One of Britain’s leading Asian businessmen, Rashmibhai Narshidas Thakrar, whose family founded the Tilda Rice empire, passed away last Friday (3). He was 70.
Along with his brothers Vipul and Shilen, Rashmibhai turned Tilda into a global food brand before it was sold in 2014 to the US food group Hain Celestial in a deal said to be worth £217 million.
Originally from Gujarat, the Thakrar family settled in east Africa before they moved to Britain in the 1970s.
Rashmibhai was born in 1946 in Jinja, Uganda, to Narshidasbhai Thakrar and his wife Hiraben.
Narshidasbhai set up Popat Brothers in Uganda, which grew into one of the largest importers of rice and salt in east Africa in the 1960s.
With the Ugandan Asian expulsion in 1972, the Thakrar family arrived in Britain and set up shop in Leicester where they began supplying rice and pulses to the growing Asian community. It was then that Narshidasbhai spotted a gap in the market for high-quality rice and set on a mission to supply Basmati rice with no breakages.
Rashmibhai joined the family business and helped build Tilda’s reputation for the highest quality rice on the market which gained them listings in major supermarkets across the country.
As it expanded, Tilda opened a state of the art rice milling plant in Rainham, Essex, where it is still based. The company continued to innovate, led by Rashmibhai’s sharp eye for detail. Tilda’s jute bags were ditched to make way for sleek packaging with resealable zips along with new fragrant rice varieties.
Tilda remains the country’s biggest selling basmati rice brand with sales in Europe, north America, east Africa and India. The family opened rice mills in Uganda and India where they serve the local population.
In 2013, Tilda was named Asian Business Food & Drink Business of the Year at the annual Asian Business Awards, hosted by Eastern Eye.
As he collected the prize, Rashmibhai, who shunned the limelight, told Eastern Eye: “Consumers and trade liked what we were doing.
“Asian entrepreneurs should all tune into their consumers – that’s all that is required for any success.”
He added: “Tilda will march on forever and forever, I hope!”
The second generation of Thakrar family have branched out into the restaurant business, running the popular Dishoom chain in London.
The family still retain rights to the Tilda brand in east Africa, where they have a rice milling plant serving the local population.
Rashmibhai was a close friend of Ramniklal Solanki, editor in chief of Asian Media & Marketing Group, publishers of Eastern Eye. He was a source of great wisdom and wise counsel for Mr Solanki when in 1985, he launched Asian Trader magazine, the leading title for convenience stores. Rashmibhai served for many years on the magazine’s advisory counsel along with other leading figures from the grocery industry.
Rashmibhai is survived by his wife Rekha; children Shamil and Raam and grandchildren Ishaan, Alisha, Tara, Asha and Jaya.
Thousands of mourners paid their respects to Rashmibhai at a prayer meeting last Sunday (5) at the Swaminarayan Mandir in Stanmore, north London.
The family has requested they be given time to mourn in private.
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