Nagpur: Haldiram Foods, not just the biggest Snacks and Food company of Nagpur, but also one of the biggest corporates of Central India has been under a cloud since ‘news’ of their packaged food products allegedly failing FDA tests in USA and subsequently, their entry being stopped hit the media.
Today, Nagpur Today had the most frank discussion on all these issues with Mr. Sushil Agarwal, Director and even Mr. Shivkisan Agarwal, the venerable Chairman whose vision changed a small ‘farsan – samosa-kachori’ shop in Itwari in 1970 to a 1000+ crore Company in 2015.
Allegations of their packaged products failing US, FDA tests :
Haldiram Foods has three branches in India, in Nagpur, Delhi & Bikaner. There are some changes in designing of the packages and slight change in name, but title ‘Haldiram’ is common. According to an agreement between the three ‘Haldirams’ (run by three brothers) when one of the ‘sister company’ enters a foreign market like USA, the others do not market there under the name of ‘Haldiram’ to avoid internal competition and confusion in the minds of the customers. So, since the Delhi company already had its presence in USA, Haldiram Nagpur does not market there under the Haldiram label. Since about 10 years they are exporting to USA under a different label called ‘ Mo Plleaze’. So it would be correct to say that ‘Haldiram Nagpur’ under this name has no presence in the USA.
Haldiram products being banned in USA, or elsewhere after failing tests:
No product of Haldiram’s from any of the three sister Companies been permanently, or even temporarily banned. As per their procedure, when a shipment of products enters a foreign country, some samples are drawn for testing. If a particular batch fails ( batch numbers are given as per date of production) on any criterion, that batch is not allowed to be distributed. The company is informed of the results and given a chance to retest in their facility. If the results do not match, the American agencies test it again, and if their results are found to have been erroneous, the product is allowed. All food products are put through strenuous five different tests.
As Sushil puts it ” it would be impossible for no batch to ever fail. We take all precautions but we ultimately do buy raw materials from the open market – like dals, maida, vegetables and oil. We conduct our own audit before finalizing our Suppliers and test samples from the raw material received, but it still does not guarantee uniform quality of all material received. Standards can vary even according to season, and some batches made with that do not meet strict scrutiny, In such cases we take the material back and have it destroyed.
How much does Haldiram Nagpur export and what is the share of Mo plleaze?
Total Haldiram Nagpur exports are to the tune of about Rs. 60 crores, of which the share of Mo plleaze going to US is about 10 to 12 crores.
What formalities and registrations need to be taken to sell in first world countries?
As Mr. Shivkisan Agarwal, the Chairman himself asserted – they are very stringent, much more so than Indian or other developing nations’ standards. “Since they are more developed they have no problems like us – garbage strewn everywhere; flies, insects, rodents etc. We maintain our production standards to match these international expectations – and we make even products for Indian and Home markets by same standards. We do not have different quality for ‘export’ and different for home consumption”. Sushil adds to that by saying – “our own kids eat our bhujia… you know bhujia is so popular with us people of Rajasthan that after babies are weaned from milk, the next thing they eat is Bhijia – sev!
Do you think we will make sub standard stuff or compromise with quality?
” As their Quality chief, Mrs. Asha Vyawhare explains: they have all kinds of ISO specifications but most significantly they are FSSC approved. With this, they can export any where in the world.
How has Haldiram captured the Bhujia, mixtures, dals ( namkeens) market in India so comprehensively? What is the secret?
“We keep experimenting with the taste, texture, colour etc. of our namkeen products constantly. We respect our competitors too and look out for new things they introduce. So our formula is – good taste with highest quality.
(When Nagpur Today team visited one of their factories she saw signs of how important the taste factor is – a new process machine has been imported and installed that makes their most famous ‘Bhujia’ completely from beginning to end – including frying. When I tasted this product, I found it quite tasty, but their professional testers did not find it as tasty as hand made. So they still have a huge line up of specialized cooks from Rajasthan – karagirs they are called – who mix the dough, shape it, sieve it and fry it manually. The process is age old, the equipment like fryers, ultra modern. Each karagir has a personal blower stationed above and behind him to keep him cool as he fries continually. ) But as Sushil shares with us, his most favourite of Haldiram products is the fried Moong dal. “It uses less oil compared to other things and because of our special process, and it is all protein. Vegetarian protein.”
How and why did Haldiram venture into the restaurant business and mithai?
Sushil explains ” our father wanted to concentrate on bhujia and namkeens but till this business got established we had to turn to other things to establish ourselves as a brand and financially too… so we began with restaurants. And then we also ventured into making mithai. Haldiram has 8-9 restaurants now and a wide range of mithai but still 75% of their turnover comes from ‘namkeens’.
How do you see the future for this industry?
Surprisingly, right now, they are not being too optimistic or ambitious. “The kind of propaganda and activism we are seeing is scary. Not so much abroad, but in our own country – Maggi being banned; so much hate and malicious misinformation spread about our company too! A word of mouth slander campaign, accompanied by Whatsapp messages can destroy a reputation built painstakingly over decades…sometime we feel we do not have the stomach for Food business…” says Sushil sounding disheartened. He continues philosophically ” it is not even true that we have become more health conscious than before.
Quite to the contrary! Our old food habits were healthier, we ate mostly fresh home cooked food; we fasted during monsoons because digestion becomes weak then and there are more infections; Jains and many others prefer to eat before sunset so you see what you are eating and have enough time to digest it before you go to sleep. Now we ‘import’ a local, healthy Italian dish like the pizza and turn it into ‘fast food’ here by making it more calorific and heavy to digest.”
Finally – how did the name Haldiram come about?
“My great grand father who first got into making bhujia that everyone liked was fair and had a slightly yellow complexion. They used to joke that he looked like ‘Haldi’ so though his name was Gangabhishan Agarwal, they began calling him ‘Haldiram’. We owe our success in this field to him so this became our name!” Sushil replies.
…. As told to Sunita Mudliyar and Samuel Gunashekran