Haldiram’s – Savoury to unsavoury

Their savories are ubiquitous in Indian shops around the country. Just as popular on the party circuit as it is with those looking for a quick cheap bite on the run. When families curl up to watch TV or welcome guests, one of the products served to them is most likely from the gigantic kitchens of Haldiram. A favourite is ‘Aloo Bhujia‘ – long, thin, crackling and spicy potato slivers that vanish with a crunch and a smile in the mouth. Haldiram’s first cracked the taste code across India, a country that with as many cuisines as it has languages. More, in fact. Travel just a few hundred kilometres within India and the variety is remarkable. But like the original South Indian ‘masala dosa’ became a favourite spanning all languages and states, Haldiram has managed to make inroads everywhere Even in places where the snacks are far from familiar. From a little shop in Bikaner, it spanned the length and breadth of the country to pockets as far away as Surinam and Peru.

It could have become the next Frito Lay. The range of products, the customer loyalty that was built and the market for Indian snacks was proving to be a worldwide success story. By 2005, Haldiram’s was already available in 50 countries. They licked distribution problems, innovated on packaging, gave the products a uniquely Indian identity with bright colours and a design format that stood out on the shelves. With a profusion of Indian motifs and a range of truly distinctive tastes, they seemed unstoppable. With minimal advertising and deft distribution, they dominated wherever they went. Frito Lay in India was not able to compete with the homegrown street savvy marketer. It looked as if India would have a brand that stood tall with the Nestle’s and Kraft’s.

But the momentum was curtailed with unsavoury news. In 2005, there was a dispute with a small shop owner who did not agree to sell his land blocking the entrance to a proposed Haldiram’s mall. Matters reached a head with an attempt being made on the small shop owner’s life. The court convicted the owner of Haldiram’s and sentenced him to life imprisonment. While Haldiram’s national market seems unaffected, the shine on the brand has dimmed. And restoring it is going to be quite a challenge.