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Sunday, June 16, 2024

How Amul ended monopoly of a boy who created India’s first branded butter

Before Amul came there was Polson, India’s first commercially made butter. Here’s how Amul became successful by ending the monopoly of Polson butter.

It was the late Varghese Kurien who started Amul by establishing the dairy cooperative, Amul Dairy, at Anand, in 1950. But much before that a Parsi boy had opened a small coffee business before he created and sold Polson butter. 

Polson became a household name, after being a coffee making unit in former Bombay, . Pestonji Edulji Dalal, at the age of 13, founded a modest business to roast and grind coffee in 1888. In 1905 and 1907, as his business flourished, he extended his shop and began selling a chicory blend he dubbed Polson’s French Coffee. The British were frequent patrons of this young prodigy’s store, and by 1910, his brand was well-established.

In quest of new prospects, he established a dairy in Kheda, Gujarat, and networked with railway and army authorities to grow Polson butter manufacturing.

Polson became successful primarily due to three wars: the Boer War, World War I, and World War II, during which Edulji supplied butter to British Indian and American forces. Anand had Polson’s modern, well-equipped, and fully mechanised dairy by 1930. By 1945, Polson Butter had reached an annual output record of 3 million pounds.

Polson had a continuous monopoly with government assistance, and farmers were unable to sell their milk to other market vendors. The Bombay Government launched the Bombay Milk Scheme in 1945, which required transporting milk from Kaira to the city over a 400-kilometer trip and selling it at subsidised prices. This monopoly had been granted to Polson, causing dissatisfaction because the benefits of the expensive price paid by the plan were not being passed on to the producers. Kaira’s farmers were practically no better off than before.

A rise in discontent prompted a team to meet with Sardar Vallabhai Patel. The dairy cooperative, Amul Dairy, also known as Kaira District Cooperative Milk Producers’ Union Limited (KDCMPUL), was formed on Vallabhai’s advice.

Polson didn’t have a major rival for a long period, even after Amul came. To obtain the special taste of Polson butter, the company let its cream to sour for several days before it was then salted and processed. Amul set out to make butter exclusively from fresh cream — going from milk to butter in a single day. As a result, it failed to gain popularity because Polson’s particular taste had a devoted following, who deemed Amul’s rendition dull and flavourless.

Of course, as we now know, Varghese Kurien ultimately caught up. Amul began salting their butter and adding the yellow colour that represented cow’s milk, which most Indians preferred over white buffalo milk.

In response to Polson’s butter girl, Sylvester De Cunha and Eugene Fernandez were brought on board in the 1960s to design the Amul girl. The latter was shown as a softer, more refined, and blonde-haired girl clad in a blue and white striped frock, buttering a toast surrounded by cans of Polson. The Amul girl was a bit of a firebrand, with the right jokes for whatever was going on in the country at the time.

Edulji’s monopolistic actions eventually led to the demise of Polson butter. Amul gradually replaced Polson with fairer and better policies and once it had perfected the taste that Indians craved, Polson’s market presence declined. By the 1970s, the Polson company had been taken over and refocused on tanning and leather products.

But, Polson on its website says that, due to government policy reserving the dairy industry for the cooperative sector, Polson, which was a private company, finally ended its dairy activities, including the production of butter.


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