02 Nov 2018 19:41 IST

A trip down memory lane with Ravalgaon

Did you know the 70-year-old confectionery major gets its name from the village where it is located?

Old-timers like me will immediately recognise the name for what it represents — candy! But youngsters who grew up eating only chocolate may have to do a Google search to discover that it is a township in Nashik district of Maharashtra, where an eponymous sugar and confectionery plant is located.

The name Ravalgaon became famous for the candy, and not the other way around. (Incidentally, ‘sugar’ and ‘candy’ are said to be derived from the Sanskrit words sarkara and khand respectively.)

Economic prosperity

These days, due to successive droughts, Maharashtra has conceded first place to Uttar Pradesh in sugar production; but for many decades it was the largest sugar producer in India, largely due to the efforts of industrialist Seth Walchand Hirachand. He is more famous for his interests in air, sea and road travel and is known as the ‘Father of Transportation’ in India — he started the Hindustan Aircraft Company in 1940 (nationalised and now known as Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd), a shipyard in Vishakapatnam in 1946 (nationalised and now known as Hindustan Shipyard Ltd), and Premier Automobiles in Mumbai.

All this showed not just his entrepreneurial spirit but also his eagerness to see everything ‘made in India’. It was this patriotic drive that resulted in him entering the sugar industry as well.

In 1923, he was in the construction business through his company Hindustan Construction Company Ltd when he was reportedly informed about a huge tract of land — then barren — which had the potential for future agricultural success. The 1,500 acres in question was at Ravalgaon, a remote village in Nashik district of Maharashtra.

Walchand believed that economic prosperity for India could be achieved only through investment in and development of agriculture alongside industry. He purchased the land and, using earthmoving equipment and help from agriculturists, cleared the entire swath and brought in fertile soil.

Sugar sector

After several trials with different crops, he finally hit upon sugarcane. It took about a decade for the plantations to take off and the land to yield a bountiful harvest. By 1933, he had set up one of India’s first sugar mills; the Ravalgaon Sugar Farm Ltd was incorporated the same year. The area around the mill thrived and grew into a prosperous township.

The very next year, he repeated the success of the first venture at Kalamb (another then-barren and uncultivated stretch, today known as Walchandnagar) near Pune. It is claimed that the sugar revolution in Maharashtra was sparked by these two units at Ravalgaon and Walchandnagar.

It was in the 1940s that part of the sugar was directed into the confectionery line under the name ‘Ravalgaon’. The first ventures into the candy line were made through an orange-flavoured, hard-boiled sweet and a caramelised milk candy named Laco. Other sweets and toffees followed, but it was not till the 1980s that branded, colourfully-wrapped confectionery made its appearance.

Consumer recall today centres mainly on Pan Pasand (India’s first paan-flavoured candy), Cheery (orange, raspberry and lemon flavoured), Mango Mood, Assorted Centre (orange-, raspberry-, lemon- and pineapple-jelly centred) and Coffee Break. There is also a bubblegum-flavoured candy called Tutty Fruity, Supreme Toffee (rose, cardamom and vanilla), Chococream and a Sweet Moments Gift Box of assorted candies for special occasions and festivals.

All sweets are 100 per cent vegetarian and prepared using genuine ingredients such as coffee powder, mango pulp, milk (only fresh, pure milk is used in the manufacturing process). The manufacturer uses colour, shape and texture to stimulate taste buds in all these varieties and attract consumers.

Smart advertising

An in-house sales-force takes care of marketing and the products themselves are available across all retail outlets.

Ravalgaon ads are quirky and memorable. The Pan Pasand ad, ‘Shaadi - aur tumse? Kabhi nahin!’ with the enduring tag-line ‘pan ka swad gazab ki mitaas’, is a consumer favourite and cleverly conveyed the idea that even bad news can lose its sting when delivered with this mouth freshener. The product itself has several copycats but no one has to date been able to capture its original paan flavour.

Mango Mood launched an ad that captured our many moods in an original manner. Cheery was originally called ‘cherry’ (despite not having a cherry flavour) but the inability to trademark the name made the manufacturers change it to the similar-sounding ‘Cheery’. In fact, the short, 15- to 30-second ads are a virtual trip down memory lane for all those who grew up seeing them on TV.

From time to time, some of the products undergo re-branding (to make them more relevant to the market) and repackaging (twist, double-twist and pillow pouches — to ensure longer shelf life and freshness). The consistency in quality has ensured a loyal consumer base for Ravalgaon’s products.

Candy factory

The factory is ISO 22000 certified; all operations are automated. Constant research is done on producing disease-resistant sugarcane varieties even as sustainable farming techniques are adopted to get good yields. The company works closely with farmers to ensure proper irrigation techniques are followed.

Interestingly, the whole factory is environment-friendly and energy-efficient as it utilises only the water from the cane itself for production, produces its own energy and even offers excess energy to the township. The factory is surrounded by thousands of trees planted as part of a green initiative. Anti-pollution measures taken by Ravalgaon include an effluent treatment plant and fly-ash arresters in boilers. Ravalgaon has its own industrial machinery division, now managed by a Ravalgaon Group company, Acrow India Ltd.

The Ravalgaon website is fun-filled and informative; definitely, the ‘products’ and ‘factory floor’ pages are a must-visit for children, who will find the illustrations irresistible. In a Mary Poppins-like touch, Ravalgaon describes its Tutty Fruity candy as ‘a bubbilicious, tuttilicious, yummilicious, fruitlicious pink toffee’ that reminds you of ice cream.

The Indian confectionery market (sugar, chocolate and gum candy) is a volume-driven sector. It is seeing major changes including a shift away from traditional hard-boiled toffees and candies to chocolate. Pricing and appearance play major roles, which means that innovation in flavours alone is not enough: the packaging, shape and texture of the sweets have to be constantly changed to appeal to the consumers’ palates.

More than 50 per cent of this market is said to be controlled by the unorganised sector. While this could impact future sales, Ravalgaon is confident that it will continue to bring ‘sweet smiles on millions of faces’ for many years to come.