16 Jul 2016 19:00 IST

The namkeen taste of success

The journey of Haldiram’s from the obscure lanes of Bikaner to the global brand it is today

This write-up took me some extra time, as I spent a few minutes drooling over the images of Haldiram’s products. I finally gave in to temptation, took a break, visited the nearest retailer and tasted some of the snacks and sweets mentioned here!

The back story

Haldiram’s was born in Bikaner, Rajasthan, home of the world-famous Bikaneri bhujiya. This salty snack was given the Geographical Indications tag in 2010.

But what’s so special about it? Well, bhujiya from other areas is made from gram flour or besan, but the one from Bikaner is made from the locally available ground moth lentils. Locals say its unique flavour comes from the sandy desert air. Almost everyone here makes bhujiya, but Haldiram’s had a huge advantage: they became the first company in India to brand namkeens.

In 1937, Ganga Bishen Agrawal, also known as Haldiram Agrawal, opened a small shop in Bikaner to sell bhujiya. His grandfather, Tansukhdas, had started the bhujiya-making tradition but Haldiram carried it forward and made a name for himself.

In 1941, his son, Rameshwar Lal, used the name ‘Haldiram’s Bhujiawala’ for the first time, while setting up shop in Kolkata. In 1968, he also set up a manufacturing unit for sweets and snacks. He went on to register the name as a trademark in 1972, which led to some disputes in the family, as his brothers, Moolchand and Shiv Kishen, too opened units with the same name (Haldiram’s) in Delhi and Nagpur, respectively.

Three-way split

In the 1990s, the brand split three ways into Haldiram Manufacturing (Delhi), Haldiram Bhujiawala/ Haldiram’s Prabhuji (Kolkata), and Haldiram Foods / Haldiram’s Nagpur (Nagpur).

While the first focuses on markets in the north, the second serves the east, and the third caters to western and southern markets. Not many people know there are three entities operating in different geographical locations under the same name.

Despite this, each unit claims there is a difference in the quality of products. All three have a tremendous presence in international markets like the US, Canada, the UK, UAE, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.

Controversies have erupted over the use of the brand name when one unit tried to enter another’s territory. Others laying claim to the famous ancestor who created Haldiram’s are Bikanervala, Bhikaram Chandmal, Bikaji and Bikano.

Only the best

It is said that during the initial days, the founder would test each product daily for quality and taste. Even today, Haldiram’s carries on the tradition of delivering only the best. The tremendous success of the brand is said to lie in the ‘authentic’ taste they bring out in every product they manufacture, be it the original Bikaneri bhujiya, the South Indian murukku or the Bengali rasgulla.

Every sweet and savoury item is manufactured in-house and is closely monitored by management (mostly family). Uniformity in quality and taste, coupled with excellent packaging and distribution, has made the name well-known throughout India. Competitive pricing too has helped cement the brand’s success. Haldiram’s never increased the prices of its products, unless the cost of raw materials shot up or new taxes were imposed.

Today, a variety of snacks, savouries, sweets, ready-to-eat foods, cookies and biscuits, dairy products, pickles and even fruit juice concentrates, make up Haldiram’s range, bringing the number of products to almost 400 (across all three companies).

Packaging and presentation

Several pack sizes are available. For the health-conscious, there is the assurance that every step in the manufacturing process conforms to international norms (HACCP) of quality and safety. The best raw materials are sourced for manufacture and hygiene is assured by a mechanised process that eliminates handling of the products at any stage.

Haldiram’s was the first company in India to emphasise the importance of packaging and presentation, especially for namkeens, which are usually impulse purchases. This is why an added dash of colour is needed to attract consumers.

Before 1990, the maximum shelf-life of Haldiram’s namkeens was a week. It pioneered new and latest methods of packaging (like nitrogen-filled pouches) that increased shelf-life of its products, especially namkeens, to around six months. This prompted the catchy slogan, ‘six months on the shelf and six seconds in your mouth’. In fact, packaging has become the brand’s USP — during the festival seasons, attractive gift packs are on offer.

The breakdowns

Almost 60 per cent of Haldiram’s turnover comes from namkeens. The brand succeeded despite competition from both domestic and international brands like SM Foods’ Peppy and PepsiCo’s Lehar and Frito Lays.

The brand’s products are available at supermarkets, confectionary shops, provision stores and even bakeries. Apart from appearing in shops at railway stations and bus stops, they also have an online presence.

Taking full advantage of its brand recognition, Haldiram’s established restaurants at Nagpur and in Delhi. These fall under three formats — casual dining, quick service restaurants (QSR) and kiosks. Their success prompted further expansion and today, more than 40 restaurants can be found in Delhi and Delhi NCR (Gurgaon, Noida, Ghaziabad and Faridabad) alone. It is planning to adopt the franchise method to expand in the South. Haldiram’s is said to lead the Indian QSR market in sales.

And they kept coming up with innovative strategy to make their brand grow: if your train travelled through Nagpur, you could call ahead and place an order for food at the Nagpur restaurant. All you had to do was pay by DD/ cheque, supply the train’s name, expected time of arrival at Nagpur, your name, coach and seat number and voila! A piping hot meal would be delivered to you at Nagpur!

Since 2014, Paschim Express — that runs between Amritsar and Mumbai — has been serving vegetarian food made by Haldiram’s. This comes under the then Railway Minister Sadanand Gowda’s scheme of serving better meals on trains.

Let’s talk numbers

Haldiram’s turnover for 2013-14 stood at around ₹3,500 crores. The split is as follows: Haldiram Manufacturing: ₹2,100 crores; Haldiram Foods: ₹1,225 crores; Haldiram Bhujiawala: ₹210 crores.

By 2015, the brand accounted for 40 per cent of the total ₹5,500 crore traditional snacks business in India. According to a study by the Trust Research Advisory, the ‘Brand Trust Report’, Haldiram’s ranks 55 th among India’s Most Trusted Brands (2014). It is a member of several food associations, both in India and abroad.

An interesting fact is that till now, despite good growth, the company did not try to get external financing. According to reports, it was only in May 2016 that Haldiram’s held talks with some private equity investors for possible financing.

Some renowned names have shown interest in picking up a stake in the business, and sources say if the deal goes through, the company may be valued at around $1 billion or ₹6,300 crores.

Courting controversies

Haldiram’s has not been free from controversies: since February 2015, several of their snacks have been denied admission in the US, citing pesticide adulteration. However, tests conducted by the Maharashtra government’s health regulator in July 2015 showed no signs of pesticides in its products.

Advertising done right

The brand has never gone in for advertising on a massive scale, but as competition picked up, they came up with catchy slogans and colourful hoardings to attract new customers and retain old ones. Outlets that stocked products were instructed to give importance to point of purchase (POP) displays and place Haldiram’s products on special racks.

Recently, Haldiram’s tied up with the Hindi film Prem Ratan Dhan Payo. More than 1.5 crore packets of Haldiram’s snacks, printed with the logo of the film and announcing a contest, were distributed across India. A regular store was set up in the studio and the film even showed the main character relishing a Haldiram’s thali. Now, that’s some good advertising right there!