This article is part of our series, the ‘Great Indian Manufacturing’, in which we will reveal the historic success stories behind pioneering swadeshi items and brands that generations of Indians have loved through decades.
Parle G — a name that instantly brings back childhood memories of dunking crisp biscuits in a hot cup of milk and quickly having the soggy piece before it crumbled back into the milk. A much-loved chai staple in India, the humble rectangular biscuit is something most Indians have grown up eating.
Even today, many people across the country wake up to a cup of tea and Parle-G every morning. Little wonder that for millions of Indians, it isn’t just any other biscuit: it’s comfort food!
So if you are one of Parle-G’s die-hard fans, here’s a tale to tease your taste buds – the story of Parle, India’s largest biscuit maker, and its signature product.
The year was in 1929. Mohanlal Dayal of the Chauhans, a Mumbai-based family of silk traders, had just bought and refurbished a decrepit, old factory to manufacture confectionery (such as boiled sweets).
Deeply influenced by the Swadeshi movement (that promoted the production and use of Indian goods), Chauhan had sailed to Germany a few years ago to learn the art of confectionery-making. He returned in 1929, armed with the required skills as well as the required machinery (imported from Germany for Rs 60,000).
Located between the sleepy villages of Irla and Parla, the small factory set up by the Chauhans employed just 12 men with the family members themselves serving in multiple capacities — as engineers, managers, and confectionery makers.
Interestingly, it is believed that the founders were so busy managing the factory that they forgot to name it.
And so with time, the first Indian owned confectionery brand in the country came to be known after its place of birth — Parle.
Parle’s first product was an orange candy that was soon followed by other confectioneries and toffees. However, it was only 10 years later that it began its biscuit making operations. Even as the bugle for World War II was sounded in 1939, the company baked its first biscuit.
Back then, biscuits were mostly imported, expensive and meant for consumption by the elite classes. United Biscuits, Huntly & Palmers, Britannia and Glaxo were the prominent British brands that ruled the market.
It was to counter this trend that Parle Products launched Parle Gluco as an affordable source of nourishment for the common masses. Made in India, meant for Indian palates and accessible to every Indian, the humble biscuit quickly became popular with the public. It was also much-in-demand by the British-Indian army during World War II.
However, in 1947, a severe shortage of wheat (India was left with only 63% of its wheat cultivation area after Partition) immediately after Independence meant that the production of Parle Gluco biscuits had to stop for a while.
In an ad saluting Indians who had sacrificed their lives for the freedom of their motherland, Parle urged its consumers to make do with barley biscuits till wheat supplies were restored to normal.
In 1960, Parle Products started feeling the pinch when other players in the market began launching their own glucose biscuits. For instance, Britannia launched its first glucose biscuit brand, Glucose D, and had it endorsed by Gabbar Singh (Amjad Khan’s avatar in Sholay). Confused by similar brand names, most people would just ask shopkeepers for glucose biscuits.
To battle the flood of knock-offs, the firm decided to create a packaging that would be unique to Parle Gluco while patenting its own packing machinery. The new packaging was a yellowish wax-paper wrapper with a plump little girl imprinted on it (an illustration by Everest Brand Solutions), along with the brand name and company’s red-coloured logo.
However, while the new packaging clicked with the biscuit’s target audience — kids and their mothers, it still failed to decisively distinguish Parle Gluco from the horde of “me-too” glucose biscuit brands in the market. This prompted the management to rechristen the biscuit and see if it helped it stand out from the crowd.
And so in 1982, Parle Gluco was repackaged as Parle G, with the ‘G’ standing for glucose, of course. To avoid duplication by small biscuit-makers (who sold their low-quality biscuits in a similar yellow wax paper), the packaging material was change to low-cost printed plastic.
Its cheeky new tagline stated, “Often imitated, never equalled”.
This was quickly followed by an innovative TV commercial in which a burly Dadaji and his precocious grandchildren sang in chorus — “Swaad bhare, Shakti bhare, Parle-G”. In 1998, Parle-G found a quirky brand endorser in Shaktiman, the desi superhero from a telly screen who was immensely popular with Indian kids.
And Parle products have not looked back since. From “G Maane Genius” and “Hindustan ki Taakat” to “Roko Mat, Toko Mat“, Parle- G’s fun yet relatable ads helped it move its image from mono-dimensional to multi-dimensional — from an energy biscuit to a source of strength and creativity.
For instance, its 2013 ad campaign encourages parents to give their kids a free hand in pursuing their dreams. The jingle, for which Gulzar lent his pen and Piyush Mishra lent his voice, celebrates “Kal ke Genius“.
Its most recent campaign, “Woh Pehli Waali Baat“, has people in different scenarios talking of changes that have taken place over the years.
These perfectly-executed campaigns and the biscuits’ reliable quality are among the key reasons for the brand’s success over the years. Today, the company boasts of astounding sales figures of over a billion packets a month. That is around a hundred million packets of Parle G every month, or 14,600 crore biscuits in the entire year, which adds up to 121 biscuits each for 1.21 billion Indians.
In fact, the biscuit is so popular that some restaurants have started using it to make high-end desserts. For example, Farzi Cafe has invented a Parle G cheesecake and Mumbai’s 145 has a Parle G Eatshake!
Nonetheless, despite its swift growth and heavy demand, the brand has remained true to its philosophy. It is consumed by people from every strata of society; from a person sitting in an urban high rise to a person in the smallest of towns. It is also the only brand that is easily available at places like a village of 100 people near the LoC.
Maybe that’s the reason this humble glucose biscuit has retained its special place in the heart of all Indians, despite new biscuits entering the market every other day.
Here’s some interesting trivia to end the story of the world’s largest selling biscuit!
- If you line up all the Parle-G biscuits consumed annually, end to end, you can go around the Earth 192 times.
- The amount of sugar used to make 13 billion Parle-G biscuits — 16,100 tons — can cover the streets of the world’s smallest city, the Vatican City.
- 400 million Parle-G biscuits are produced daily, and if a month’s production of the biscuits is stacked side by side, the distance between the Earth and the Moon can be covered.