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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

1918 pandemic led to multi-crore sweets business Chitale Bandhu

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Many businesses have suffered losses during the Covid-19 pandemic since it started in 2020. But did you know that Maharashtra’s famous Chitale Bandhu resulted from a pandemic that occurred in 1918. It has now become a multi-crore business.

Chitale Bandhu Mithaiwale is a prominent Indian sweets business in Maharashtra. It all began in 1939, when a ‘chance’ dairy farmer converted his purchase of a few dozen buffalos into a multi-billion-dollar corporation. Raghunath Rao, Babasaheb Chitale’s eldest son, took over his father’s dairy company in Mumbai in 1944. Three of his brothers joined the family dairy business in the mid-1950s. Every day, they process lakhs of litres of milk and produce authentic mithai, snacks, and dairy items. 

Many of us are familiar with the Chitale brand because of its shrikhand, yoghurt, other dairy products, and the Gujarati snack known as ‘Bakarwadi.’ It all began in 1939, when a ‘chance’ dairy farmer in Maharashtra’s interior transformed his acquisition of a few dozen buffalos into a thriving company. Bhaskar Ganesh Chitale, also called Babasaheb, was born into a family of landlords and money lenders. However, after his father died in the early 1900s, at the age of 14, he abandoned his studies to care for his widowed mother by working as a field laborer in a village. The village, called Limbgove, which was about 20 kilometres from Satara, was drought-prone.

Babasaheb became concerned after years of little to no success from toiling in the fields. He was well aware that he needed to boost his income.

In 1939, he boarded a train bound for Bhilawadi in the Sangli area, where the storey of Chitale begins.

Indraneel Chitale, Babasaheb’s great-grandson, recalled his first introduction to his family’s dairy company, saying, “Our dining table used to regularly change into boardroom sessions over family dinners.” 

Indraneel, 32, who joined the company about a decade ago, recalls his grandfather, Narasinha, making it a point to accompany him to the industries or cattle sheds he visited. Indraneel had a very different introduction to his ancestors’ business. 

He claims that his great grandpa lost everything during the 1918 pandemic known as the Spanish flu. The pandemic is also known as the 1918 influenza pandemic or the Great Influenza Epidemic. As he struggled to augment his income throughout the years, he came across Bhilawadi. The community is located on the banks of the Krishna River, and it was a suitable spot to start an agricultural enterprise. His reasons for establishing the firm there were the year-round supply of water and the presence of a railway line connecting to Mumbai. 

Bhilawadi had a vast stock of domesticated animals, and the community was practically drowning in the extra milk created by the quantity of animal fodder. The dairy industry was founded in a period when milk was not pasteurised or standardised in quality. According to Indraneel, you have to sell everything fresh or turn into milk products. In the beginning, they were largely a B2B supplier, he adds. The products were delivered to Mumbai with the assistance of British railways.

However, keeping an eye on the market became difficult due to a lack of electricity and communication. That’s when Babasaheb enlisted the help of his eldest son, Raghunath Chitale, who was working in a mill in Surat, to take over the firm in Mumbai.

According to Indraneel, becoming a milk supplier requires a strong recurring user base, which Mumbai lacked at the time. As a result, they relocated our headquarters from Mumbai to Pune. His grandpa, Narasinha—Raghunath Rao’s younger brother—joined the company in 1944.

However, there was another issue with being just a B2B supplier. According to Indraneel, shops would claim the milk was not fresh, and the Chitales would be unable to show otherwise. Payments would be lost as a result of this. That is how the Chitales began selling their own brand of milk. 

Raghunath’s other brothers, Parshuram and Dattaray, joined the family business, in the mid-1950s. Chitale dairy products, a business that arose merely due to a shortage of storage facilities for the excess milk produced, has now been divided into two entities: Chitale Dairy and Chitale Bandhu Mithaiwale. 

Indraneel says the Chitales now process approximately 8 lakh litres of milk each day, of which 4 lakh litres are sold as liquid milk. The remainder is transformed into shrikhand, curd, condensed milk, cottage cheese, ghee, milk powder, cheese, and other dairy products.


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