there are some other interesting pairings, such as SōmruS poured over ice cream or added to tea to make “the most wonderful chai in the world!”
Before launching SōmruS, Garg spent more than 25 years as a management consultant. “My company wouldn’t be where it is without my background in strategy and management consulting.” A project-based practice, consulting requires delivering a product on a strict timeline. Additionally, as a consultant Garg was trained to jump right into assignments in order to quickly establish a company’s business framework and rapidly make improvements.
Garg immigrated to the U.S. in 1987 to attend the University of Illinois at Chicago for his MBA. He credits the education and real-world experience he gained at UIC Business for his seamless orientation into the business world. Garg notes, “Chicago is a mecca for professional service companies like management consulting, finance, commodities trading, and advertising. A significant percentage of global companies are headquartered in Chicago. This made it possible for us to interact with various chief experience officers and business leaders on a regular basis.”
Garg advises UIC Business students to remember: “Everyone on earth has the same 24 hours in a day. If you have decided on an educational path at UIC, give it 100 percent and derive as much benefit as you can from the faculty, visiting professionals, and alumni. Instead of just focusing on completing the coursework, focus on how the entire UIC and Chicago community can be helpful in elevating your career.”