How a cooperative became India's most loved brand - The story of Amul
Amul's story emulates the classic arc of the underdog narrative. A group of milk producers and farmers who were once troubled by the large private player Polson went on to create a dairy movement that not only wiped out Polson, but also turned India into a net exporter of milk.
The story starts way back in 1915, when Polson dairy was setup in Anand, Gujarat. Owned by Parsi businessman Pestonjee Eduljee, it started sourcing milk from the farmers nearby at just above their production price, and then sold it to the Bombay Government for a much higher price. By 1945, Polson touched the record figure of producing 3 million pounds of butter per year. However, the company's modus operandi had been creating a wave of resentment among Anand's milk producing farmers, who then approached Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.
Sardar Patel had been championing the movement of milk farmers since 1942, and he adviced all the milk farmers to start their own cooperative. Thus was born the Kaira District Co-operative Milk Producers’ Union Limited in Anand on December 14, 1946, which started supplying milk directly to the Bombay Scheme. In just 2 years, the cooperative grew to 400+ members, and they started facing the problem of oversupply. And in order to put the extra milk to good use, they entered into related diversification by producing butter and cheese.
Left: Polson Creamery in 1912. Right: Polson girl in the Polson Butter ad
Around the same time, a young mechanical engineer known as Verghese Kurien was appointed on duty at Anand. His job was to repair dairy machinery, which he got bored of within the first year. But under Kaira's union founder and freedom fighter Tribhuvandas Patel's request, he not only stayed but ended up creating India's largest self-sustaining business model - the dairy cooperative. Under this model, no milk producer was denied selling their milk to the union, and 70-80% of the money was paid in cash to them immediately. Dr. Verghese Kurien eventually came to be known as the Milkman of India.
Dr. Kurien with Morarjee Desai and Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru
He brought together six districts in order to form the Anand Milk Union Limited, or AMUL, in 1955. Through careful machinery design and meticulous understanding of demand-supply cycles, Dr. Kurien was able to turn India from a net-importer of milk to one of the world's largest exporters today. And what started out as a union producing 247 liters of milk daily today produces over 20 million liters every day. Eventually, it challenged Nestle in the production and sales of milk powder. And while today, it sells everything that you can possibly imaging a dairy brand doing so, including milk chocolates, ice creams, cheese, flavored milk, butter, yogurt and more, it all started with a socialist vision by Dr. Kurien, and was a result of an exceptionally strong brand building over the years.
The Brand and Amul Girl
Dr. Kurien wanted to give an identity to this milk producers union. A lot of people suggested foreign names in order to lend 'legitimacy' to the brand and get people to associate with it, he actually went to something very Indian. After all, it was a brand born of our grassroots. Hence, the name Amul. It was not just an acronym for Anand Milk Union, but also a shorter form of Amulya, meaning Priceless. And true to its name, the brand is a priceless jewel in India's crown.
In 1966, with the brand starting to gain some prominence, they hired DaCunha Communications of Bombay to design a brand mascot for them. Sylvester DaCunha, the founder of the communications agency, came up with a chubby, affable, middle-class kid that we now so famously known as the Amul Girl. In a way, she was also born as a more acceptable alternative to the anglicized girl who was the brand mascot of Polson. The first sketch was done by the late Eustace Fernandes, whereas it's said that DaCunha's wife Nisha came up with "utterly butterly delicious" - a phrase that has since stuck.
Left: Polson Girl and Right: Amul Girl
Famous adman and writer Bharat Dabholkar started writing the first few topicals, and often credits Dr. Kurien for giving them a free reign and complete creative freedom to come up with the ads without any supervision from Amul. In the truest sense, Amul's billboard ads are a great example of Real Time Marketing (a topic I wrote a blog on just yesterday). It has been over 50 years, but the brand is quick to cover any current affair with its trademark wit.
Over the years, Amul has grown from a small cooperative movement to one of India's most famous brands. The tagline "Taste of India" does complete justice to this brand which has penetrated virtually every single household. In fact, if we talk about some of the brands that have been instrumental in building India from an economical and cultural point of view, Amul features right up there with notable names like Tata and Bajaj.
Amul owns over 85% market share in India's butter market
Amul owns over 66% share in India's cheese sales
The cooperative is jointly owned by over 3.6 million milk farmers
Amul's ad campaign is the longest running ad campaign in history, with the Amul Girl topicals running since 50+ years
Amul is present in more than 50 countries; in India alone, they have over 7,500 parlors!
Amul's 3.6 million dairy farmers across 18,700 villages of Gujarat collectively produce over 23 million liters of milk a day
Amul is aiming to be in the top 3 dairy companies of the world
A blog on Amul wouldn't be complete without Amul's topicals. These are the ads an entire country looks forward to, and have been, since over 50 years.
When Arun Jaitley was presenting the first budget of NDA Govt. in 2015
When Shashi Tharoor's famous tweet went viral
During one of Trump's usual Twitter debacles, where he spelled coffee as covfefe
When PV Sindhu did India proud by becoming the first woman to win an Olympic Silver in Badminton
After Liverpool's UEFA Champions League win
Lessons from Amul's incredible success
There are some brilliant lessons to be learned and absorbed from Amul's success. After all, not many brands can claim to have reached the heights that Amul has, and contribute so much to a country's economical and cultural heritage.
Consistent Brand Campaigning
99% of the world's brands do very short, time or season specific brand campaigns. Amul, on the other hand, did the most unique thing of letting a brand campaign run for over 50 years. While it is not possible for every brand to do it such long campaigns, what is remarkable is Amul's sheer will power to have persisted for so long, without fail. Every time a new issue takes place in the world, Amul is sure to comment with its witty one liners. This consistent campaigning has helped Amul grab the most massive mind share and heart share of an entire country. These are lessons that even if learned, are just impossible to replicate!
Amul initially started out as just a milk producing and supplying cooperative. But over time, they kept diversifying and are doing so with every passing year. Even during the quarantine, they showed no signs of slowing down. The producers took every precaution there is to continue the production of their brand goods. Today, the brand sells pretty much every dairy related product you can think of, and is raring to go the next mile by setting its sights on becoming one of the top 3 dairy producers in the world.
Amul's story is one for the ages. It is certainly one of India's most beloved brands, and one that we would so dearly want to keep seeing succeed. And they have never taken this success for granted, as their products come with an assurance of quality. They shackle the myth that only rich, corporate brands can deliver top quality products.