There’s a certain magic about the story of small-scale enterprises. They are often begun by men and women of humble origins with a strong vision, a solid sense of purpose and relentless perseverance. Their rise is always amazing to watch and it’s easy to feel your chest swell with a sense of pride at the heights these remarkable individuals have sometimes achieved. Unlike the men and women who rule mighty, sprawling conglomerates with huge purses and powerful families to back them, these enterprises were built through the blood, sweat, and tears of people of modest means. Their stories are inspiring those who number themselves among the middle class, a fast-rising, considerable chunk of the Indian populace who aspire for great things.
With rising education, affirmative policies targeted at eliminating social distance and barriers, and the economy liberalized in the 1990s and one that was considered to be growing at a commendable pace before the pandemic hit the world, India is ripe for the birth of many an innovative and imitative enterprise.
Among such enterprises, perhaps one often overlooks the players that revolutionized the snack and eatery industries of India. The evenings we spend with our family – characterized, as it often is in India, by the pleasant custom of chai-biskoot – would be incomplete without the products of such companies on the table, served in small bowls and plates, surrounded by energetic conversation, banter, and emphatic laughter.
We have much to learn from the industrious founders and successors of these companies and it is hoped that these stories will provide the reader impetus to perhaps go forward and discover more of such stories: where the protagonists started out small but aimed big.
The fascinating tale of the rise of Haldiram’s begins in 1946, Bikaner where Ganga Bhishen Agarwal, lovingly referred to as Haldiram, operated a small shop where he sold Bikaneri Bhujia. Instead of simply following the technique passed down to him from his father and aunt, Ganga Agarwal sought to innovate: he developed a new recipe for the bhujia through a simple ingredient change that made it stand out amongst its competitors. He drove the differentiation home by renaming the bhujia – he called it ‘Dungar Sev Bhujia’, after the Maharaja Dungar Singh, thus rendering his version of the bhujia more aspirational.
In the 1950s, Ganga Bhishen, along with his two sons Moolchand and Rameshwar Lal expanded the business to Kolkata and established Haldiram Bhujiawala. In a few years, the business turned immensely profitable, fuelling ideas of further expansion among Ganga’s grandchildren. Between 1968-1970, Shiv Kishan Agarwal, Moolchand’s son, established the first Haldiram’s outlet in Kanpur. Here, he innovated and added new products to the Haldiram line such as Bikaneri rasmalai and Bengali rasgulla alongside the bhujia. After the tremendous success he experienced in the first year, Shiv Kishan Agarwal expanded operations and added newer products to the line.
Expansion to Delhi
In 1983, he along with his brother, Manohar Lala Agarwal established a factory in Chandni Chowk, Delhi, and started expanding to the national capital. Disaster struck when just before breaking even, their bakery and their house got burnt by a mob in the anti-Sikh violence during 1984. They did not let disaster impede them and the brothers persisted with their efforts to expand within the national capital. Eventually, they rebuilt their home, broke even, and started reaping profits. The brothers slowly expanded across the country, launching more factories in Delhi and Nagpur. By the 1990s, they’d begun making a name for themselves in food expos abroad and had started exporting as well.
Division of the empire
In the 1990s, the Agarwal family was rife with disagreements about the functioning of the company and the distribution of the shares. Therefore, the operations of the company were divided into three independent units: The operations in the West and the South, headquartered at Nagpur was taken by Shiv Kishan Agarwal, the operations North Indian markets was to be undertaken by Manohar Lal Agarwal and Madhusudan Agarwal from Delhi, the ones in the East was to be taken care of by Ashok Agarwal and Prabhu Shankar Agarwal from Kolkata. The feud didn’t stop there – a case over trademarks was fought for almost fifteen years between the Prabhuji Haldiram (the branch of the family operating out of Kolkata) and Haldiram’s (the branch of the family operating out of Delhi). The ruling in favour of the Delhi branch in 2013 may have ended the cases, but commentators maintained that it strained the family ties significantly.
The saga continues
Despite such impediments, Haldiram’s has risen to tremendous levels. In the financial year 2013-2014, Haldiram’s reportedly generated a revenue of Rs. 3,500 crore which was more than the combined revenue of McDonald’s and Domino’s in India put together! This feat is truly a testament to the impact that the company has made on its consumers.
From a small stall in Bikaner to multiple shops and restaurants peppered across India with its products adorning virtually every shop in India, Haldiram’s definitely has come far. Today Haldiram’s occupies considerable shelf space at prominent supermarkets the world over: Tesco, Sommerfield, Spinneys, and Carrefour. Indeed, very recently Kellogg’s itself showed interest to invest in a sizable portion of Haldiram’s (even though it later retracted the offer) indicating the strong presence the company has on the world stage. Their partnership with Futurelife, a South African health-based functional food company, is also telling of the progress Haldiram has made from its humble origins to its powerful present form.
About the writer: Anjaney Sudhakaran is an undergraduate business student at the Indian Institute of Management, Indore. His academic interests include economics, history, and statistics. He loves to read fiction and is an ardent movie enthusiast