Whether it is good or spurious, the popular perception in Kerala is that a coconut oil brand must have 'Kera' in its name. But could you ever imagine that a product based in Maharashtra broke this myth? Yes.
The brand 'Parachute', a household name in Kerala that takes care of your daily oil needs, has done it.
For Marico, the company that owns this flagship brand, Kerala is not an alien land. Marico has spread its wings from Kerala. Founder and Chairman of Marico, Harsh Mariwala, a Gujarathi business tycoon, cannot hide his joy while sharing with Manorama memories of those golden days when they started off their business from the land of coconuts.
Kanchi Morarji, hailing from Kutch in Gujarat, started this business in 1862. Later, he included his nephew Vallabhdas as a partner. The commission agency of Morarji and Vallabhdas first hit Kerala as it was then the paradise of spices. Tonnes of turmeric, pepper and ginger and 'copra' (dried coconut kernels) were taken to Mumbai from the State and then sent to Delhi, Amritsar and Kolkata via trains.
"Since there were very limited communication channels at that time, the traders dealing with spices had to believe what these two commission agents had to say about the demand and price of products in North Indian markets. Their credibility was so high among traders that the latter started to completely rely on them. Soon, the duo started a spices trading centre in Kerala. It was followed by opening a pepper processing unit in Alleppey. 'Mari' means pepper in Gujarat. Soon, this word was added to 'Vallabhdas' name by traders as a token of appreciation for his efforts in boosting the spice trade,'' says Harsh Mariwala.
Vallabdas and his four sons set up Mumbai Oil Industry Ltd in 1948 to promote the processing and sale of agro-products. They started three plants in Mumbai in the 1947-71 period. They started a company in Kerala instead of doing merely marketing in the State. Coconut oil, vegetable oil and chemical substances were produced and marketed.
BIRTH OF MARICO
Marico Foods was set up in 1988 as a subsidiary of Mumbai Oil Industries. Next year, it became Marico Industries Ltd. It was the beginning of setting up separate companies for different segments. Marico was launched in the consumer product category.
Vallabhdas' son Harsh Mariwala, known for his organisational skills, soon took over the reins of the company in 1974. He started giving a new direction to the age-old business unit. His success in transforming the company into a corporate entity from a mere family business can surely be given as a study material for those who learn entrepreneurship and management skills. Harsh Mariwala's penchant with the commodity business ultimately led to the launching of Marico.
FIRST FOOTPRINTS IN KERALA
Harsh Mariwala wants to say much about how Kerala came into their scheme of things. "We could have started units anywhere. But we considered Gujarat, Goa, Pondicherry and Kerala. Even during the time of running Mumbai Oil Industries, we used to get 'copra' from Kerala. Two thirds of coconut production in the country was then from the State. We thought that if we started a factory in Kerala, we could save money by minimising truck movements. Another reason to start was the offers given by the then Kerala Government. Subsidised land, cheap power and less sales tax for 'copra' were all granted. Moreover, educated youths were there in plenty. The talented pool of labourers in Kerala was another attraction. There was no wonder why we launched a factory here. It was in 1993 that we set up a coconut oil refining unit at Kanjikode in Palakkad.
Till 2019, we went ahead with the unit. But later, the wear and tear of the machinery installed started causing problems. Finally, we closed the unit. Now, it is not sure whether we will open it again. It depends on many factors such as availability of raw material and proximity towards sea ports and major markets. All the more, operating costs will also be looked into before starting a unit again in Kerala."
WHAT IS THERE IN THE NAME "PARACHUTE"
"It was during World War II that Indians had experienced the use of parachutes for the first time. The safe landing of parachutes by Army men was a wonder then. People started associating parachutes with safety, security and credibility. "This is exactly the reason why we gave this name to our brand. We address safety and quality concerns of consumers. Credibility is the secret of our success," Mariwala says.
HOW IT CONQUERED NORTH INDIA?
Quality was the buzzword for Marico from the beginning. Each batch of coconut oil is checked by the field inspectors. If any shortcomings are felt, it will be immediately sent back to the factory. "We switched over to plastic bottles when others continued with tin bottles. Consumers were tired of using oil in tin bottles. Rats first chewed through our plastic bottles. There were complaints from households. But we changed the design and made it rat-proof. Our bottles are both user-friendly and attractive. We made an impact with quality stuff and neat packing."
About 55 percent of the market share of coconut oil is held by Parachute. "Our biggest market is now South India. Then comes Westen India. It has a good presence in the Gulf and other Asian countries. Its various products are also doing well in the US, Canada and many European countries. Parachute, Saffola, Revive, Kaya Skin Clinic and Medicare are some of the food-beauty-wellness products of the company."
ON CAMPAIGN AGAINST COCONUT OIL
According to Mariwala, many independent studies have come out on the positive sides of the use of coconut oil. Triglyceride cholesterol contained in coconut oil gives you a special kind of digestion. Coconut oil is good for reducing body weight and for increasing resistance power. Worldwide, people are fond of using coconut oil. It is a gift given by God. So, it always holds good for the future," he sums it up.