The small business supplying biscuits has grown to be a behemoth with multiple brands across various categories
A group of British businesspeople founded the company in 1892 with an initial investment of Rs 295. Biscuits were first made in a modest Kolkata home.
The Gupta brothers, under the leadership of lawyer Nalin Chandra Gupta, then acquired the company and rebranded it as V.S. Brothers.
The Britannia Biscuit Company Limited (BBCo) was established in 1918 with the help of C.H. Holmes, an English merchant living in Kolkata.
In 1921, Britannia pioneered the use of imported gas ovens by being the first business east of the Suez Canal to do so. The company’s operations were booming. More crucially, though, Britannia was beginning to earn a name for itself as a quality, affordable product.
In 1924, Peek Freans took over BBCo and established a manufacturing facility in Mumbai. The administration of British India required a steady supply of biscuits for British troops during World War II. For many years, the Britannia Biscuit business supplied biscuits to the British Army, and at times the business dedicated 95% of its biscuit production capacity to the military. The company’s profits soared as demand for biscuits skyrocketed throughout the war.
It fortified its position even further by increasing production at its Calcutta and Mumbai facilities.
The plant in Kolkata relocated from Dum Dum to larger facilities in the neighbourhood of Taratola Road. Calcutta also saw the installation of automated plants that year.
In 1979, Britannia Industries Limited became the official business name. In 1982, the American firm Nabisco purchased Peek Freans’s parent company, making it a significant foreign stakeholder. By the time Britannia went public in 1978, the percentage of Indian shareholders had risen to 62%, establishing the business in the Indian market. Associated Biscuits International Limited (ABIL), located in the United Kingdom, had 38% foreign ownership.
With the backing of the French food conglomerate Danone, textile billionaire Nusli Wadia of Bombay Dyeing gained control of Britannia from its then-chairman Rajan Pillai in 1993. After purchasing Group Danone’s 25% investment in BIL in 2009, Wadia Group became the company’s biggest stakeholder.
Britannia’s biscuits provide 95% of the company’s yearly sales. VitaMarieGold, Tiger Biscuits, Nutrichoice, Good Day, 50-50, Treat, Pure Magic, Milk Bikis, Bourbon, Nice Time, and Little Hearts are only a few of the many brands of biscuits produced by Britannia. A significant portion of Britannia’s income comes from dairy products. In addition to selling dairy goods to consumers, the firm also engages in business-to-business trading of dairy commodities.
The firm has survived and expanded to serve customers in over 60 different countries, including India. More than 130 years after its inception, the ‘small business’ is thriving. The modest bungalow in the heart of Kolkata is much too tiny for the firm that has grown there over the years, yet it was the perfect setting for the idea that ultimately became one of India’s most successful companies.