SWEET DREAMS

Shyam Sun­der Ag­gar­wal is the man be­hind a culi­nary em­pire that best re­flects the amal­ga­ma­tion of In­dian tra­di­tions and mod­ern tech­nol­ogy. MARWAR finds out more about the man, whose vi­sion mor­phed a sim­ple hal­wai shop into an in­ter­na­tional brand known the

Marwar - - Profile - Text Aan­chal Kataria

THE CULI­NARY HIS­TORY OF DELHI WOULD BE in­com­plete with­out the men­tion of the Bikan­er­valas, who have been in the busi­ness of In­dian mithais and snacks for gen­er­a­tions now. Af­ter per­fect­ing the art of mak­ing gourmet de­lights in the city of Bikaner in Ra­jasthan for over a cen­tury, the fam­ily–the Ag­gar­wals–ex­panded the busi­ness by open­ing an out­let in Delhi’s fa­mous Chandni Chowk in 1950. Del­hi­ites fondly called them ‘Bikan­er­vala’.

Suc­cess was im­me­di­ate. Over the years, rid­ing on a rep­u­ta­tion of un­com­pro­mised qual­ity, the name has trans­formed into an in­ter­na­tional brand sell­ing In­dian sweets, snacks and gourmet de­lights to pa­trons across the globe. And all this would not have been pos­si­ble with­out the tal­ent and in­sight of Shyam Sun­der Ag­gar­wal, the man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Bikan­er­vala.

His claim to fame is the Kaju ki Barfi, which he says is his con­tri­bu­tion to the world of In­dian sweets. Sur­pris­ingly, he him­self prefers Agre ka Petha. The culi­nary czar also ad­mits it is his drive to present the rich culi­nary tra­di­tion of In­dia to the world.

The ini­tial years

“I re­ally en­joyed my child­hood. Grow­ing up in Bikaner was a joy. I was not in­ter­ested in stud­ies and was always ex­plor­ing the out­doors, run­ning around in the streets and fields. I was fond of sweets and used to stop at the fam­ily shop on way back from school,” he re­calls.

His fond­est child­hood mem­o­ries are that of Di­wali. He shares, “Di­wali meant new clothes, dress­ing up and lots of sweets. The fam­ily shop was well-stocked and dec­o­rated like a bride for the oc­ca­sion. The sweets were dis­played art­fully and del­i­ca­cies were ar­ranged in large brass trays in a con­i­cal man­ner. Ev­ery year, a pho­tog­ra­pher was called early in the morn­ing to take pic­tures of the shop and a fam­ily pho­to­graph. Fam­ily mem­bers dressed in fes­tive at­tire, and I’d get ready well in time on that day and reach the shop early to en­sure a good spot for my­self in the por­trait.”

Even­tu­ally, he grav­i­tated to­wards the fam­ily busi­ness and started spending more time at the sweet shop. The el­ders grad­u­ally started en­trust­ing him with small jobs such as pack­ing sweet boxes for cus­tomers, or help­ing out in the work­shop where sweets were made. “I learnt the art of mak­ing sweets from masters who had been in the busi­ness for gen­er­a­tions. It was around this time that I learnt a big se­cret from my el­ders, ‘Noth­ing but the qual­ity can keep you ahead of the com­pe­ti­tion’. I thor­oughly en­joyed this phase of my life and took im­mense pride in our fam­ily her­itage,” says Ag­gar­wal.

Mak­ing of a brand

To­day, Bikan­er­vala rep­re­sents a suc­cess­ful amal­ga­ma­tion of the old and the new. It has in­cor­po­rated cor­po­rate man­age­ment tech­niques and mod­ern tech­nol­ogy in a tra­di­tional fam­ily-owned busi­ness model. Over the years, two ver­ti­cals have also been added to its sta­ble of brands: Bikano Café and Bikano pack­aged food prod­ucts are now well-es­tab­lished in the do­mes­tic and over­seas mar­kets.

The com­pany has five mod­ern man­u­fac­tur­ing units in the Na­tional Cap­i­tal Re­gion and a chain of around 140 out­lets in In­dia across cities such as Delhi, Gur­gaon, Agra, Noida, Ghazi­abad, Meerut, Harid­war, Luc­know, Ja­land­har, Chandi­garh, Al­la­habad, Varanasi, Ahmed­abad and Hy­der­abad. It also has a pres­ence in coun­tries such as Sin­ga­pore, New Zealand, Dubai and Nepal. There are around 70 out­lets of their flag­ship fam­ily restau­rant chain and 75 Bikano Chat Cafés. Stan­dard­i­s­a­tion and mod­erni­sa­tion has been the key in ex­pand­ing the chain, in which eth­nic sweets and veg­e­tar­ian pan-In­dian cui­sine are served in air-con­di­tioned fine-din­ing en­vi­rons.

Im­por­tance of roots

Be­ing a Mar­wari fam­ily, the Ag­gar­wal house­hold has always fo­cused on pre­serv­ing the val­ues and tra­di­tions that have been passed down from one gen­er­a­tion to an­other. Ag­gar­wal re­veals, “The most im­por­tant thing about Mar­waris is that they re­spect In­dian val­ues, fam­ily struc­ture and tra­di­tions. A Mar­wari may live in a for­eign coun­try for gen­er­a­tions, but he will always re­tain his In­dian-ness. Fam­ily is not only our sup­port sys­tem, but also pro­vides train­ing for the next gen­er­a­tion to learn the ropes. I en­cour­age chil­dren to travel around the world and learn about mod­ern tech­nol­ogy and man­age­ment sys­tems, but they should come back and en­rich the fam­ily en­ter­prise with these newly ac­quired skills.”

Life mantras

Ask Ag­gar­wal about the one life mantra he has always stuck by and the re­sponse is quick and sim­ple, “There is no sub­sti­tute to hard work. To achieve suc­cess, you have to be pa­tient and per­se­ver­ing. You have to main­tain an un­wa­ver­ing fo­cus on your aim. Suc­cess is bound to fol­low.”

When it comes to their brand phi­los­o­phy, he elu­ci­dates, “The suc­cess mantra at Bikan­er­vala is to look at all prod­ucts and ser­vices from the cus­tomer’s point of view. Cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion is Bikan­er­vala’s most im­por­tant pro­mo­tion pol­icy. Un­com­pro­mised qual­ity, cre­ativ­ity, far-sight­ed­ness and a pos­i­tive ap­proach are the cor­ner­stones of any busi­ness. Learn­ing as we go along is our strength and adding value to our brands is what in­spires our team fur­ther.”

Giv­ing back to so­ci­ety

The Bikano Trust per­forms all CSR ac­tiv­i­ties for Bikan­er­vala. They aim to reach out to the more vul­ner­a­ble sec­tions of so­ci­ety such as un­der­priv­i­leged women and un­em­ployed youth by pro­vid­ing them vo­ca­tional train­ing for the food in­dus­try.

Ag­gar­wal shares, “Ear­lier, each mem­ber of the fam­ily knew the en­tire work process, from procur­ing raw ma­te­ri­als to man­u­fac­ture of end prod­ucts. To­day, due to the enlarged scale of op­er­a­tions and ex­panded mar­ket, it is in­evitable to have train­ing fa­cil­i­ties to de­velop the hu­man re­source in an or­gan­ised man­ner. Our Bikano Foun­da­tion has tied up with the Gov­ern­ment of Delhi to pro­vide train­ing to ar­ti­sans in the art of mak­ing In­dian sweets and snacks. With this skill-devel­op­ment ini­tia­tive, we hope to have an aca­dem­i­cally trained and qual­ity-con­scious work­force to help us ex­pand op­er­a­tions in In­dia and abroad.”

The path ahead

When asked about the fac­tors con­tribut­ing to the suc­cess of the com­pany, Ag­gar­wal humbly says, “I would not like to sit on our past lau­rels and be­come com­pla­cent. It is true that we have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. The world is our mar­ket and sky is our limit.” His vi­sion is to in­tro­duce the flavour of In­dian sweets, snacks and cui­sine to the en­tire world and to es­tab­lish the Bikano and Bikan­er­vala brands in­ter­na­tion­ally.

This process en­tails in­clu­sion of the younger gen­er­a­tions of the fam­ily and their out­looks and in­puts. So Man­ish Ag­gar­wal, un­der the tute­lage of his il­lus­tri­ous father Shyam Ag­gar­wal, in a ten­ure span­ning over a decade and a half, has not only learnt the ropes of his fam­ily busi­ness well, but has also steered it to the in­ter­na­tional mar­kets. One of his key achieve­ments has been to help the com­pany es­tab­lish a firm foothold in the ex­pand­ing Mid­dle East mar­ket with six out­lets in Dubai and Shar­jah.

In In­dia, he has suc­cess­fully launched the Bikano Chat Café, po­si­tion­ing it as an in-house food out­let for cor­po­rates. Presently he is also the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Bikan­er­vala Foods Pvt Ltd and is re­spon­si­ble for the com­pany’s op­er­a­tions. Clearly, with such a dynamic mix of ideas and val­ues, there is no stop­ping Bikan­er­vala from be­com­ing a prom­i­nent brand of In­dian sweets and snacks glob­ally.

Shyam Sun­der Ag­gar­wal (sit­ting) with Man­ish Ag­gar­wal

Be­low: A range of prod­ucts of­fered by the com­pany

A Bikan­er­vala restau­rant in Hy­der­abad

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