Saturday, February 28, 2015

Salute the leader-The long journey of "Parle G"

Glucose biscuit is a unique product in the Indian market and there cannot be a cheaper "ready to eat" product more affordable than this in any market any where in the world. Whether one analyzes the cost based on energy, protein or any other parameter, glucose biscuit still comes out with flying colors compared to other food products. Who is responsible for making glucose biscuit so enormously popular in this country? Universally the answer is Parle Biscuits of Mumbai! The illustrious Chauhan family of Mumbai will always be remembered by Indians affectionately and respectfully with nostalgia as some of the major products like glucose biscuits, fruiti drink, Thumsup cola, Bisleri water, were all the creation of members of this family which served the country for more than 8 and a half decades. If Indians should be proud of our feats in food sector, which were threatened with extinction by a spate of "muscly" multinational food companies, we have to thank families like Chauhans, Aggarwalls (Haldiram), Bhujiawalas, etc . No wonder that these foreign companies are trying either to buy them out or imitate them to push them out of the market! It speaks enormously of their resilience and survival abilities that even 3rd and 4th generation successors are giving the MNCs a run for their money. Here is a commentary on the evolution of Parle G the most important icon of Indian food industry and its dominance of bakery products sector.      

"There is a spot where the warm aroma of fresh baking catches hold of anyone travelling in a Mumbai local train enroute Andheri and further north. A result of the busy ovens at the first factory of Parle Products baking a batch of the world's largest biscuit brand, Parle G. The company makes 400 million of those a day. Parle Products was established in 1929 to manufacture confectionery such as boiled sweets, after the promoter family, the Chauhans, bought a decrepit factory. Parle G was born as Parle Gluco a decade later, even as the bugle for World War II was sounded. Parle had to manufacture military-grade biscuits for British soldiers right after, but ensured that it could manufacture the nutritional Parle G for the common masses. Parle G, as we know it today, has grown to be bigger than any other biscuit brand in the world by carrying forward the same positioning from the thirties, perfected over the years with a resourceful knack for scale and self-sufficiency. Launched as an affordable source of nourishment (it underlined the calories in a pack at one time) to counter expensive, imported biscuits in the British Raj such as Jacob's (cream cracker of United Biscuits) and those of erstwhile large biscuit maker, Huntly & Palmers. Britannia, then based out of Calcutta (Kolkata now), was strong in the east, while Glaxo glucose biscuit, also imported, ruled over the south. Kamal Kapadia, who worked at Parle for 32 years and left as CEO, Bengaluru project, in 2004, says, "There were many local manufacturers in the early years, mostly cottage industries. Biscuits then would first mean glucose biscuits." Kapadia recalls that in 1960, Britannia launched its first glucose biscuit brand, Glucose D, later endorsed by Amjad Khan's Sholay avatar, Gabbar Singh in the 1970s. It was then that Parle Gluco started feeling the heat, even smaller players would imitate the pack and carry the suffix of 'glucose' in their names. People, especially who were not literate would just ask for glucose biscuits.  Munawar Syed, who worked on the Parle account from the seventies till the nineties, at Everest (now director at Triton), says, "People were confused by similar brand names. Glucose became generic. We did advertise the differences but then, took a call to change the name and ride more on Parle." In 1982, Parle Gluco was repackaged as Parle G. The company had earlier tried to battle knock-offs by imprinting the plump little girl (an illustration by Everest) on its packs, in the mid-seventies. It clicked with Parle G's target audience, kids and their mothers. Kapadia says Parle always believed in branding: "I still remember Parle G's taglines such as 'Often imitated, never equalled'". Parle was among the first advertisers to paint Mumbai's train compartments with Parle Gluco ads when the Indian Railways allowed it. It was the belief in branding that also made Parle G's makers self-reliant, build scale and maintain pricing. Kapadia says, "It wanted to sell biscuits in consumer-friendly packs, rather than leave them loose in jars." Parle resorted to importing and patenting its own packing machinery as early as the fifties. Praveen Kulkarni, general manager, marketing, and with the company since mid-90s, says, "Parle G, till the 1980s commanded over 95 per cent. The glucose market was 60-70 per cent of the overall market." Glucose is now 22 per cent of Rs 24,000 crore and Parle G is around 80 per cent of it, reaching 6 million outlets."

If there is a single product that a poor man in this country can buy it is Glucose biscuit which can be considered a complete food. To day every street corner shop through out the length and breadth of the country sells smaller packs of these biscuits at Rs 2, Rs 3, and Rs 5. Whether it is eaten as a quick bite or as a one time food during the day, glucose biscuit fills the role! Remarkably even MNC companies which are fighting for dominance in the market are just the followers and it will remain as one till the foreseeable future!  Talk about the price front and Parle has fulfilled its role as a counterbalance to the MNCs from escalating the price unreasonably as the latter is known to do when they achieve strangle hold on the market by virtue of their dominance. Glucose biscuit is one food product, which always held its price line in spite of inflationary pressure over the years. Imagine a kilo of glucose biscuit costs less than Rs 80 while the breakfast cereals being marketed by the MNCs cost beyond Rs 400 per kilo! Indian citizen must be grateful to Desi stalwarts like Parle for making this country an affordable one, especially for the poor and lower middle class people!


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