07 May 2016 12:43:02 IST

Malathy Sriram writes poems and short stories for children and adults, as well as book reviews and articles of general interest. She is a post-graduate in English Literature from Ethiraj College for Women, Chennai. Her work has been published in Indian Express, Deccan Herald, Mirror and Femina. She has edited website content and is the editor of The Small Supplement, an online magazine for children with articles on history, science, arts and culture, sports, technology, companies and brands, mythology and short stories. Reading, teaching English, listening to music (all genres) and singing complete her oeuvre.

How Amul became a priceless brand

The Trio: Tribhuvandas Patel with Verghese Kurien and HM Dalaya. (Hindu Archives)

Kurien, Patel and Dalaya, the founders of Amul turned the country’s milk-deficit status around

It is a story that doesn’t lose it’s charm regardless of any number of retellings: how India changed from being a milk-deficit country to become the world’s largest producer of milk and milk products; and how a brand named Amul triggered the White Revolution and became India’s largest food brand.

The year was 1949. Verghese Kurien was working at the Government Creamery at Anand, Gujarat. He was itching to complete his bond of service (in return for a Government scholarship) and leave for the then-Bombay. But a request from a friend made him delay his departure, after which he famously stayed on forever. The friend was Shri Tribhuvandas Patel, the Chairman of Kaira District Co-operative Milk Producers Union, popularly known as Amul Dairy today.

Farmers (milk suppliers) from Anand, Gujarat had approached Sardar Vallabhai Patel and Morarji Desai for guidance, and the cooperative was formed in 1946. They objected to the arbitrary fixing of the price of milk by the Polson dairy, which had complete rights to supply milk to Bombay under the Bombay Milk Scheme. The city got its milk, the Polson dairy prospered and the middlemen took their share; but the farmers suffered.

Milk Strike

They asked the authorities for permission to set up a cooperative with their own pasteurisation plant. They further demanded that the government should buy milk directly from their union. When these demands were turned down, in an extremely bold move, the farmers decided to go on a ‘milk strike’ and suspended milk supply to Bombay. The city went without even a drop of milk from Anand for 15 days, after which the government caved in and officially recognised the Kaira Union as the milk supplier to Bombay.

Patel and Kurien were joined by HM Dalaya, a forgotten name today, and the three became the pillars of the cooperative movement. Kurien’s help was sought to put the dairy equipment together and run the units, and he also took care of marketing and external affairs. . As Kurien admitted, the technical and internal aspects of running the dairy were looked after by Dalaya, and Patel brought together farmers to set up more cooperative societies. New machinery was bought and milk procurement increased from 200 litres in 1948 to 20,000 litres in 1952. A dairy was set up in 1955 to process excess milk into milk powder and butter. A large part of the dairy’s success was thanks to Dalaya’s path-breaking discovery of a method of producing skimmed milk powder from buffalo milk. This was a first across the world, and an important breakthrough, as the farmers in the region depended on buffalo milk and excess milk could be processed into powder.

Priceless Lessons

With the commercial success of the modern dairy at Anand, the brand name Amul (from the Sanskrit Amulya or priceless, and also an acronym for Anand Milk Union Ltd) was registered in 1957. For the purposes of marketing and distribution, a single brand name was ideal, and thus all the dairy cooperatives were brought under one umbrella – the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation Limited (GCMMF) and the name Amul was transferred to this apex body from the Kaira Union.

In 1965, the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) was established at Anand. With Kurien’s expertise and the then-Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri’s advice , the world’s largest dairy development programme known as ‘Operation Flood’ was born. This replicated the success of the ‘Amul Model’ in other parts of the country.

The system, known as the ‘Anand Pattern’, operates at three levels. A dairy cooperative society at the village level is responsible for collecting the milk; the District Milk Union to which the village dairy is affiliated procures and processes the milk; and the State milk federation markets the milk and milk products. All the personnel involved are selected or elected by the farmers — whether it is to manage the various levels efficiently or run the dairy profitably. Almost 80-85 per cent of the amount earned from consumers is returned to the farmers to encourage better milk production. Most importantly, the cooperatives understand and respond to the needs and demands of the farmers.

Then and Now

Today, GCMMF is India’s largest food products marketing organisation. It is jointly owned by about 36 lakh farmers from 18,000 villages who are members of the 17 unions. Marginal farmers, landless labourers and tribals comprise more than 70 per cent of the number. It is mandatory for GCMMF to buy all the milk that farmers bring in and at the highest rate possible; on an average, about 18 million litres of milk is procured per day

The Amul brand reaches about 1 million retailers through a wide-ranging network of 10, 000 dealers. Its product range includes milk, milk products, milk-based sweets, ice creams, chocolates and much more. In the ice cream sector alone, Amul is among the top 10 brands in India. Its sugar-free pro-biotic ice-cream won The International Dairy Federation Marketing Award for 2007. The chocolate range, launched to counter the hold of MNC’s over cocoa-bean producers in the country, is said to be doing very well — coming fourth after Cadbury, Nestle and Ferrero in sales.

Amul leads the packaged milk segment with its UHT (Ultra-High Temperature processing) products, which maintain the shelf life of milk without the need of cold supply chains. It has also introduced Stamina, a sports drink.

The Amul Butter advertisements that made the brand a household name are set to enter the Guinness Book of World Records for being the longest running campaign ever (since 1967). The Amul moppet (shown in picture), with her utterly-butterly-delicious looks, has been the darling of consumers across the country, despite courting occasional controversies. But beyond these ads, Amul does not spend much on advertising. To keep the cost of the products affordable, just about 1 per cent of its turnover is spent on ads and promotions.

Sweet Success

The financial year 2015-16 saw GCMMF registering a provisional turnover of more than ₹23,000 crore. There are plans to enhance the milk processing capacity from the current 28 million litres a day to 38 million litres in the next four-five years. They hope to achieve a sales turnover of ₹50,000 crore by 2020.

Apart from receiving several national and international awards, Kurien is fondly remembered today as the ‘Milkman of India’ and the ‘Father of the Milk Revolution’. His birthday — November 26 — is celebrated as National Milk Day.

The Amul story inspired director Shyam Benegal’s film Manthan , which was financed by over 5 lakh Gujarati farmers contributing ₹2 each. Now isn’t that utterly butterly delicious and sweet tribute to an inspiring movement?