WHAT IS COMMON between a drunk at the local theka, a homesick student in Brussels and the gift hamper of a businessman? The answer is quite simply Haldiram’s. Chances are that the tippler will clutch a packet of ‘tasty nuts’ in his hand as he swigs 8 PM from the other, the student will have a bag of moong dal mixture hidden away as succour on that European evening of sleet and snow, and the businessman would have filled his goody bag with tins of rasgullas and panchratan mixtures. Haldiram’s is special because it is so common. It is one of the few food products that straddle different classes and denominations. It is economical, but never considered cheap.
How many interminable train and bus journeys have been salvaged by Haldiram’s bhujia? Isn’t the snap of the packet, the crackle of the bhujia synchronous with the chhuk-chhuk of the train? And everyone has their own favourite bhujia story. Some eat theirs straight up and on the rocks, others garnish their curd with it, the brazen furbish their sandwiches with a layer of its hiss and ketchup, and the outrageous even dip their idlis into it.
The success of Haldiram’s winds its way back to 1937 and a small retail shop in Bikaner, Rajasthan, run by Shivkisan Agarwal. Four generations later, the brand today is bigger than five of its regional competitors combined
Now comes news that Haldiram’s is not only omnipresent, it is also giving its competitors acidity. The Economic Times has reported that Haldiram’s is ‘now twice the size of Hindustan Unilever’s packaged food division or Nestle Maggi and larger than the India turnover of the two fast food rivals Domino’s and McDonald’s put together.’ Its revenues grew 13 per cent to cross Rs 4,000 crore in 2015-16. Packaged products make up 80 per cent of its revenue.
The success of Haldiram’s winds its way back to 1937 and a small retail sweet-and-savouries shop in Bikaner, Rajasthan, run by Shivkisan Agarwal. Four generations later, the brand today is bigger than five of its regional competitors combined. The company shifted its base in 1970 to Nagpur, where it opened its first factory. Its durable packaging made it a hit with the NRIs, longing for a taste of home. By 1997 it forayed into milk products such as khoya and ghee. The story of the Agarwal family can be read in full detail in the recent book, Bhujia Barons: The Untold Story of How Haldiram Built a 5000 Crore Empire by Pavitra Kumar. The book details both the feuds and jealousies, and the business acumen and expertise of the family. The company proves what longevity looks like in the packaged and fast food business.
While many of us moaned the brief demise of Maggi, one can speculate that if Haldiram’s ever vanished from the shelves, there’d be revolt and mayhem in the ranks. How are we to spend idle time now? How will boredom be mitigated? Without their kaju katli, how is ‘good news’ to be shared with colleagues? And without their soan papdi, which Diwali gift are we going to circulate for years?