As a child, my family used to stay in Mumbai’s Kandivali area. One of my fondest memories from that time came thanks to a wheelchair-bound and speech-impaired uncle in his fifties. He would come out of his home in the evening for a normal stroll. But for us kids, he was no less than a magician who magically removed different types of colourful candies, made by Ravalgaon, from his pocket.
My friends and I would eagerly wait for our ‘pipper’ (candy in Gujarati) uncle so that we could gorge on the bright yellow and orange candies packed in translucent wrappers. For years, this blissful exchange of confectionaries and ‘thank you’ continued until we moved out.
A few months ago, I happened to visit the area once again and the first thought that came to me was of the ever-smiling uncle. Unfortunately, the uncle had passed away but his daughter generously invited me to their home.
In the middle of our conversation, she abruptly excused herself and a few seconds later, emerged with a plate full of those very same colourful candies. I was surprised and glad to see our pipper uncle had passed on the tradition.
Our special bond lived on, all thanks to Walchand Hirachand Doshi, the visionary who started Ravalgaon in 1933.
Even after 80 odd years, Ravalgaon Sugar Farm Ltd remains to be one of those few swadeshi brands which is not just known for its quality but also for nostalgia.
Remember Pan Pasand, the paan flavoured mouth freshener that left a red stain on our tongues? Eating that sweet made us feel like adults as children are not supposed to have paan. Even Mango Mood, wrapped in shiny yellow and green wrapper, hit differently as we could savour the taste of mango all round the year.
But did you know that company, that formed some of the most cherished memories for the 80s and 90s kids, was also responsible for converting a backward region of Maharashtra into a township? Or that it generated employment and revenue for thousands of villagers and farmers respectively?
The fascinating tale of Ravalgaon starts with the cliche ‘Once upon a time’ and it does have a happy and impactful journey.
It All Began With A Train Journey
Walchand, who was born to a business family in Solapur, was already a known face when he set up Ravalgaon.
Hailed as ‘Father of the Indian Transportation Industry’ Walchand had his fingers in many pies, right from the Walchand Industries Limited (1908) that pioneered railway tunnels, to laying the foundation of India’s first swadeshi shipping company, the Scindia Shipyard (rechristened as Hindustan Shipyard Limited when it was nationalized), to Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and Premier Automobiles—India’s first indigenous automobile manufacturers.
You can read more about him here
According to Nihal Doshi, Executive Director of Ravalgaon, it was during a train journey when someone directed Walchand to a small village in Maharashtra’s Nashik district called Ravalgaon in the early 1900s.
“A government official informed him about thousands of acres of semi-arid land that could be utilised for agricultural purposes. So, he purchased 1,500 acres of barren land and started clearing it of rocks and stones with the help of machinery from his construction business. He foresaw that India’s economic development cannot be without a farmer’s contribution and thus promoted sugarcane cultivation in the region. This was at a time when sugarcane was not yet the leading player in agriculture but his penchant for exploring uncharted territory worked,” Nihal tells The Better India.
After replacing the stones with fertile soil, he got engineers, chemists and agriculturists to experiment with various crops. Finally, after a decade of such trials, Walchand zeroed on sugarcane and established one of India’s first sugar mills.
In 1933, he incorporated Ravalgaon Sugar Farm Limited and seven years later, the production of confectionery began under the Ravalgaon brand.
Not stopping there, Walchand replicated a similar model in 1934 in Kalamb (200 km from Pune) that is now fondly referred to as Walchandnagar.
While the mills in two places generated employment in the entire Nasik belt, farmers got a direct market for their sugarcane produce and vendors got a new supply chain, thus making it a win-win for all.
Walchand is often credited for being one of the forces behind the sugarcane revolution in the state.
“At least one member in every family residing in the Ravalgaon-Malegaon belt has worked with us, either as a vendor or as an employee. And that for us is the biggest measure of our impact. Over the years, our family has strived hard to maintain our legacy with ethics and goodwill despite the challenges,” says Nihal, who took over the company nine years ago.
In the late 90s, when Ravalgaon was a young and budding FMCG player, the company split up and Harshwardhan Doshi, Nihal’s father took over.
Authenticity Is The King
Their ISO 22000 certified factory has ten products and all of them are 100 per cent vegetarian and prepared using natural ingredients including mango pulp, milk, coffee powder and so on.
Authenticity has been the key principle of Ravalgaon from the very beginning. The company often works in collaboration with farmers to guide them on using best farming practices and encouraging sustainable initiatives in the factory.
“Interestingly, the whole factory is environment-friendly and energy-efficient as it utilises only the water from the cane itself for production, produces its energy and even offers excess energy to the township. The factory is surrounded by thousands of trees planted as part of a green initiative. Anti-pollution measures taken by Ravalgaon include an effluent treatment plant and fly-ash arresters in boilers,” writes Malathy Sriram, the editor of The Small Supplement, an online magazine for children.
This genuine trait is also reflected in the way employees are treated. If you ever happen to visit the factory in the village or their office in Mumbai, you will find a non-corporate environment blooming.
“It has been almost 22 years since I joined the company in their accounts department and I can vouch for its family-like treatment to every employee while giving enough growth opportunity. I love to see the sparkle in people’s eyes as soon as I mention my company. It is the love and attachment of people towards Ravalgaon that makes us work hard for them each day,” Vaishali Karyekar tells The Better India. She is CFO of the company who joined in 1999 at a junior accounts position.
Coming back to the genuineness of the product, each item is carefully made and designed after putting a lot of thought.
For example, the company has deliberately chosen a shiny translucent wrapper for Cherry (that comes in orange, raspberry and lemon flavour) to make a visual statement. Mind you, it is very rare to see companies not putting their name in an attractive font on the wrappers.
For the longest time, I had no idea that Cherry was made by Ravalgaon as one can hardly read the name but the fact that I can instantly recognise its kind just by the colour speaks volumes of their marketing strategy.
Further, the Cheery has a poky texture to scratch the tongue. Tiny holes made around the candy are meant to tease our taste buds. So there is an explosion of sourness in an otherwise sweet candy.
Likewise, the caramelised milk candy, Laco, comes in transparent wrappers made from bamboo residue.
“Before wrappers, confectioneries were usually stored in glass jars in Kirana shops. So the introduction of wrappers became an evolution point as now consumers weren’t able to see what’s inside the wrapper. But we wanted our customers to trust us so that transparent wrappers maintained our transparency and also made it easy for kids to identify our candy through colour and its peculiar texture,” explains Nihal.
Interestingly, the world’s biggest phone manufacturer, iPhone also rides on the same marketing strategy – white earphones and black dancing silhouettes.
Of course, there have been subtle changes made to the wrappers over the years but they have always maintained consistency in terms of taste, smell and visual. This is probably the reason why the company continues to charm its customers despite a plethora of competitors.
Other products include everyone’s favourite Pan Pasand, Mango Mood, Tutty Fruity, Assorted Centre (orange, raspberry, lemon and pineapple-jelly centred), Coffee Break, Supreme Toffee (rose, cardamom and vanilla), Chococream and a Sweet Moments Gift Box of assorted candies for special occasions and festivals.
Speaking of impressive consistency, the price range of all its confectioneries is noteworthy.
“It has been a tightrope to walk on where even increasing our price by 3 paise can affect our sales as we cater to all classes of society. So right from a slum dweller’s kid relishing on Cherry to an adult eating Mango Mood on a flight, we want every person to enjoy our sweets. To keep afloat, we have reduced the weight,” says Nihal.
A Journey from Doordarshan to Social Media
How do you inform someone sitting in the next village, about the new mouth-watering confectionery you have just discovered without any cell phone or social media?
Simple, you knock the doors of Doordarshan.
The real challenge is not to get a time slot on a public service broadcaster but to gauge people’s attention with eccentric 10-second ads.
One of their first ads had actress Archana Joglekar refuting a marriage proposal angrily.
“Shaadi.. Aur tumse? Kabhi nahi”
Cut to the narrator’s voice: “Pan Pasand… Paan ka Swaad… gazab ki mithas” with the confectionery visuals.
Archana repeats the same words, but now in a sweet voice.
The basic message of this ad was that no matter how bitter the statement, you can always sugarcoat it with a Pan Pasand. A series of ads based on this concept helped the company become a national player from a regional one.
If you want a trip down the memory lane, watch all their ads here.
Their iconic posture ‘Wise Mothers Choose Ravalgaon Sweets’ also made waves in the pre-internet era. It warns against the consumption of confectionery as it can cause ‘harm’ to children and in the same breath it leaves a healthier and fresher option in their brand.
Appealing people emotionally is a strategy that is mirrored on their social media pages as well.
Being a Maharashtrian brand, it has recently started catering to the state population (as 50%of the sales come from the Western region) through its rich heritage. It is trying to stay in touch with customers through Instagram. They also share interesting historic bits about the company on their pages.
The internet boom has worked in the company’s favour especially at a time when local Kirana shops are vanishing, thanks to the fancy supermarkets.
“Earlier, it was easy for a customer to walk over to the Kirana store and purchase a Pan Pasand. But now with the influx of malls, people have more options. Often people write to us saying they cannot find the confectioneries in supermarkets. So now, we are focussing on expanding our supply there,” says Nihal.
For those who are unaware, Ravalgaon sweets can be ordered from Amazon or one can also find them in supermarkets like Reliance Fresh, “If you crave for our sweets, ask your Kirana wala as we do supply them. Many assume we have downsized our operations but that’s not true.”
Belonging to a family who has been a loyal customer and an ardent fan of Ravalgaon, my father, Uday Karelia, perfectly sums up what it means to us and millions of Indians:
“For me, Ravalgaon was, is and will always be a symbol of kuch mitha hojaye. Ravalgaon’s confectioneries are the equivalent of today’s cocktail parties but in just a few paise.”
You can buy Ravalgaon confectioneries from here
Featured image source
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)