WHEN PACKAGED FOODS ENTERED MIDDLE-CLASS HOMES
I wondered why I shouldn’t talk about favourite brands from my own childhood, if 20-somethings go on a ‘nostalgic trip down memory lane’, remembering the vanishing brands they grew up with. Perhaps, even nostalgia has got fast forwarded in this fast changing world! But I reckon that when the memories are over half a CENTURY old, they truly deserve the nostalgia tag, don’t they? So here I go!
Growing up at a time when Indian brands were getting established, meant that we grew with them. While many went on to scale great heights, and others became generic names due to their first entrant advantage, yet others just sank in the sands of time to be trodden over by newer but not necessarily better brands. Some product categories themselves vanished; some brands reinvented themselves to keep pace with the times.
And yet, there are many brands which have remained household favourites through the decades, endorsed by our mothers and aunts and fathers and uncles. I thought of starting with brands connected to food/eating in this post, though some of them have almost disappeared, like Dalda, for instance.
Who can forget the round yellow tins with the logo of a green palm tree? Thanks to its first entrant advantage into the vanaspati market, and subsequent popularity as a ghee-substitute, any hydrogenated fat that came after it, got labelled as Dalda. Incidentally it was marketed as ‘vegetable ghee’!
For decades, Dalda was synonymous with vanaspati till nutritionists put the entire category in the doghouse. Today, the brand sells refined oils, but it had lost its leader’s position quite a while ago, with the demise of vanaspati as a cooking medium. A pity, since, for so many of my mother’s generation, it had been a great boon, when huge tins of namkeens and biscuits got the Dalda touch. And I guess no study has been carried out to find what percent of our generation had actually suffered health problems due to the consumption of Dalda and its ilk.
There are so many kinds of health drinks today, that it makes the mind reel. Protein drinks, supplements, energy drinks etc., etc. But when the L&M was recovering from a nasty bout of flu some months back, I turned to the trusted drink from my childhood to restore his energy levels. Yes, it is none other than the ‘malt drink’ Horlicks!
I have a special affinity for Horlicks. While I was growing up, we just had one flavour – the ‘original’ one, that came in a glass jar with the blue label. Today there are so many variants of this drink – for women, for children, chocolate flavoured, elaichi flavoured and so on. I don’t like a single of one them and frantically search for that elusive blue labelled ‘original’ flavour.I remember the time this great health drink (a very diluted version at that), had done double duty as food + I V fluid, for nearly two months, when I was seriously ill as a kid and had not been allowed any solid foods! Is it any wonder then that it has remained the first choice as a supplement during convalescence in my home over the years? I still love eating spoonsful of the stuff! There were clones like Viva, which tried to emulate the success of Horlicks, but simply fell by the wayside, while the brand leader soldiered on.
Horlicks was the energy drink, but cocoa was what I was used to drinking in the morning, for as long back as I can remember. We used to get a brand of cocoa called Golden Cocoa. I searched high and low for an image of the tin, but couldn’t find it. It used to be a pale yellow and gold round tin with the picture of a magnified cocoa bean and the words Golden cocoa. I don’t know the company that manufactured it and whether it was made in India, though I think it must have been, for we couldn’t have afforded an imported brand! Cadbury’s drinking chocolate and cocoa were also in the periphery in those days.
Milkmaid has reinvented itself today as an egg-substitute for cakes and as the main ingredient for many Indian sweets. Its recipe ideas on the back of the label and its website giving new recipes for sweets using the condensed milk, have ensured its place in the niche market.
But it had not been so when I had first tasted it in the early 60s. The packing has changed only slightly, with the top opening with the twist of the ring, and the wrapper changing from a white to a blue background. The milk maid with the can of milk and the taste have not changed a tiny bit, in half century and more. As far as I know, the size of the tin has also remained the same, dispensing 400 gms of the condensed milk.
We used it like a spread on our chapatis and of course ate it just like that too. Mother sometimes used it for tea when there was no milk, which I thought was a sheer waste of such a yummy thing! I don’t remember her using it for making sweets, save adding it in kheers. Thank God, some brands and their contents never change! Amul’s Mithaimate is perhaps its only contender.
Store shelves are sagging these days with dozens of custard powder brands including imported ones. But back in my childhood, there were not many brands, or maybe there was just the one – Brown and Polson. While there were single-flavour packs, Mother preferred the variety pack. It was a six-flavour pack and called Brown and Polson Variety Pack. The different flavours came in paper pouches inside the carton, which itself was a visual treat for us not exposed to the explosion of colourful packs of these days. I used to love looking at the different flavoured creamy custards pouring out of a jug on several bowls filled with exotic fruits.
Fruits like raspberry and strawberry were unknown to us but thanks to Brown and Polson, we got to not only look at their pictures, but also taste their flavours. Mother made absolutely delicious ice-creams with them during summers and guess what? The strawberry and raspberry flavours were the first to be used up! (I will share the story of ice-cream making some other time). I would love to buy this brand even today, but it is hardly found on store shelves. And even if I find it, the ‘variety’ pack is no more available.
For all the scare about candies and toffees being poison for children, we used to get a lot of them from relatives visiting us, or from kiosks and neighbourhood shops and kiosks.
Ravalgaon sweets was the most popular brand of those days. Nutrine brought up a close second. I had several round and square tins of these toffees, which I, like my peers used to store our ‘treasures’ like seashells, colour pencil stubs, candy wrappers and so on. The best thing about these tins was that the pictures were beautiful, often depicting puranic and historic characters and stories. There were no fancy names for their sweets back then – the toffees just said, ‘Ravalgaon’, but we loved them! We used to have these empty tins of
Ravalgaon Sweets, which Mother bought from the kirana shops and used for storing grains and atta and also her homemade namkeens and biscuits.
The Ravalgaon brand was one of the mega success stories of pre and post- Independence India, which has remained in reckoning by introducing new sweets, chewies and toffees with catchy names – Pan Pasand, Coffee Bite, Mango Mood and such, but I wonder if anyone knows that the company making them is a pioneer in the field!
In the mid-‘60s, came Modern Bread, with its distinct logo of a cute lion wearing a chef’s cap. I was first introduced to it in ’68, when I came to Mumbai. At that time, there were six or eight varieties of the bread, including jeera, garlic, milk, sweet, fruit and so on. Not all of them were good, but for someone never having eaten bread as a child, it had been a big treat, when I got to take them in the lunch box to school. The print ad had this ‘bread-choo-choo-train’, with the grinning lion sitting on top of the engine. I tried finding that pic, but drew a blank again.
In Mumbai too, I got to taste my first fruit drink of Duke’s Mangola. It was so delicious, that the latter day Frootis and Maazas pale by comparison. the final twist of the knife came with it being merged with Slice, the mango drink of PepsiCo, which had acquired Duke’s. This was a case of a powerful brand killing a nostalgic drink to further its own pale version of the robust original fruit drink. Relaunching the other drinks in retro Duke glass bottles can only redeem the MNC fractionally.
I am sure there are many many more brands that I have not covered here, at least in packaged food category. Please add your memories in the comments. It would add value to the nostalgia post.